Because of the strength and depth of the 2014 NBA Draft class, tanking has been a big issue in the NBA this year.
Tanking — the pejorative term for a franchise structuring its team to fail in the short term in order to succeed in the long term — is entirely rational.
Acquiring a superstar is the most direct path to success in the NBA. Since the easiest way to acquire a superstar is by picking one high in the NBA Draft, and the only way to get a high pick in the draft is by having a bad record, there’s an incentive for losing in the short term.
Although tanking makes sense, it’s still gross to watch, and it stinks for fans.
But how to do you end tanking while also ensuring parity?
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban floated a simple solution on the Dan Patrick Show this morning.
It’s not fully fleshed-out, but Cuban’s basic idea is that the teams with the three worst records couldn’t get the three top picks. Therefore you disincentivize being awful and eliminate the race to the bottom, but still redistribute talent to the worst teams in the league in a way that cultivates long-term parity.
Here’s how Cuban responded when he was asked how to end tanking:
“I don’t think you can [end tanking]. I’ve talked to Michael Zarren of the Celtics about the Wheel — where you pretty much know what your pick is going to be in any given year. The challenge there is the business side of things. Selling hope is something fans want to hear if they know they’re not going to have a championship team. Or they want to know that you can capture lightning in a bottle and get on a run and win a championships or at least compete for one.
“I don’t know that there is a definite answer. My solution has always been if you want to avoid tanking you just say if you have one of the three worst records you’re not eligible for one of the three best picks. You’ve got to at least fight your way to the fourth-worst record.”
At the very least Cuban’s plan could eliminate the brand of tanking where teams actively lose games (by resting players, etc.) at the end of the year in order to improve their draft position.
It’s not the magic bullet that will kill tanking once and for all, but it would certainly help.
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