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Old 03-27-2012, 08:05 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Cool ESPN: Tanking is the tip of the iceberg

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You have stumbled into HoopIdea's biggest project yet: Let's end tanking.

We'll be rolling out different ideas about how to do that over the next few days. But before we get into that, let's make clear what's at stake. Getting this right is of gargantuan importance, and not merely in the name of making a few late-season Nets games more entertaining.

In fact, when I talk about tanking, I'm not even talking about something players, or even coaches, are doing. I've watched the video, and looked at the substitution patterns. It is very tough to come up with strong evidence any players or coaches are doing anything other than trying to win.

For the GMs and owners of about half the teams in the league, however ... everybody knows it's not smart for them to try to win every game. They don't throw games by intentionally missing shots. But they do strip rosters bare of high-priced talent, hoarding cap dollars for another day, and knowing that the inevitable losses that ensue -- the tanking -- will come with some of the most valuable rewards in all of sports.

In other words, in a sport based on the excitement of live competition, they are trying to lose, which attacks the integrity of the game. And by encouraging this, the NBA has essentially brainwashed fans to root for their own teams to lose.

"I think NBA fans understand and appreciate the concept of rebuilding," says Joel Litvin, the league's president of basketball operations. "Whether that’s done through the draft, through signing free agents, it’s a process that is not helped when a team has a lot of highly paid players who are either in the middle or approaching the end of their careers. ... Go young. Lower your payroll. Draft intelligently. Be smart about your free agent signings and your rookie extensions and hope you can become the Thunder."

The thing is that it's very hard to tell the difference between a well-run team that is rebuilding and a team that is horribly run.

This tactic is so commonplace that fans believe that teams are supposed to “get bad to get good.” But not only is this a perversion of the sport, it also means that a lot of teams actually “get bad … and stay bad.”

Right now superstar-grade players are going into a lottery populated by the worst teams, in a sport where one great player has more impact than in any other team sport and is locked into below-market salaries throughout their careers (because of rookie scale contracts followed by maximum-salary limits).

Meanwhile, teams that win consistently very seldom get players like that, by trade or any other means. Essentially, the best-run teams are penalized while the worst-run teams are rewarded.

Is it any wonder that many front offices aren't sweating losses?

Getting this right is of massive importance because it affects, in ways big and small, the way every front office in the league operates, how bad teams become good and even who makes the big decisions.

The challenge is: How do you motivate 30 teams to be great at what they do? Because right now it's hard to make the case that 30 teams are being as smart as possible.

Fix tanking, and I think you push over a domino that would knock some of the most backward thinking right out of the NBA, giving fans across the league more genuine hope that they might win a title.

While good luck and deep pockets play a role, you win a title by getting a huge percentage of your decisions right. Look at the Thunder's last 20 transactions, and I think we'd agree that they made the good or great calls in at least 17 of them. The same goes for Chicago and San Antonio.

But the teams out there that are not winning year after year ... in most cases they're not just "rebuilding through the lottery." They're also making one dreadful decision after another. That means with the draft, coaching hires, trades and everything else. I assure you GMs in many NBA markets really don't want you to examine the record, because it won't be kind to them. They're already preparing their stories about how everybody has bad luck.

Tanking is the tip of the iceberg - TrueHoop Blog - ESPN
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