The NBA has had a tanking problem since before I was even born. It’s the reason why the league created the lottery system in the first place, back in 1985. Still, more than 30 years later, the NBA still has a tanking problem, and one that’s only gotten worse in the past decade or so. With the new analytics teams that are sweeping the league, the numbers (and really common sense) state that if a team doesn’t have a realistic chance at a title, it should try to lose as many games as possible and stock up on high draft picks to become a better team down the road.
The Philadelphia 76ers called it “The Process,” and the team purposely stunk for the better part of six years, drafting one top-three prospect after another. Fans and analysts of other teams laughed and mocked the team for its losing ways, but then the worst thing for the NBA happened: “The Process” started to work!
With already Hall-of-Fame potential players like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, the Sixers look like a team that will be a force to deal with in the very near future. With the team’s new success, the NBA must fear other teams following suit by completely destroying their rosters in order to lose the necessary games to get high picks every year. We see in in Phoenix, where the Suns sometimes only play their young talent, knowing that the team’s chances of success dampen when that happens. Even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has admitted that his team is probably in “tank mode” now that the team doesn’t stand a chance to make the playoffs. As of March 11, there are eight teams all within three games of each other for the worst record in the league.
How can we fix this tanking problem? How can the NBA come up with a system that rewards teams for being bad (because that’s what draft picks are basically), without enticing said teams to purposely lose games in order to get high picks? Although no way is perfect, I think the best solution is to have the teams battle it out on the floor! So, here’s my pitch for the postseason tournament, the best way to stop tanking!
With 14 teams not able to make the postseason every year, the tournament will be broken down with six teams on both sides of the bracket going against each other in the first round, with two teams that get a first-round bye in the second round.
Now, there are two ways that we can do this. The first would be to give the top two seeds to the teams with the worst records, and fill out the bracket that way. As of right now, that would look like this:
The only problem with this bracket is that it still gives teams incentives to tank in order to get the top two seeds and a bye. As mentioned earlier, there are currently eight teams all within reach of the worst record in the league. This would only encourage them more to try to get the worst record. Now, I think in order to make the tournament fair for everyone, split the two sides of the bracket. On one side, all the really bad teams will face each other, and on the other side, all of the better teams that didn’t make the playoffs will face each other. That way, every year the top two picks in the draft will go to a really bad team and a “bubble” team. The bracket would look like this:
The only problem I have with this bracket is that it would then incentivize the teams on the cusp of the eighth seed to lose and miss the playoffs for a chance at a top seed in the draft tournament. Like I said, no idea is perfect, but I think this makes the most sense.
The way both these tournaments would work is that the winner wins the top draft pick, while the loser of the championship game gets the second pick. We then have a third-place game and a fifth-place game to round out the top five, and then use the records of the remaining teams to fill out the rest of the order. It makes the most sense to have a single-elimination tournament, which will give any team a fair shot at winning the whole thing, but I would not mind a best-of-three tournament as well. Really make the teams that get the top five picks earn it. Or at least do that for the main tournament and have the third- and fifth-place games be one game. It really depends on how many more games you want in a season.
The NBA should love this idea. More games equal more revenue for the league. And don’t tell me fans won’t love it too! As a Nets fan, after a long, disappointing season, I would love to see the team compete in a tournament for a chance to get a top draft pick, and I’m sure any fan of a bad team would love to see that too! So, Adam Silver, let’s make this happen and stop the tanking once and for all!