How to stop tanking by NBA teams

Here is a question: Can you identify what the following list represents?

Jordan, Olajuwon, O’Neill, Duncan, Bryant, Wade, Garnett, Nowitzki.

If you’re an NBA fan, I bet you guessed that the names listed above represent all but one NBA championship team from the past 20 years (the ’03-0’4 Pistons being the lone absence). So if my follow-up question were “how do you build an NBA champion?”, the obvious answer would be, “YOU GET ONE OF THOSE GUYS!” Basketball is the lone sport where one superstar makes a good team (recent examples: Iverson’s 76ers or Lebron’s Cavs). One superstar paired with another superstar or with quality role players equals a champion.

The quest, then, for EVERY non-contending team is how to get a superstar. Sign, trade, or draft. Those are the only three options. Signing Shaquille O’Neill won the Lakers three of the titles on that list. Trading for Garnett and Allen won the Celtics their championship. This is why the Nets were willing to give up their whole team for Deron Williams, and the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. If you don’t have one of the top players, you don’t have a chance.

Many teams unable to lure high-quality free agents to their team have decided to place all of their hope in the draft, a la the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder traded away their star (Allen), let another one go (Rashard Lewis. In retrospect, no mistake), in order to “bottom out” and grab Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the draft. There was more than mere luck or draft position involved; The Thunder made smart choices with their money and their selections in assembling the team they now have. But they never would have become the title contender they are now had they not scored the second overall pick in order to draft Durant.

There are a number of ways to “tank” in the NBA, and the 10-odd teams who are trying to copy the Thunder’s blueprint are seemingly exploring all of them. The Bobcats traded what talent they had before the season even began, insuring great lottery odds (and potentially the worst NBA team ever). The Warriors have shut down both Stephen Curry and David Lee for the season. Some nights, it seems that the Raptors, Nets, Cavs, and Kings are competing for the 4th pick in the draft rather than to win the game.

Tanking really is a complicated issue. Are Thunder fans glad they endured a season without Ray Allen in order to assemble the team they now have? (I’m sorry, I meant Sonics fans). Absolutely. Does it make the end of the NBA regular season AWFUL when half of the teams are resting for the playoffs and the other half are actively trying to lose? Yes, yes it does.

So here’s what we do: We have to say “No Tanking”. It has to happen.

How? There’s a number of ideas out there on the internet, and to be honest, most of them are pretty terrible. Here’s the one that makes sense and why:

Give every non-playoff team equal draft odds. Yes, there would be a lot of luck involved. But isn’t there already? The top picks in 2003 and 2004 were Lebron James and Dwight Howard. 2006? Andrea Bargnani. The talent available already totally varies year-to-year. The Cavaliers got the top pick again last year from a ping-pong ball with a 2.8% chance of winning. And model franchises like the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz will be rewarded for doing their best to put out a good product every year.

What do you think? Comment or email us with your thoughts.

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