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Adam Silver defends Sixers rebuilding strategy, but admits perception of tanking is an issue

Mar 2, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

adam silver

BOSTON — Stan Van Gundy had plenty to say as part of the basketball analytics panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference on Friday, and a portion of his comments took a shot at the NBA’s current draft system, which seems to be incentivizing teams to lose games.

The draft lottery and the subject of tanking were topics that came up repeatedly during the two-day event, and Van Gundy made it clear that whatever was going on this season in Philadelphia wasn’t, in his opinion, intended to win as many games as possible.

“Not what Philadelphia is doing right now, which is embarrassing,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t care, Adam Silver can say there’s no tanking or what’s going on — if you’re putting that roster on the floor, you’re doing everything you can possibly do to try to lose.”

Former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo actually admitted to trying to tank a couple of seasons ago, but he didn’t get the desired results.

“Admittedly, I will say, I tried to tank a couple years ago,” Colangelo said. “And I didn’t ‘come out and say, ‘Coach, you’ve got to lose games.’ I never said that. I wanted to have him establish a winning tradition and a culture and all of that, but I wanted to do it in the framework of playing and developing young players, and with that comes losing. There’s just no way to avoid that, but I never once said, ‘You’ve got to lose this game.’ “

And this is where Commissioner Silver’s definition of tanking seems to be different than the one the rest of us ascribe.

Silver appeared at the conference on Saturday afternoon, before heading to Philadelphia for Allen Iverson’s retirement ceremony later that night. While he chooses to label what the Sixers are doing as rebuilding rather than tanking, he did admit that as long as the public perception is there that this is going on, then the league needs to continue to keep an open mind as far as making changes to the process.

“I don’t agree with Coach Van Gundy at all,” Silver said, via “It is an insult to the entire league suggesting these guys are going out on the floor and not doing their very best to win games.

“Now if Coach Van Gundy is addressing appropriate rebuilding which every organization goes through and not just in sports,” Silver continued. “In any business you look at short-term results and long-term results. This organization is planning for the future and building from the ground level up.”

“I don’t want to ignore the issue that the chatter is out there,” Silver said. “If there is a perception out there that teams need to be bad to get good, we need to address it.

“We have a draft lottery in place. The purpose was to take the incentive away from teams potentially losing games in order to get a higher draft pick. We have tinkered with it over the years and if we need to adjust it again then we will.

“I am concerned about the perception,” Silver said. “I am not concerned about what is happening in Philadelphia.”

Silver has maintained that he will continue to take a fresh look at the draft — one detailed proposal put together by Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was a “wheel” concept, where picks would essentially be pre-assigned in perpetuity so that a team would know its place in the draft regardless of its won-loss record. But as Silver mentioned at Saturday’s conference, this plan is not without its flaws.

“When Mike first showed it to me, I thought, ‘Wow, that solves our problems,’ ” Silver said. “Teams can plan for the future, they have absolutely no incentive to do anything but win the maximum number of games per season, they know where the draft pick is coming from.”

“But [what] surprised me was when teams said, ‘Hold on a second,’ ” he said. “There’s a belief that certain markets have advantages. That players may choose to be on the coast, be in a larger market as opposed to a smaller market. I’m not entirely sure that’s the case, but that’s the perspective. The concern by some of the teams was that if a player going into college or coming out of high school … Say that he knows the hometown team here, the Celtics, has the No. 1 pick in two years. I’m going to wait those two years to come out, because I can game the system as a player. I can choose to be a Celtic.”

The core belief Silver has (or at least continues to express publicly) that teams are rebuilding instead of tanking isn’t exactly accurate, at least not from where the fans are sitting. Everyone agrees that players and coaches aren’t intentionally trying to lose games. But when a GM puts a roster on the floor that has little chance of competing (and trades away his best players midseason for more spare parts), that’s where people believe that the league incentivizes losing with the way its system is currently structured.

To his credit, however, Silver seems truly open to making the necessary changes to fix it.

  1. bballhistorian - Mar 2, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    Teams tanking games goes waaayyyy back. People need to accept it. Sometimes it produces desired results, sometimes it doesnt. If I were a GM of “bottom-feeder” team and no FA wants to come there/no star power in the roster, with an upcoming draft filled with marquee names (such as this yrs upcoming draft class)….I would be taking as well!

