Yesterday, I went on about the NBA’s proposed in-season tournament. After sleeping on my thoughts abut such a thing, I remain convinced that it is unnecessary and unwarranted. But that is only the smaller of the two big problems on Adam Silver’s desk these days. The larger issue can be labeled in various ways:
- The integrity of NBA games
- You get the idea…
Look, teams “tank” every once in a while when their seasons cease to have any sort of possibility for a positive ending. Quitting, tossing in the towel, playing out the string are all ways we have come to label that sort of behavior. The NBA has a history with this sort of thing; they even instituted a lottery as part of the way they assign draft ordering so that teams would not blatantly try to lose just to acquire a special player who might be available in some year. [Aside: This year’s prize pick is French phenom Victor Wembanyama.]
And in this year, tanking – – preferring to lose a game instead of winning it – – was happening out in the open. Let me take the Washington Wizards as an example because it is the local team that I see most frequently. The Wiz have three better-than-average players on their roster; for any fans of the team in Washington, these three are significant portions of the decision those fans might make to go and see a game and spend their money on the Wiz. Those three players are:
- Bradley Beal
- Kyle Kuzma
- Kristaps Porzingis
For the last several weeks of the season, it has been difficult to find those three men in the lineup. Here is a compendium of the Wizards games over the last 3 weeks:
- From March 21-28 the Wizards’ record was 2-3. Porzingis played every game and Beal played one game; Porzingis averaged 27 points per game in that stretch.
- From March 31 until April 9, the Wizards’ record was 1-4. None of their three best players ever set foot on the court in these games.
But that is a performance that can be explained away by saying – accurately – that the Wizards aren’t all that good when their best players are involved. A less than good team hit a rough patch and lost a bunch of games – – no big deal. And then you have the situation in Dallas…
The tank job took place last Friday, April 7. The Mavericks still had a shot at making the play-in round of the NBA playoffs on the morning of April 7th, and then the Mavericks went out to lose a game intentionally to avoid the play-in round of the playoffs thereby accomplishing two things:
- Assure themselves as a contestant in the Victor Wembanyama lottery.
- Retain a Top-10 protected draft pick they would have owed to the NY Knicks.
How do I know this was “intent to lose”? The Mavericks’ coach, Jason Kidd, told the world that:
“I can’t speak for [Doncic]. But I think when you look at it, we all said we want to have the opportunity to find a way to get in [the play-in round]. And we were going to play until told otherwise. And today was the day that we were told we’re going to do something different.”
Read that carefully. The head coach and the team were told they would be doing something different from trying to make the play-in round of the NBA playoffs. Who might have been the one(s) to tell Jason Kidd and the Mavs’ players to go out and lose some games? Will Adam Silver need a 6-month investigation to narrow down the possibilities there? Do you think Charlie Chan might be available to lend some assistance here?
- Memo to Adam Silver: Any time any professional team in any league tries to lose a game instead of trying to win a game, it puts an indelible black mark on that team and that league. More than a hundred years after the fact, people remember the Black Sox Scandal.
- You, sir, are in charge. One of your job duties is to be the league’s disciplinarian. Over to you…
Forget about a fine. Even if you were allowed to levy fines of a meaningful amount, Mark Cuban could pay it and move on. Remember, he did that in the past (maybe 6 or 7 years ago) when you\\\the NBA fined him for openly talking about having the Mavs tank some games. This current situation is a blight on the NBA and the fact that it happens in varying degrees in just about every season does not diminish how bad it is. At some point, this kind of intentional losing will cause bettors to look askance at putting down some action on some NBA games; and – like it or not – that decision could cost the league fans and lost TV ratings.
Look, the NBA already has image problems with things like load-management and players demanding trades and players engaging in clearly anti-social behaviors; but those are things generally done by players and maybe coaches too. This is different; someone – or some ones – above the head coach in the hierarchy informed the head coach that winning was not the objective as of April 7th. If I need to explain why that is an important difference, I fear that Commissioner Silver and the entirety of the NBA’s “governors” will never understand.
Jason Kidd understands the stakes here. After explaining that he had been informed to sit anyone on the Mavs roster who might cause them to win a game, he added the following about the players who would take the court in Mavericks’ uniforms:
- He said the guys would “go out and try to play to win”.
- “You’ve got to be pros; you can’t cheat the game.”
Here is what I think is an appropriate action for the NBA now. It might give other teams a pause before they give up on trying to win games:
- Strip the Mavs of that first round pick they held onto by tanking; they should have no chance in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.
- Then award the Mavs’ first round pick in 2024 to the NY Knicks as recompense for the pick that the Knicks did not receive this year.
Yes, that would leave the Mavs without a first-round draft pick two years in a row. With that as a precedent for teams who are not trying to win every game, maybe that will give pause to the next owner/GM who even acquiesces to such a plan let alone one who endorses it. As I said, Mr. Commish, “Over to you…”
Finally, tanking is another word for quitting so let me close today with these words attributed to former US Vice-President, Hubert Horatio Humphrey:
“Some people look upon any setback as the end. They are always looking for the benediction and not the invocation … But you can’t quit. That is not what our country was built on.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………