NBA talk Tuesdays: why tanking is good for future, bad for short term

Joe Dandron, Assistant Sports Director

The National Basketball Association has prided itself on being able to consistently present a high-end product, ever since David Stern was the commissioner of the league.

But now today’s NBA is embattled with “tanking” and the fact teams are losing… to win? This has created a divide between what is good and bad for the league, and its interests that inevitably fall on one thing: making money. But I really don’t think tanking is bad, and I may not be part of the majority, but I stand by this.

I truly believe tanking is good for the long term health of the NBA and not the short term because at the end of the day, you gotta still fill seats. We saw it as the Detroit Pistons mortgaged future plans for Blake Griffin in an effort to fill their brand-new building, Little Caesars Arena, or as the Pelicans cling to a player who just wants to go to a winning environment in Anthony Davis.

For better or worse, tanking is bad for the daily duties of the NBA and its high end product.

The first example we’ve got to look at of tanking being successful has to be the Philadelphia 76ers. I understand that I gave the Sixers a ton of love in my last piece on the NBA, but that’s just because former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie was so damn smart for doing what he did, even if it cost him his job.

The 76ers had Michael Carter-Williams and a crop of end-of-the bench rotation players who played hard and just couldn’t get it done, but some of those guys eventually developed and while albeit only two or three guys, became a big part of this “master plan” Hinkie was working on.

Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year, and I’ll be honest I can’t even remember if he is still on the Bulls or not. But look at this team now and the lineup the losing developed. As much as this sounds bad, the Sixers are lucky that Embiid had the back issues and injury problems early in his career.

Since then he has simply become the most offensively dominate center I’ve watched since Shaquille O’Neal. While I am NOT comparing him to the Shaq Diesel, I am saying that he garners the same amount of offensive presence in many ways. The Sixers in 2013 were honestly one of the worst things I’ve seen put out on the playing field or court in professional sports. But now, look at what they have become.

They traded away their most recent No. 1 pick in Markelle Fultz and are one of the favorites to make a run to the NBA Finals out of the Eastern Conference.

The Sixers subsequently have garnered national attention and a cult-following of sorts behind the charismatic Embiid.

This worked for the Sixers and was absolutely brutal for the public perception of the league and the organization that is now dominating the Atlantic Division. They bet on themselves and #trustedtheprocess and it worked. Cudos Sam.

This doesn’t always work though, the Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, have consistently toiled away in the bowels of NBA satire. Ever since Steve Nash left, they have not been able to make the playoffs since 2010, when they lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, who would go on to defeat the Orlando Magic and win the NBA title.

They have picked in the top 14 draft sports six times since 2013, but haven’t been able to build any continuity with a young core, missing on picks like Dragan Bender and Alex Len. I get its the market of Phoenix, but the fans absolutely love the city and the Suns, and not losing records year after year.

Even with the mediocre product put out on the court by Phoenix, they still have been in the middle tier in the league in total attendance and attendance per game. This further stresses that the fans in the city still want to watch hoops.

This year, they are only above two other teams in total attendance, the Grizzlies and Hawks. Those two teams are in smaller markets than say a Los Angeles or New York and lack a true flashy star (stop saying Mike Conley).

So I get saying tanking is a wash, garbage and bad for the NBA, but hear me out. Several teams have been middle of the pack for the better part of 10 years. The Pistons, of whom I have grown up loving, have been middle of the pack ever since they got Allen Iverson via trade in 2008-09.

They have not picked higher than No. 7 since 2003. Yeah you heard me, two thousand and three. Remember when Darko Milicic got drafted No. 2 overall? Me too. But that’s beside the point. The Motown team hasn’t been able to soundly find a foundation and is tempted to trade the best player they have drafted since 2003 in Andre Drummond. For what? If they had tanked, tried to get the No. 1 pick and not just been relegated to picking eighth every year, then maybe they would have gotten a true star.

The draft is a shot in the dark, I get it, and with the implication of the three worst teams getting a 14 percent chance to obtain the first pick, it lowers the need to lose consistently if you’re already really bad. But maybe, JUST maybe if the Pistons would have just been a wash for several years then they could have gotten the players they need to win.

I would rather have seen Detroit be awful for five years and now be a consistent 50 or so win team than watch Blake Griffin attempt to shoot threes and post up every possession while playing with another paint-jamming big man in Drummond.

In other cases tanking doesn’t work, but if you tank for five years you can become what the Sixers are. You may struggle for two, three or even four years, but you when you come back, it’s worth it. You will be a contender, a team built on the draft and one that has young up-and-coming players.

The Celtics struggled for two or three years in the post Pierce-KG era, but are now a powerhouse and had a plethora of draft picks to build something special. Now “C Town” is back where it belongs: at the top.

I make my case because of one wildly successful team in Philly. The Suns have been awful forever it seems like, and can’t build anything, but they have never truly committed to clearing their roster of aging and expensive contracts or guys that have no potential or youth. If they did this, then they could build a young and talented roster that grows together. Add a middle aged starter to give some advice and BOOM you have got a playoff team in the works.

Many middling teams should try dumping everything and hitting reset, but they are scared of the short term and not the long term outcomes that in many ways could prove very fruitful. Think about the years of trash that will be washed away by an NBA finals appearance or potential title. You think Philly will give up on #TrustTheProcess yet? Forget about it.

The long term dividends will outweigh the short term laughing stock in my opinion. You even are starting to see tanking in the NFL, it’s not a bad idea. This is because when you finally hit on a pick, you’ll have all the money and draft capital in the world to make a big trade or sign a big-name free agent, putting you over the top.

I get that Charlotte and New Orleans are looking at me with disgust, knowing they have true stars in Anthony Davis and Kemba Walker. They just need to clear out the closet and everything on the floor. Just try it, see what happens.


Check in every Tuesday for this column on today’s NBA. Follow Joe on twitter: @JosephDandronMI