    I guess the League brass just doesnt want anyone to publicly admit it. Takes away from the perceived “integrity” of the game.

    • chicagosports2014 - Mar 2, 2014 at 7:30 PM

      I rather try to stop free agents from making super teams, then worry about OWNERS ripping fans off for they cash because your paying to watch a team that isn’t even TRIEN.

      • sumkat - Mar 2, 2014 at 9:09 PM

        is that supposed to be “Trying”, or I guess “tryin” at the end?

  2. captainwisdom8888 - Mar 2, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    teams have been doing this stuff for years, across all the major sports. im surprised that its news at all

    • ryanaammess - Mar 2, 2014 at 2:27 PM

      Its news because this is one of the worst rosters ever put together. Its disgusting and im shocked anyone in Philly would bother attend any games this year. They should lose their lottery pick and have to pick 13th.

      • kingbeason52 - Mar 2, 2014 at 2:41 PM

        Isnt the 13th pick still a lottery pick?

      • tfoz5150 - Mar 2, 2014 at 4:57 PM

        too bad the bucks have a worse record than them. these are the same Sixers that started off beating the heat opening night and went on a little run. they can’t be that bad.
        lose their lottery pick, yeah that’s the ticket. worry about your own team.

      • sportsfan18 - Mar 2, 2014 at 10:31 PM


        Since Dec 21st, the Lakers have 26 losses and 7 wins.

        Since Dec 21st, the Sixers have 25 losses and 7 wins. And this is with their current 13 games losing streak.

  3. General37 - Mar 2, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Lets try to look at this from a different perspective, basketball unlike any other sport your team can be turned around by 1 or 2 players, unlike other sports that have 9 like baseball, plus a different starting pitcher every day, and unlike football where there is 22 starters or like hockey where 20 people play pretty much the same times, so to try and get 1 or 2 stud players in a draft GREATLY improve your team in basketball

    • undeadjesus - Mar 2, 2014 at 2:58 PM

      Actually the NFL is not a good comparison at all because a team CAN be turned around by 1 or 2 players. Look at what an elite QB can do: teams like the Packers and Saints would be garbage without their big name QBs. The Colts remain a contender in the post-Manning years because they drafted Luck.

      There are actually quite a few parallels between the NBA and NFL.

      • sportsfan18 - Mar 2, 2014 at 10:39 PM

        there are some parallels but MORE differences.

        With only 5 on the court at one time, a star like LeBron is 20% of the team on the court.

        Also, LeBron plays both offense and defense while on the court.

        Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and others of their ilk are only 1 of 11 on their team on the field, less than 10%.

        Tom and Peyton don’t play defense either. Or special teams.

        A LeBron may guard a Kobe and vice versa. Tom does not play against Peyton, ever. They only play against the other teams defenses…

        So a star in the NFL may not play against the star of another team always, unlike Magic and Bird going at each other…

        Imagine if EVERY time Magic was leading a fast break against the Celtics, Bird was on the sideline like Peyton is when Tom is driving the Pats down the field.

        Yeah, there are some similarities, but there are MORE differences between the NFL and the NBA.

        Oh yeah, playing in a dome. Playing in shadows. Playing in the rain. Playing in the snow. Playing in the cold.

        The NBA always plays in a nice non-cold, non-wet, non-snow, no shadows from the sun or sun glare in their faces etc…

        Damn, think I’m wrong… there are very little similarities between these sports…

    • antistratfordian - Mar 2, 2014 at 4:31 PM


      After Manning, the Colts changed their philosophy and coaching staff, as well as their roster – they didn’t just switch out Peyton for Luck. If QB was the only change Luck would probably have twice the amount of INTs and who knows where the Colts would be.

      In the NBA your best players can stay on the floor the entire game if you want them to. In the NFL your QB is sitting on the bench half the time, watching the defense and praying – so there is only so much he can do. Gisele made this perfectly clear.

      So I disagree.

  4. phillysports1 - Mar 2, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    Yea isn’t a 13th pick still a lottery ? Dummy lol Sixers are awful this year we all know , so was OKC few years ago and Portland . Look at those teams now, it takes a rebuilding process to become an elite team. To all my Sixers fans’ please be patient !!!

