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Commissioner Adam Silver says what is happening in NBA is rebuilding, not tanking

Mar 12, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT

adam silver

Is there tanking going on in the NBA this season?

Depends on how you want to define taking. However even if you define it broadly it’s not as bad as many seem to think it is.

New NBA commissioner Adam Silver defines it more narrowly and says there is no tanking going on right now. He spoke at an event in Boston on Wednesday and Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe was there.

“I think it’s important to clarity what we all mean by tanking,” he said at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. “Where I grew up tanking meant the coach and the players or some subset of that group were intentionally trying to lose a game. I don’t think that’s going on anywhere in the NBA and I would take action immediately if I thought it was.

“What is going on is rebuilding. And we have a system right now that incentivizes teams to rebuild. There’s a sense that you’re better off rebuilding in some cases from scratch than remaining mediocre. Now I am concerned even if it’s a legitimate strategy that there’s a perception out there by many people that it’s not. There’s an awful lot of chatter out there in the land and I continue to hear the ‘T’ word. So I think it’s my obligation to address it.”

Look at the teams with the six worst records in the NBA. The Bucks have the worst record (13-51) but they did not go into this season trying to lose, they thought O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Caron Butler and a year of growth from John Henson and Larry Sanders would again have them in the playoff mix. The Philadelphia 76ers planned to be bad. The Orlando Magic planned to be bad. The Los Angeles Lakers thought they could make the playoffs but were dramatically undercut by injuries (and overvaluing some of their talent). The Sacramento Kings were not going to be good but didn’t expect to be this bad (not with DeMarcus Cousins). The Utah Jazz planned to be bad.

That’s only three of the bottom six where as an organization they decided to be bad and go after a high pick. If you choose to define that as tanking go ahead even if Silver doesn’t agree (and you would have a valid point, the organization planned to be bad even if the players are not complicit).

But even with those teams this season is not out of line with history, explains Howard Beck of the Bleacher Report.

As of Monday morning, three NBA teams had sub-.300 records, and 10 were below .400. If we’re measuring widespread futility, these figures are in no way extraordinary.

Over the last 10 years, an average of 3.3 teams per season have finished below .300, including a high of six teams in 2010-11 and 2008-09. In that same 10-year stretch, an average of 7.7 teams have finished below .400, with a high of 10 in 2011-12 and 2009-10.

If you want to argue that the league should not incentivize losing, go ahead. But there is no easy answer here — the very nature of basketball as a sport is that to win in the NBA you need one of the 10 elite players in the league to win a title (or one and a couple from the 10-30 tier). Teams that want to win will do whatever it takes to get those players, and if you are in Orlando or Utah or a lot of other small to mid-sized markets the only way to do that is the draft (elite free agents aren’t flocking there). Take that away from them and they can’t sell hope to their fan bases and you mess with their economic model.

I’m not sure this season of “tanking” has proven to be that big a deal. I thought it would be, but feels like most NBA seasons to me. I’m not sure some grand gesture to “fix” things is needed.

  1. R. Edmond - Mar 12, 2014 at 7:13 PM

    This is Adam Silver playing a game of Polish That Turd

    tm by Daily Show

    • psung26 - Mar 12, 2014 at 9:28 PM

      Similarly: if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig

  2. R. Edmond - Mar 12, 2014 at 7:16 PM

    Adam Silver looks like Baghdad Bob in that picture.

  3. eugenesaxe1 - Mar 12, 2014 at 7:38 PM

    What he’s saying is he thinks NBA fans are idiots who are fooled by semantics.

  4. drewsylvania - Mar 12, 2014 at 7:38 PM

    New commish, same as the old commish.

  5. sportsfan18 - Mar 12, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    Is a team trying to tank or aren’t they?

    I’ll step away from that. IF they only do it for one year, to me that’s OK even if they were tanking to try and position the organization in a better position going forward.

    Now, if an NBA team did it year after year like Jeffrey Loria does with the Miami Marlins, then I’d have an issue with it.

    Businesses give up on products, sell poorly performing divisions etc… Many companies spiff up a place, paint, new landscaping to ready it for sale while NOT doing anything of substance like buying new expensive pieces of equipment in the shop floor for say $2 million a pop.

    They’re trying to milk things along and then get rid of it to put the overall health of the business in a better place.

    Teams are businesses and if they do it (tanking) correctly, it does help them. Teams need to plan for it GOING into it and have a plan for coming out of it.

