During an offseason in which he has traded away his two best players and his coach without receiving a single impact player in return, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge adamantly proclaimed that the organization is not ‘tanking’, according to Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe.
“We are not tanking,” Ainge told the Globe. “That’s ridiculous. This is the Boston Celtics.”
Of course, the Celtics have been accused of tanking in the past–most notably in the 1996-1997 season, in which they went 15-67, and in 2006-2007, when they lost a franchise-record 18 consecutive games. In 1997, the prize of the draft was Tim Duncan, while, in 2007, it was Greg Oden (though, not so much in hindsight) and Kevin Durant. We”ll leave it to you, fair reader, to decide whether those two teams tanked.
The 2014 NBA Draft is supposed to be loaded with future studs and franchise players like Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker, though those who predict the success of a draft beforehand are notoriously unreliable.
As to whether the Celtics are tanking for a high draft pick? It’s too early to tell. Though Ainge traded away Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and Doc Rivers, the Celtics (currently constituted) still have enough talent to compete for a playoff berth in a shallow Eastern Conference–especially one in which other bad teams will surely be toying with idea of tanking as well.
Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass Courtney Lee, and Kelly Olynyk certainly aren’t contending for a championship, but it wouldn’t be shocking if that core eked out 40-42 wins and snuck into the playoffs. Let’s not forget, the Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs last season with 38 wins.
Because of the uncertain future direction of the franchise, we at CelticsTown decided to take a look at tanking–what it is, does it work, and should it be allowed.
What is tanking? How do you define it?
Trey Adell: Tanking is defined by purposely lessening your ability to win games. Teams that tank usually do it with the intent of strengthening their position in the draft. Usually, this means resting key guys longer than need be because of “injuries”.
Tom Westerholm: Short answer? Tanking is intentionally losing or giving up assets that take one’s team from middle-of-the-pack to bottom feeder in order to acquire a better draft pick and/or better assets in the future. Otherwise stated: exactly what Danny Ainge is doing, despite his protests to the contrary.
Jordan Higgs: Tanking is the act of purposefully losing in order to obtain a higher draft pick. There are two types of tanking: assembling a team so bad it naturally loses games (which I’m ok with), and purposefully throwing games (which I’m not as ok with).
Does tanking work? Is it an effective strategy?
Trey Adell: It depends on how you use tanking. Some teams use it solely as an attempt to secure a coveted prospect and that doesn’t always pan out. But tanking, like everything else in this league, is pretty much up to chance. Any decision you make in this league can be destroyed with one wrong twist of an ankle or one awkward fall on a dunk attempt. Trades and free agency are the predominant ways for teams to rebuild but, for teams that don’t garner much buzz in the free agent market, the draft is their best shot at acquiring assests. Tanking merely increases your chance with the latter.
Tom Westerholm: Tanking works, but it comes at a price. Fans flock to stadiums to see contenders and young talent. Tanking teams, typically, have neither. Teams might win in the future, and that’s great. In many cities, in fact, fans recognize when the team is terrible and should be tanking. So it works, but the price is that fans either A) don’t come to your games or B) actively root for you to lose. It’s not really a healthy dynamic.
Jordan Higgs: I don’t know, there’s probably not a good answer to this. Because of the draft lottery tanking is never a sure thing, and in recent memory only the Spurs have been successful in acquiring talent via tanking and subsequently holding onto it during multiple championship seasons. However, the teams that find themselves in the lottery year after year tend to be poorly managed. You could also argue tanking is another form of asset acquisition, and even if the Celtics didn’t win the lottery in the 2007 NBA draft the asset acquisition from tanking resulted in the trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
Thomas King: Though it is widely assumed that tanking is an effective strategy, there is not much evidence to support that belief. Proponents of tanking tend to say that, since the whole point is to win a championship, if you are not contending for a title, there is little incentive to make the playoffs; your team is better off tanking and taking it’s chances in the lottery. The problem with that thinking is that having the worst record does not guarantee that you will secure the top pick, or that your selection will pan out.
I have yet to see tanking ultimately lead to an NBA championship. The Spurs are always used as the prime example of why teams should tank because they got Tim Duncan in the 1997 NBA Draft. The problem? The Spurs didn’t tank–David Robinson broke his foot and only played 9 games and a bunch of other key players suffered major injuries. In fact, the teams that DID tank that season (Vancouver and Boston) continued to suck. The ’07 Celtics may have tanked, but it didn’t lead to the championship, as people like to claim. Even if that team tried it’s hardest, they were going to be awful and earn a top 5 or 6 pick anyway, which they would still have been able to parlay into Ray Allen and, ultimately, Kevin Garnett.
Should tanking be allowed/encouraged? Or should it be banned/discouraged?
Trey Adell: I don’t think it should be encouraged by the league as it’s basically an intent to worsen the multi-million dollar product on the court but I think it’d be almost impossible for the league to ban it. One of the most effective methods of tanking is just by resting key players with “injuries” and I dont see how the league would restrict a coach’s ability to manage his own team.
Tom Westerholm: For the good of the league, probably. Let’s assume (and I’m being EXTREMELY generous to teams like Indiana and Brooklyn) there are 10 contenders next year. That leaves 20 teams with absolutely nothing to play for. Why would those teams, in a draft year with allegedly franchise-changing talent, try at all? For that matter, why would any fans show up to their games? Or watch on TV? Or buy jerseys for temporary players? Or do any of the things that drive revenue and keep the league afloat? Tanking is great for the future of a franchise, but it’s not good for the present state of the NBA.
Jordan Higgs: Tanking should be allowed, but discouraged. Like I said before, theres a right way and a wrong way to go about it. And we reward teams for being bad. From a long-term perspective, theres very little reward for being in the middle ground in the NBA.
Thomas King: Tanking should be banned, for the same reason we take game-fixing so seriously: it compromises the integrity of the league. We want to see competition in which both teams are trying their hardest to win. It’s the whole point of athletics–to test one’s skill against an equally motivated opponent.
If you think it’s a problem, how do you think the league should address it?
Trey Adell: I honestly don’t see it as a very serious problem at the moment. However, should the league see it to be a problem then fines would one course of action. Stern already fined the Spurs for sending their Big 3 home as they were getting ready to play a game vs the Heat. Even in a new regime under Silver could see similar punishments handed down.
Tom Westerholm: I don’t even have the foggiest idea. I don’t envy Adam Silver. Objectively, you can’t ever tell for certain that someone is tanking (at least in terms of plausible deniability). Subjectively, EVERYONE can tell when a team is tanking (because we aren’t idiots and we know that Mark Madsen shooting threes is not a winning strategy).
Thomas King: The easiest, most effective way to address tanking is to radically alter, or abolish the NBA Draft. I’m of the opinion there shouldn’t even be an NBA Draft; each player who enters the league should be a free agent. When you think about it, in how many others professions are you forbidden from choosing what organization you want to work for? An alternative to free agency would be to create a single-elimination tournament with the bottom 8 lottery teams, with the winner receiving the first overall pick and moving down from there. Sure, it wouldn’t reward the worst team quite as much, but, as March Madness has shown us, there is still a lot of chance involved in a win-or-go-home scenario. And honestly, how much fun would it be to watch your shitty team make a tournament run to secure the rights to draft Andrew Wiggins in 2014?