    • ryanaammess - Mar 2, 2014 at 3:11 PM

      OKC and Portland both had legit stars on those teams. And top 14 picks are lottery picks, meant 15th. And justify it anyway you want, Hinkie is a crook. You need some young players to build around, look at this roster. you have MCW. You have ONE extra pick because of the Noel deal and who knows what hes going to look like. Good luck turning that around.

      • tfoz5150 - Mar 2, 2014 at 4:59 PM

        He’s the playing within the rules. crook, no.

      • sumkat - Mar 2, 2014 at 10:16 PM

        No, both player had guys that showed promise to possibly be stars. They don’t always pan out. MCW and Noels is a solid start, they’ll get a top 4 pick and get another stud (Wiggins?, I think he can be had at 3, I think the AUS kid goes 2 right now if it’s not the sixers picking) I don’t expect to get Parker, AND Wiggins.

        But with Holiday out the rest of the year, I think a few of those teams near NO in the standing pass them, and they wind up 7-9. If we can get that pick (they don’t hit the lottery), they could get Parker OR Wiggins, (or Randle), then try to get a guy like Gordon, Vonleh, or Saric if they take Wiggins, or a guy like Hood or Smart if they take one of the other 2. That’s very solid young 4.

        As far as Noel, long term, this may have been the best thing to happen to him. He’s 100% healthy by the time he’s playing, and he’s spent the year trying to bulk up some, and work on his game (especially his shot/post moves). I think they’d take their lumps that first year, but then have another lottery pick the next year, and in that big FA class, have those 4, a 5th lottery pick next year, Thad Young, and cap space for 2 max FA’s.

        I’m not saying it’s the first city popping up in every guys mind. But every guy that is a FA will go where he wants (only so many guys can sign with Mia/LA). With that core, and the ability to try to team up with another established star without losing any of it, you CAN’T tell me that wouldn’t be an attractive situation

        Sorry, post got kinda long, lol

  5. phillyblm - Mar 2, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    “Waaaaaaaaaah, waaaaaaaaah”

  6. phillysports1 - Mar 2, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    We will turn it around . Give us some time and worry about your team sir , thank you

    • ryanaammess - Mar 2, 2014 at 3:53 PM

      Im just bitter they shipped out Nikola, and busted up that core they had. I know Collins has an expiration date with any team he coaches but i loved that team they busted up to get Bynum.

      • tfoz5150 - Mar 2, 2014 at 5:01 PM

        Me too. What’s done is done. Look to the future.

      • sasquash20 - Mar 2, 2014 at 7:26 PM

        If they drafted Cousins over ET like they should have we would be in much better shape. And then they never trade for Bynum. That team with Holiday would be fighting for the division this year and be very young. Sixers must get it right this year

      • sumkat - Mar 2, 2014 at 9:13 PM

        Yeah, what’s not to love about a team that finished 6-8 in the east every year, just to get destroyed in the 1st round (unless the other teams star goes down, ala Chicago)

        Obviously an NBA genius you are. That team had hit it’s ceiling, they would never be anything but average. The absolute worst thing you can be in this league

    • jbink2585 - Mar 2, 2014 at 8:38 PM

      COUSINS IS DERRIC COLEMAN PART 2 I don’t want and even after we see how ET SITUATION worked out Id still not take him

      • sasquash20 - Mar 7, 2014 at 6:04 PM

        Are you nuts. Cousins isnt even 24 yet. 6-11 270, 22plus points a game, and 11 rebounds a game. Yeah your right, Turner was a great pick,

  7. psly2124 - Mar 2, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    Who cares about tanking games? The nba has been in on the fixing of games for years. I think that a more serious issue.

  8. phillysports1 - Mar 2, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    Yea I know , gave him away for nothing . But I’m sure Hinkie has a plan and it’s coming soon . If they can get wiggins or Parker in the first round , and trade couple of 2nd rounders including the other 1st round pick they have ( New Orleans ) to move down in the draft to get Julius randle ‘ I take that all day .

  9. sportsnut101 - Mar 2, 2014 at 4:20 PM

    team can get lottery pick only once every three yrs unless its thru a trade
    Teams have been tanking for yrs they still suck

    This would stop from tanking it’s not hard to do If u end up with worse record but u had lottery pick last yr now u go to the 14th or 15 th pick since I think it’s top 13 for lottery I believe

    Try something different it can’t get worse then it is now

  10. themagicfanguy - Mar 2, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    @philly you won’t get two top 5 picks no matter what you trade, so don’t count on getting Parker/wiggins and Randle.

