The Race for Last Place


Author: Matthew Budkofsky
A lot of NBA fans focus most of their attention on teams like the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. And why wouldn’t they? The two teams have been the epitome of success over the last 3 years, as the two teams have met in the NBA Finals for 3 consecutive years now, a feat that has never been accomplished before in the history of the NBA. This year, teams like the Raptors, Celtics and Rockets all believe they have what it takes to unseat the two franchises. However, there is a group of 8 teams who do not have a shot at reaching the Finals this year. In fact, for these 8 teams, even reaching the playoffs does not seem to be a possibility. So, what can they do?

A few weeks ago, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for publicly encouraging the Mavericks to lose games in order to obtain a better chance at a higher draft pick. This ‘strategy’ is best known as tanking and was made popular by Sam Hinkie and the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite the hefty fine, tanking still seems like it would make a lot of sense for some teams. For teams like the Hawks, Knicks, Magic, Bulls, Grizzlies, Suns, Mavericks and Kings, losing now could potentially be the best strategy for improving the franchise in the long run.

Tanking is much easier to talk about than actually execute. After all, the players on these teams get paid to compete every night. The 8 teams previously listed are all separated by just 1.5 games in the standings, which means any win could seriously jeopardize their ultimate draft standing. Over the last 80 games, those 8 teams combined record is a putrid 16-64. The Grizzlies are so committed to tanking, that they are holding out some of their better players like Tyreke Evans and Marc Gasol, in order to put forth a roster that is less competitive than usual.

Tanking really became a relevant strategy because of the super teams that have been formed in recent years. With LeBron James in the East and the Warriors/Spurs dynasties in the West, we have actually witnessed teams throw in the towel and begin planning for five years down the line with no intentions of achieving any success in the meantime. In a sport where the ultimate goal is a championship, this strategy may seem counter-intuitive. But if you look at a team like the 76ers, we can now observe a team that many believe to have successfully ‘tanked’. Tanking has widened the disparity between the elite teams in the NBA and the terrible ones. However, with TV ratings higher than they have ever been before, the NBA seemingly has no reason to worry about this new phenomenon hurting their overall popularity. I just feel badly for the fans that have to sit back and simply “trust the process.”