Tanking is not a strategy. Tanking does not have a built-in reward. We've beaten this into the ground, but no one is listening. Over at ESPN, they've written a lot about tanking, and almost all of it is built on the premise that the NBA rewards teams for tanking by giving bad teams high lottery picks. But this is simply not true. The NBA rewards tanking with a 25%-at-best-but-probably-a-lot-lower chance at the number one pick. That reward, frankly, is about as awesome as the goat you get when you pick the wrong door in Let's Make a Deal. It's not a reward. Any management that chases this on its own as the means to "rebuild" is quite simply incompetent.
Today on ESPN's Truehoop, another writer seems to have missed the forest for the trees, when he claims that early success shouldn't change the Sixers' plan:
They’re not even close to contending with contenders. But as currently constructed they’re not finishing at the bottom of the standings, either. Not with Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young draining 3-pointers, Evan Turner attacking the rim and rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams putting up historic numbers. As strange as it seems, this roster might be too good -- and more importantly, too well-coached -- to lose 50-plus games.Eric Goldwein
Unless the author is trying to be ironic and its flying way over my head, I find this whole article bizarre. This is quite simply ridiculous logic. As I pointed out in my 76ers preview, and as you'll hear in the podcast soon, there is a monumental difference between not caring if you win and trying to lose. Clearly, the Sixers should not hesitate to move Spencer Hawes and maybe Evan Turner if they can get more than those players are worth, even if it means the team gets worse now, because they shouldn't care about winning.
Let me repeat and rephrase that because it feels like no one is paying attention: The goal is not to lose. The goal is to get above fair value because you are WILLING to lose. Frankly, I do not think this distinction is really all that subtle, but some folks seem to gloss over it. I repeat: Losing in itself is not going to help the rebuilding process.
Sixers GM Sam Hinkie is in a great position; if Hawes keeps playing like this, some playoff team that thinks it needs "that one more piece" might offer way too much in future assets for him. If that happens, great! Furthermore, some team might trade the family farm for Evan Turner. If that happens, great! Evans is 25 and although he might become a star, his salary after this year is likely to be fair, and teams like Philly want to be in the business of having unfair contracts (read: rookie contracts and superstars making the max).
But there's no reason for Philly to dump either piece for chump change just to lose lots of games, as this piece implies. Their draft pick is nowhere close to being "their most valuable asset" (frankly, that would be the Pelicans' pick that they acquired). NBA lottery picks are very much like real-world lottery tickets: they are kind of a tax on the poor teams. Poorly managed teams make poor draft picks, and then pay more for them than well-managed teams who get players like Kenneth Faried and Kawhi Leonard on much lower pay scales. You can argue that if the pick isn't top 14, they have to give it to Miami, but that's true in 2015 too. So the plan is to just lose forever to spite Miami? Really?
This brings us to the real reasons that tanking in the NBA is a problem, and it isn't because "the strategy works," no matter what Jared Dudley thinks. Tanking is, as we've discussed, a strategy for idiots. But, as I am sure many employees in Minnesota, Charlotte, and Sacramento can attest, it turns out that there are a lot of idiots working in various NBA management offices. In the real world, this would lead to companies that go bankrupt, like it does in European Football. Due to promotion and relegation, if you are the worst manager in the English Premier League, then it's very likely that you'll find yourself managing in The Football League in the following year. And if you still stink compared to the managers in that league, in another year you'll be a manager in Football League Two; and so on until you're fired. Oh, and along the way, most of your sponsors will abandon you, so all your money will be gone, too.
But in the NBA, if you are the worst-run franchise in the league...well, not much happens. The rest of the owners let you stick around, and you won't lose a lot of money doing so. Exhibit A: the Maloofs, who bought their 53% share of the Kings for $156 million in 1999, ran it about as well as Ken Lay would have for 14 years, then sold it for $287 million (which would have been $331 million if the NBA owners' relocation committee cared more about money than about making it hard to move teams). In other words, one of the worst-run franchises in the league nearly doubled in value over fourteen years. The Maloofs made more money for running their team into the ground than most NBA players get for playing basketball. Needless to say, this is a tad problematic.
And therein lies the issue. The problem with teams that lose on purpose has never been that there is an incentive for losing. The problem is that there is no consequence for management incompetency. You couldn't fix that even by giving the #1 draft pick to the NBA champions.