As the regular season comes to a close, the NBA’s playoff-bound teams are beginning to shake off the dust of the regular season in hopes of obtaining a ring, while the bottom-feeders of the league are left packing for tropical vacations with hopes of a better team, a brighter future or a more lucrative contract for the following year.
As wily veterans are receiving some well-deserved rest, young rookies and draft busts are presented with opportunities to shine. While this sounds like a heartwarming story on paper, it is an absolute bore to watch. I mean, honestly, ever since I began diligently watching the NBA, I’ve been dumbfounded as to why the league’s elite teams would sit their starters in preparation for the playoffs. Although I now realize that they are simply gearing up their arsenals for the best chance at victory, if any of you have ever played any sport on this planet you know that rest isn’t always a good thing (see the 2011-12 Packers’ second-round exit or any other team who has EVER sat their players). It just throws off the groove and killer instinct that your team has been developing. Doesn’t sound that smart to me.
I have become equally confused as to why last place NBA teams are now doing the same exact thing. Why would an already horrid professional basketball franchise want to lose more games by sitting or trading away their best players? What do they have to gain from sucking more than other teams? Are they losing simply due to an overall lack of talent and ownership (Charlotte Bobcats)? Sudden, evaporated-out-of-thin-air injuries (every lottery-bound team)? No … the problem, ladies and gentleman, is without a doubt professional basketball’s abhorrent draft system: the dreaded NBA lottery.
Now more than ever, fans and sports writers alike are witnessing lowly franchises lose purposefully in an attempt to position themselves for a better chance of having a lottery ball drop in their favor. This process is an absolute joke. As their front offices are busy dumping contracts and scrambling to clear up cap space for free agency and the draft, I am left watching Golden State’s all-rookie lineups and Portland’s Hasheem Thabeet start for three straight games.
Some say that tanking is a myth (in a more naïve period of life, I did as well), but after digging a little deeper into the history of purposeful losses, this sports writer now firmly believes in the contrary. Tanking has long been a reality, even before the lottery was in place. Let’s take a look at one of the most notorious tanks in NBA history: the 1984 NBA Draft.
Although many teams were accused of tanking the 1983-84 season, the most infamous culprit would without question be the Houston Rockets, which proceeded to free-fall from an NBA Finals contender position into a No. 1-pick holder in a matter of three offseasons. After a Finals appearance in 1980-81 and a first-round playoff exit in 1981-82, the Rockets traded MVP and future Hall of Famer Moses Malone with the hopes of finishing poorly enough to acquire the first pick in the 1983 draft (which they received with a record of 14-68 and eventually used to select Ralph Sampson). The next year, the Rockets finished with a woeful record of 29-53, once again good enough for the first pick and the rights to eventual NBA great Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. After the NBA realized that teams were actually losing on purpose, they turned to the lottery system. With blue-chip prospects like Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley all available within the top picks of that year’s draft, who could blame them for losing on purpose?
Although this example is from long ago, current NBA franchises have since adopted this method of quick transformation. Whether that means trading away your team’s identity or selling your soul for the rights to draft the NBA’s next best thing, franchises are doing whatever it takes to turn the culture of their franchise around. While this may work for some teams, I’m sorry Mike … Charlotte will never be like you. With the guaranteed worst winning percentage in NBA history and a name like the Bobcats, how could you not suck?