Tanking games? If only NBA's bad teams were that good

Tanking games? If only NBA's bad teams were that good

Tanking games? If only NBA's bad teams were that good
Wed, Mar 28, 2007
By Associated Press

It's easy to see how fans of the Memphis Grizzlies and just about every team in the NBA's Atlantic Division could get the wrong impression.

Short of a confession, though, there's still no way to prove a team is tanking games. Remember that as the clunkers pile up during the last dozen or so regular-season games remaining on each team's schedule.

Conspiracy theorists love this time of year because the draft matters way more in the NBA than in major league baseball, even more than in the NFL, and more this year than most. It's one of the deepest in a while and likely topped by Ohio State's Greg Oden and Texas' Kevin Durant, two guys who need seasoning but could dominate for a decade.

With only five players on the floor, nearly all of the league's championships have been won by teams that locked up one or two of the best, and most of those come to town as one of the first six players taken in the draft. Less obvious is whether it's really worth losing games to get there, and if so, how many.

Evidence of teams not giving - how to put this? - their all in recent days is scattered all around. The Bucks, already languishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, shut down two of their best players, Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva, rather than risk letting nagging injuries become chronic ones. Last week the Celtics, who are looking up at the Bucks, left all five starters on the bench as they blew an 18-point lead to lowly Charlotte.

''I was not throwing the game, or anything like that,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said.

''I've heard all those questions. Honestly, I got to the point early in the fourth quarter and I turned to the coaches and said to them, 'We are either going to win or lose with this group.'''

Not to be outdone, Charlotte played New Jersey a few nights later already minus two injured starters and decided to sit two others, Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton, for good measure - and lost.

Conspiracy theorists immediately began arguing whether: a.) Wallace and Felton sat because they needed the rest; b.) Bobcats part-owner Michael Jordan ordered the benchings to improve his own team's chances of losing and thus gaining an extra pingpong ball in the lottery; or c.) since those same Nets are fighting the free-falling Knicks, among others, for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, Jordan did it because of a lifelong grudge against Knicks coach Isiah Thomas.

And of course, it didn't help matters when Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy told the Houston Chronicle earlier this week he had a plan that would keep teams from losing intentionally.

''I don't want to accuse anyone of anything. I would say to take away any possible conflict of interest, everyone should have an equal chance at the top pick all the way down. That way there would be absolutely no question by anybody about anything.

''If it's better for the game, they should do it,'' Van Gundy added. ''I never quite understood why losing is rewarded, other than (for) parity.''

But parity is precisely the point.

There's not a business in the land that wouldn't jump at the chance for a do-over every year, but only pro sports makes it a point to grant that wish. Unfortunately, few of those wishes pan out.

Even with a lottery pick, chances of drafting a player who blossoms into a Magic Johnson, Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal or Dwyane Wade are slim enough. And research by ESPN.com concluded that even a five-game drop in the standings improves a team's chances of landing the top pick in the lottery by only a few percentage points. Few enough, anyway, that it would make a difference ''only about once every two decades.''

The NBA has explained the math countless times and tweaked the draft rules nearly as often to take even that incentive away. Drafts were originally based on territorial rights, then the top pick awarded to the winner of a coin flip between the worst teams. After widespread accusations of tanking in the months leading up to the 1984 draft - the top five picks in order: Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, Jordan, Sam Perkins, Charles Barkley - the league put one envelope for each non-playoff team in a basket and drew out a winner.

The following year, with Patrick Ewing as the top prize, commissioner David Stern pulled the Knicks envelope first and set in motion a rumor that persists to this day - that the Knicks envelope was stuck in a freezer just before the selection so he'd have no trouble finding it. After the Magic landed O'Neal and Penny Hardaway with the top picks in successive drafts, the NBA tried weighting the lottery so the worst teams' chances improved by giving them more pingpong balls in the hopper.

A lot of good that will do the Knicks. They've played just well enough to stave off Thomas' firing, but since the reprieve, have dropped six of their last seven heading into Wednesday's home game against Cleveland. Because the Knicks agreed to swap first-round picks with the Bulls in the deal that brought Eddy Curry to New York, they could fall into the lottery and wind up drafting in Chicago's position - likely somewhere above No. 20 - instead. But they're certain to have competition.

No less a conspiracy theorist than Dallas owner Mark Cuban saw this coming, Back in January, he asked on his Web site, blogmaverick.com, ''Could it be that if the division continues to win at the same percentages that only the Knicks will (have) an incentive not to tank the season and win the division by default?

''Of course,'' Cuban added, ''the chances of any of this are slim, right?''

mvbski
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Re: Tanking games? If only NBA's bad teams were that good

Maybe I'm nieve but I don't believe teams tank games at all. We're talking about professional atheletes and lots of them have egos, they won't just lose becuase they think there is someone better than themselves that will come win games. And even look at the last few years, no draft picks have led a team to a championship, if you say "D-Wade" I say "Shaq gave them the title" The NBA like all most sports rely on a team not an individual so although I agree the NBA draft is more important than in other sports, it's still not the deciding factor in whether a team gets a championship or not.

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