  6. bballhistorian - Mar 12, 2014 at 8:15 PM

    Philly is Tanking. Plain and simple.

  7. mackcarrington - Mar 12, 2014 at 8:17 PM

    What strikes me in this article is that the author says that there are only 10 “elite” players in a league that has 30 teams.
    Wow! Out of all the basketball being played all over this country and overseas, there are only 10 elite players?

    • pharohislife - Mar 12, 2014 at 8:49 PM

      You know what he meant, there are about 10 legit superstars in the NBA maybe less, that no matter what team they’re on they would be the best player on the team.

      • pharohislife - Mar 12, 2014 at 10:30 PM

        Wait? Are yall well? We’re talking about the league today and yall name a bunch of oldschool players.. why? You never see that many stars on that many teams anymore. There is definitely about 10 stars or less in TODAY’S league that could go to the worst of worst teams and turn the entire franchise around and make the team itself elite.

    • mackcarrington - Mar 12, 2014 at 9:32 PM

      I don’t know.
      I can remember Frazier, Monroe, Reed, Bradley and Debusschere on one team.
      Cousy, Russell, Havlichek, Sam and KC Jones on one team.
      West, Baylor, Chamberlain, Goodrich, and Jim McMillan on one team.
      Magic, Worthy, Kareem, Scott on one team.
      That’s more than 10 “elite” players right there. I could go on and on.
      I don’t think elite necessarily means superstars.
      This is what Jerry West is talking about when he says the league is bad right now.

      • sumkat - Mar 12, 2014 at 10:22 PM

        all those teams have a few things in common

        No salary cap, no real players union.

        Teams could be kept together back then because A, players didn’t make as much, and B, even the ones that were highly paid, you could sign as many as you were willing to pay for.

    • bballhistorian - Mar 12, 2014 at 9:43 PM

      I actually agree @mackcarrington.

      To be quite frank, the league today only has about 6 players can be franchise players on Championship teams.

      LeBron, Durant, Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Paul George.

      That’s about it.

      • mackcarrington - Mar 12, 2014 at 9:59 PM

        I think there are a few more than that.
        But even if there was 1 franchise player per team that would still be lacking.
        They have a hard time getting 15 players a side for the All-Star game.

      • money2long - Mar 12, 2014 at 11:29 PM

        Cp3 is da clip’s best player

  8. bendover09 - Mar 12, 2014 at 8:20 PM

    Why dont you ask the fans who pay good money for season ticket holders about tankin’

    glad im not a LA fan right now,
    wasted money that the ownership should give back in some way

  9. ProBasketballPundit - Mar 12, 2014 at 9:36 PM

    Yes, Philadelphia traded away all their good players for other guys who they just bought out to save $500,000. Definitely sounds like “rebuilding” to me.

    • sixerstrong - Mar 13, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      Salary cap flexibility is essential to the rebuilding process, and Danny Granger (who is a bench player on most other teams), wasn’t going to be moving the needle as far as wins goes. Why have someone on your team that wants no business playing for you? I think it’s more of an indictment of Granger than it is of the Sixers.

      • ProBasketballPundit - Mar 15, 2014 at 3:14 PM

        Trading away Evan Turner in the first place didn’t give them any cap flexibility, it just made them worse this year. That is the definition of tanking.

  10. sumkat - Mar 12, 2014 at 10:16 PM

    Teams have been doing it for 20 years

    By the way, I still haven’t found the guy that says Holiday for Noel and a 1st this year was a bad trade. That is the only difference between their roster last year, and their roster this year (pre-deadline). Much of that difference was made up by MCW being better than expected. The Sixers are just this bad. They dumped Hawes and Turner, and are in clear tanking mode at this point, but they were awful WITH those 2.

    I have no problem with starting from scratch with a once proud franchise who hasn’t had a team with hope since Iverson, and not a team with a realistic hope since Barkley. It’s funny how it is the “blueprint” when you talk about a team that already accomplished the tanking plan (OKC), but when other teams try to copy them (get bad, get a superstar and a compliment in the draft, build around them) in a year with what is expected to be a great draft class, people act shocked and appalled

  11. harshedmellow - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:18 AM

    Business is business, rules are rules. Create a legal framework and those operating under it will e out every angle to their advantage.

    It’d be stoopid to stay mediocre. It’s smarter to rebuild via the draft and/or free agency.

    Silver is right.

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