    • sumkat - Mar 2, 2014 at 10:57 PM

      They could get the 6 though (Pelican are closer to being the 6th worst than the Sixers are to being the 3rd worst after tonight loss), they are only 2 1/2 games above the Knicks from being #6 (too many teams are taking for me to think they will get to the top 5)

      I’ve seen a few mocks with Randle going 6 (With Vonleh, Exum, Parker, Wiggins and Embiid going ahead). So it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

      I think he’s more likely they wind up 7-9, and go from there. If they get Wiggins, they probably take a big there. if they take a big (Parker/WonlehRandle), I could see them trading down since they is a strong crop of 2s and 3s currently projected in the low to mid teens. I could see a 2/1 1st round trade.

      It would take a LOT of luck, but they could wind up with Randle and Wiggins. I could even see (less likely) Parker and Wiggins in a miracle. Sixers take parker, Randle goes above Wiggins, as well as Exum, Embiid and Vonleh, all of who’s stock continues to keep rising) and the can pick up Wiggins at 6.

      I doubt it, but a guy can dream….I think my post was pretty realistic til that last Parker AND Wiggins part, lol

  11. geejon - Mar 2, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    The Spurs lucked out when David Robinson got hurt and stunk so bad that year that they ended up with Duncan in the draft. If Robinson were healthy, no Duncan, no dynasty. Good team, but not great. Maybe no titles ever, never mind multiple. The way the league is set-up, being a decent team that gets waxed in the 1st round and occasionally squeaks into the 2nd round is pointless. You need studs. To get a stud you need a high draft pick and/or cap room. Now we all know lottery picks aren’t a sure thing, but being a capped-out 6 seed every year is a guaranteed loser. I’ll take my chances with MCW, Noel, the likely top-3 pick next year and the Pelicans’ lottery pick, not to mention the hoards of cap space for that juicy 2015 class.

    • sasquash20 - Mar 2, 2014 at 7:20 PM

      Good days are coming. Tank Sixers Tank!

  12. jkaflagg - Mar 2, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    The other aspect to consider is that teams no longer want to overpay mediocre players to achieve mediocre results that ultimately sabotage any chance of eventually build a good team…..teams taking an analytical approach have begun to realize that finishing middle-of-the-pack is just a treadmill to nowhere, especially in the NBA where over half the league has no chance to ever seriously compete for a title…..the Houston Astros are the poster child for this new approach; they have also been accused of tanking, and have received the #1 pick three years in a row; it’s been horrible on the field but they also have gotten rid of all their bad contracts, not taken on any new bad contracts and have one of baseball’s best farm systems, which never would have happened if they insisted on continuing to chase ‘respectability”…..

  13. phillysports1 - Mar 2, 2014 at 5:22 PM

    @themagicfanguy wtf ? I didn’t say sixers will get all three of those guys . What you talking about ???? I said there’s a possibility of drafting Parker OR wiggins ! And trading down to get randle !!

    • sumkat - Mar 2, 2014 at 10:32 PM

      Nobody is going to take a few seconds for Randle. It’s not going to happen. Period

      BUT, if the Pelicans fall a bit in the standings (and I think they will with Holiday officially done for the year, they are at 9 now, and could hit 7 pretty easily), with a lot of talent 7-9

      I’m not as impressed with the 2/3 guys (I think they could be had at 11-13, guys like Hood and Grant). So maybe, if you get Parker or Randle, and have the 7-8, you try to trade down with one of those teams with multiple picks, let them get the big man (since you have Noel and Randle/Parker in the fold), pick up a 2/3 with the first pick and maybe add a 2nd first round pick in the late teens.

      Regardless, the sixers are in a great spot. They can eat plenty of money to facilitate trades (if a team wants to also dump an expiring contract to get under the tax, for example). Obviously we won’t know how this works out til draft night (and a lesser extent, lottery night). But by this point next year, the Sixer COULD be the Thunder of a few year ago, except with more guys with the ability to be stars (if they get there is another story), and the space to not only keep them together, but add a max guy or two.

      Trust me, if the Sixers are making money (and they will be, if they are winning, Philly is a basketball team first, they are just smart enough to know when a team has no plan), they WOULD be willing to take the tax to keep a great team together (if they become one). It’s FAR from a given, it’s a big gamble. But at this point, the gamble looks like it will at least put them in a great spot for the next step of the gamble, the draft.

