One of the big problems around talking about tanking is that everybody seems to define it differently depending on the narrative they want to tell. Consider this article on Yahoo Sports:
Tanking is not the practice of losing as many games as possible in order to get a franchise savior in the NBA Draft. Tanking is the practice of rebuilding a roster by fully disassembling it, maximizing cap space, and collecting assets. And yes, sometimes "collecting assets" includes collecting what Houston GM Daryl Morey calls "the number one asset in the NBA" — a top-five pick on a rookie contract
This comment is...less than useless. If you're simply defining a word as whatever it is you want the word to mean – with no regard to how the rest of the world defines that word – then you aren't actually contributing to the discussion. If I refused to understand that people actually mean "brings up the question" when they say "begs the question" – because literally nobody still uses that phrase to mean "assuming the concluson of an argument" anymore – I'd just be this useless third wheel in every conversation because none of my responses to the proverbial question would make any sense.
In other words, how the hell can a team that hasn't had a losing season in nearly ten years ever be considered an example of "tanking"? How can you honestly say, with a straight face, that this is what anyone means when they use the word "tanking"? In fact, I thought getting bounced in the first round of playoffs every year was the dreaded "treadmill of mediocrity". That was a phrase coined to justify tanking, because, clearly, those teams weren't going to land a franchise player as fast as those teams that land a coveted top draft pick. Obviously that never happens.
Come on. Tanking is not a rigorously defined term, but no one but the author of this piece will claim that it means winning 42+ games every year.
But you have to think about the narrative. The simple narrative, which Occam's Razor tells us is the most likely explanation of success in the NBA, is this: good players win games. Good players stay good. Teams that get good players win games, and stay good. Exhibit A: the Spurs. Their two-decades-long courtship of excellence goes way beyond landing Tim Duncan. Consider the fact that they are currently on an 18-game winning streak, while on pace for setting a record for "lowest minute total for top 5 rotation players". Or put simply, the Spurs still crush opponents when Duncan, Parker, or Ginobli sit out games or play 20 minutes in a game, and this has been happening for years.
But frankly, that narrative is ****ing boring. It's way more exciting to use narratives around luck, conspiracy, or a spinning tale in which our hero GM had to bend the laws of space, time, and the CBA to somehow construct a winning team even though all of the big market teams were out to get him!