The Golden State Warriors launched one of the most egregious tanking campaigns in recent NBA history last year.
They were 18-21 — the third-worst record in the conference — with 26 games left when they completely and wilfully collapsed.
They traded Monta Ellis for an injured Andrew Bogut, shut down Steph Curry for the season, and benched David Lee with an ambiguous-sounding injury.
They went 5-21 to end the year.
The incentive was simple: their first-round draft pick was “top-7 protected,” meaning Utah would have gotten it if it was 8th or higher.
Golden State was too young and thin to make any noise in the playoffs last year, so they sacrificed those last 26 games in embarrassing fashion to make sure they’d have a first-round pick.
It worked better than they ever imagined.
They ended up with the 7th-worst record in the league, got the 7th pick, and took Harrison Barnes — a talented ex-high school phenom who underperformed in college. With their second-round pick, they took Draymond Green.
Now, 12 months later, the Warriors have a legitimate chance to make the Western Conference finals, and Barnes and Green — who are on the team as a direct result of tanking — are playing in crunch time.
Barnes has scored 15 points per game in the playoffs, and his presence as a small-ball power forward has utterly confused opposing defence since his minutes picked up early in the Denver series. Green, for his part, is shooting 50% from three.
It’s a perfect example of the virtue of tanking, and it sets a potentially dangerous precedent.
It proves that if you are a certain type of team with certain types of players, there’s no harm in throwing away entire seasons with an eye toward the future.
Golden State is the feel-good story of the playoffs. But they wouldn’t be here without tanking.
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