One NBA general manager chose to speak anonymously to ESPN The Magazine’s Jeff Goodman regarding one of the NBA’s worst-kept secrets: Tanking a season.
In a league that is driven by superstars, the have-nots are forced to resort to selling off veteran pieces in the hopes of losing enough games to win the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery. This is something that has been talked about for years amongst fans and members of the media. Now, a man in charge of every personnel decision an NBA franchise makes admits to doing it leading up to the 2013 season – and acknowledges that both the team’s owners and coach have signed off on it.
I know that sounds crazy, but if you’re an NBA general manager like me, the last place you want to be is in the middle. There are only two outcomes there: Either make the playoffs and be first-round fodder for one of the premier teams or miss the playoffs and pick somewhere around 11th to 14th in the draft. Either way, the odds are that you stay in that middle range. It’s a recipe for disaster.
The 2014 NBA Draft is expected to be one of the most loaded in years. Headlined by Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins and Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart, there are franchise-changing weapons at several positions.
They are available for the taking as long as a team is slotted high enough in the draft.
How do you pull it off? First, you talk it over with ownership. I analyzed the team and told them what I wanted to do, the guys I wanted to get rid of and the guys with future value whom we wanted to keep. We obviously traded away some of our veteran guys who gave us a better chance of winning right now for future draft picks and young players. The owners didn’t want to tread water any more than I did. They’d rather go down to the bottom with the hope of coming up, so they signed off on it. It wasn’t a fight at all. In a different season, it might not make sense, but this draft certainly makes it more appealing.
Finally, he explains that the coach is more or less “in” on it as well.
Our coach understands that too. It’s no secret what we’re trying to do, and you can’t lie to him anyway or you’ll lose all trust. We never really had to tell him, because the handwriting is on the wall. He knows exactly what’s going on, and he’s good with it.
For those worried about any actual “tanking,” however, the general manager is honest in saying that the players really are working their tails off.
What’s hard is keeping it from the players. If you took a poll in all 30 locker rooms, regardless of how the roster looks, I bet they’d all say they are a playoff team. That’s good, because you want them to play with effort and lose organically. You never tell the players not to try to win a game, but it’s obvious that you’re putting out a team that’s just not good enough to win.
Remember, these players are not simply playing for their team’s one-year win-loss record. Improved stats or good sideline and locker room demeanor can earn them a more lucrative free agent contract in the offseason, or earn them more playing time with the team they’re on. They still have everything to play for – as in, their livelihood – whether the general manager is hoping they lose or not.
The anonymous GM leaves us with one final piece of food for thought:
You’re going to be bad. There’s no way around it. And even if you finish 0-82, there’s still a 75 percent chance you don’t get the No. 1 pick. We’re just going to take our lumps and hope our number gets called.