Why NBA teams keep losing on purpose
By Francisco Valladares Staff Writer
Put yourself in the shoes of an NBA general manager. You’re going into the season with a mediocre team and basically no hope at making a significant playoff run, if your team even makes the playoffs at all.
The next decision you make can change the course of your team’s history.
Will you attempt to win as many games as possible and try to save some face, or dump your best players, lose a lot of games and potentially get yourself a high pick in the draft?
For any regular spectator, winning will seem the most plausible answer, but in reality losing many matches seems to be the more popular choice among many teams in the NBA.
When an NBA team does not make the postseason, they are assured a top 14 pick in the upcoming draft. This is called the lottery. The closer you are to making the playoffs though, the closer you are to getting a lower pick in the lottery.
Essentially some teams purposely lose to get into a lottery slot. The more losses, the higher probability of getting a better pick. The term coined for this intentional losing is “tanking.”
It has become a growing problem for the NBA as teams have intentionally rested good players and replaced them with bench warmers in order to rack up more losses at the tail end of the season.
One of the teams that notoriously tanks is the Los Angeles Lakers.
With young players like D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, they have put together a solid nucleus of potential stars.
Of course this all came at a risk. The Lakers were never assured the pair of second overall picks it took to take Russell in 2015 and Ingram in 2016. They also ran the risk of losing revenue from ticket sales with a loss of fan interest. Nobody likes to see their favorite team lose.
Fortunately the lottery gods smiled on the Lakers and got them potential stars, which became a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster couple of years.
The lottery is basically constructed by numbered ping pong balls that are all put in a circular globe that blows them around. Each lottery team has a certain amount of ping pong combinations going into the lottery.
The worse your team is, the more ping pong ball combinations you have. It’s as simple as that.
But even with the most combinations that can get you the first pick, you can still end up heartbroken.
Teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers have ended up with the first pick in a draft even when they had much fewer combinations than others.
So purposely losing is risky. Your team can lose revenue, fan interest, and even the lottery if the ping pong balls don’t roll in your favor.
With this in mind, what keeps NBA general managers interested in tanking?
The answer is simple: the college prospects.
Why else go through all that trouble for a chance to choose among unproven college players looking to make the jump into the NBA landscape?
Well these collegiate stars, for the most part, are seen as franchise cornerstones that can turn a team around, one day making their inept squads into title contenders.
Although some players faulted under the pressure, others like Lebron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant changed the team’s fortunes in such an incredible way. Magic Johnson, the general manger of the Lakers, was the first overall lottery pick for the Lakers several decades ago. In his rookie season, the Lakers won the championship with Johnson leading the team.
And this year’s current crop of incoming collegiate players have made NBA tanking look even more justifiable.
Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, and Kansas’ Josh Jackson have all been touted as potential first picks.
Fultz, an uber-athletic 6’4 guard, can do it all. He can pass, score, and has shown leadership qualities that have many looking at him as the consensus first pick in the 2017 draft. Ball and Jackson have both been impressive in their lone collegiate season, but are currently shuffling around being the second and third pick.
Ball doesn’t have much diversity in his scoring, but he’s touted as the next great passing point guard since he’s more than willing to move the ball around and get assists in bunches while pushing the tempo of any team. Lastly there’s Jackson, who can play as a power or small forward. His combination of cutting, driving, defending and ball handling for a bigger player, has impressed scouts all over the nation. But a lack of consistent shooting has significantly hurt his stock when compared to the other top prospects.
This all begs the question: are all these young guys sure-fire successes? Probably not, but most NBA GM’s will see some as potential fortune changers.
Considering the current reality in the NBA, only the Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors have a chance at the grand prize. So, if you’re a bottom-feeder team, a quick fix probably isn’t a good idea going forward. Your team might be better off building for the future.