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‘Tanking’ a big issue in the NBA
by Ken Chapman
Apr 06, 2012 | 1117 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Utah Jazz became the focus of NBA circles in the last week. While last week the focus was on their play and the run to get back into playoff contention, the focus this week is on a very different front.

Everyone concedes Utah is not a championship caliber team yet, and Kevin O’Connor has work to do before they can become contenders again. As a result, many are saying the Jazz would be better off tanking to finish the season so they don’t lose their draft pick. Not only can the Jazz affect their own pick, but they are watching the Golden State Warriors, who as of Monday have the ninth worst record in the NBA. The Jazz own the Warriors’ first pick in the draft as long as the pick isn’t in the top seven.

Credit the Jazz for not tanking on the season. After falling a few games behind the final playoff spot, the Jazz fought back into playoff contention. As of Monday, they stand just out of the playoffs, but have a manageable schedule compared to Denver and Houston, the two teams ahead in the standings. However, they stand to miss out on this draft if they don’t lose, a draft considered one of the strongest in recent years.

The Warriors, meanwhile, are taking the opposite approach. Golden State sent leading scorer Monta Ellis to Milwaukee at the trade deadline, bringing back injured center Andrew Bogut. Since the trade deadline, the Warriors’ record is 2-10, and they should be underdogs in their remaining 15 games, playing only three games against teams not currently in the playoffs. Given those odds, it is possible for the Jazz to miss out on the first round of the draft entirely.

Credit Warriors Head Coach Mark Jackson for still trying to win. “I understand it as a fan,” Jackson said after a loss to the Lakers Sunday. “I grew up in New York City and I was a fan, obviously, of the New York teams. So I get that mindset – as a fan. But as a fan, I wouldn’t want my team, the people that’s in the battle, to have that mindset.”

He said the issue of the draft and tanking should stay with the front office and not be in the mind of the players. “You can’t ask guys to shut it down today,” Jackson said, “and then tomorrow tell them to put their foot on the gas pedal and never quit.”

Poor play should not determine top draft picks. The role of the GM is to build a team, and rewarding teams who were poorly managed is counter intuitive. Until the lottery is either fixed or eliminated, tanking will continue to be an issue.

The TrueHoop Network, an affiliate of ESPN, started a thread on the debate on ideas to end tanking. While several ideas are presented on the site, what I believe will end tanking is an end of the lottery system as we know it, replacing it with a bid system.

Deciding draft order by bidding on a spot will force NBA teams to find their spot based on their front office, not in the play of the team they put on the court. Teams will not sell off key contributors, like Golden State did with Ellis, so a less skilled team will lose more games. Instead, a bid system could work like this:

– Each team not making the playoffs would be allowed to bid on the top spot in the draft. Teams in the playoffs would continue to be ordered by their final record.

– All the bids will be blind, with the results being announced just before the draft.

– A runoff will determine winners of ties. For example, Team A bid $6 million while teams B and C both bid $5 million. Team A will earn the top pick, while B and C will bid for the second pick, even if their total is higher than Team A’s initial bid.

– The money bid will be split among the playoff teams, giving them an additional bonus for making the playoffs.

While this isn’t a perfect system, it will eliminate the issue of tanking for draft position. What it will boil down to is seeing which GM’s are willing to bid for the right to draft the top prospects. GM’s will need to understand the feel of that particular class, and figure out just how much they are willing to spend to negotiate with the top talent.

This will also show who really knows what they are doing. An owner will not tolerate constant overbidding if their team isn’t in the playoffs. It will show who really runs the top organizations in the sport, and who needs to be shipped off.
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