Tanking has been one of the primary storylines behind the last couple of NBA seasons. Why? Because of Philadelphia, and because of the 2014 draft class, long touted as the most promising in the last decade, had been seen as containing at least seven players of significant worth, and directly led more teams than usual to throw away their hopes for a championship and pray for lottery balls. That’s the conventional narrative. The fact that it’s wrong (the 2014 season has seen about the same teams lose about the same number of games as the seasons before it) seems to be unessential. Fans know tanking when they see it.
And that’s true — fans know tanking, that is, the art of not putting the best possible product on the floor in order to directly affect a team’s odds of winning a game. It happens, in short bursts, all the time. It happened to the Spurs, who kept players out in order to try and land Tim Duncan. But the idea that vast swathes of NBA front offices have all come together to tank this year for these players is a little silly. The 76ers are tanking, for sure. But the Bobcats tanked in 2012, and no one said anything other than, “Hey, that’s a bad basketball team.”
So what’s different? Aside from the market size and relative marquee of the cellar-dwelling teams — the Lakers aren’t traditionally picking near the top of the draft or playing Robert Sacre massive minutes, and the Boston Celtics haven’t tanked since 2007 — there’s not a whole lot that’s changed, aside from a new CBA that gives more incentives to the team trying to keep their homegrown talents, rather than trade for them. Nevertheless, several solutions to the problem that may not be a problem at all have been put forward.