      Then come the 3rd and 4th. Can all those guys play, and more important, play TOGETHER? Then the 4th and final gamble, can you get a few max FA (or if the picks work out as hoped, maybe 1 max FA, and a few solid role players) to join in and try to make you a true force

      The groundwork is there, but the groundwork is the easy part

  14. eugenesaxe1 - Mar 2, 2014 at 5:31 PM

    Silver must think fans are idiots. We know coaches/players don’t try to lose. We also know players/coaches don’t trade away the team’s best players for draft picks.

    • tfoz5150 - Mar 2, 2014 at 7:29 PM

      they weren’t in the teams plans and they were walking in FA anyway.

  15. nfceastisbeast - Mar 2, 2014 at 6:04 PM

    Sure, pick on the Sixers. The Lakers and Celtics are doing the same thing.

    • sumkat - Mar 2, 2014 at 10:45 PM

      The Celtics are, to a lesser to degree IMO

      But the Lakers? No way you convince me Kobe isn’t playing if they are in the playoff race. If anything, you’d think they’d focus on the NBA’s “Flagship franchise” doing it. Not a team that has been stuck in mediocrity for decades in on of the biggest markets, and most rabid fan base that needed to do SOMETHING different even if it was wrong.

      • tfoz5150 - Mar 4, 2014 at 10:01 PM

        They’ve been tanking from the beginning. They knew Kobe wasn’t coming back. It was their plan all along, once they lost Howard. No team is above tanking. They ALL do it, even the so called flagship franchises. (Heat, Spurs, Celtics and Lakers.)

  16. jerrahsucks - Mar 2, 2014 at 6:30 PM

    Oh good, the new comishioner, is the same as the old comishioner, only bald. Who you got rigged for the lottery this year Adam? We all know stern gave the Knicks Ewing, The Caveliers Lebron and Irving, all have been rigged to put money in the angel of Sterns pocket. S who’s paying you Adam? Stern hated Jordan with a passion, cuz Mikey slapped him down like the little bitch he was, so, are you gonna give the greatest a lottery break? The Sixers have been one of the most pathetic franchises in the history of the NBA. Stern took the Sonics from Seattle for money in his pocket from his OKC buddy, who is paying you Silver. This is why I do not watch the NBA. I quit when Micheal, Magic and Larry left And Stern let a phsyco like Strewell attack his coach, and his penalty was millions from the Knicks.

  17. sasquash20 - Mar 2, 2014 at 7:17 PM

    If we end up with Parker I dont cate what you call it. Silver needs to rig the system so my Sixers get the first pick. Who wants to play for the Bucks, Jazz, or Magic? Philly is a way better Sports city then those places. Philly needs a legit franchise player, and the NBA will be better served with a good Sixers team

    • sumkat - Mar 2, 2014 at 10:41 PM

      I’m more and more convinced that the Pelican are going to fall in the standings. Now I’m just hoping they don’t hit the lotter. I think they will finish 7-9 (maybe even 6). If they do get that pick, what do you think of this?

      Obviously this would depend on who had what pick (and if they got the 6, who was there), but how about trading that pick, and trying to get something like picks 10/15. You should still be able to get a very good player around 10, and a solid player (or a very high upside guy) at 15 in this draft (maybe even throw in young for an expiring if they will throw in a 1st).

      There are a few teams with multiple picks, that may be more interested in picking what they consider a sure thing, then 2-3 less sure things, not at positions of need. Then go through next year with that core, get another lottery pick (probably not as high unless they get lucky), and have money to sign basically anyone

      If they get 6, and can get say, Wiggins/Randle, ignore all above and do it. But if not, and you can stockpile picks that should still net solid player, why not?

  18. campcouch - Mar 2, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    none of this matters. if any team trying to rebuild or build period doesn’t win within 2 years,the New York media will generate “buzz” about your good players and try to pilfer them. I remember a interesting countdown after the Cavaliers drafted LeBron lol. As soon as Durant comes close to free agency,the obligatory pic with him in a Knicks jersey will surface. Bring Barkley outta retirement!

  19. chicagosports2014 - Mar 3, 2014 at 4:54 AM

    Pelicans? Lmao Nobody care about the Charlotte Hornets anymore, Saints only round

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