Hoop Idea: A solution to tanking
Tanking has always been a controversial topic of debate, but with so many transactions this lockout shortened season geared shamelessly towards bottoming out, it appears the basketball world has given it a higher level of attention.
It began at the beginning of the season, when the NBA for all intents and purposes endorsed the tactic by turning down a trade, acting as the New Orleans Hornets defacto owner, which would have made the team immediately competitive, in favor of a trade that yielded cap room and higher draft picks to obtain cheaper talent with higher ceilings.
And why not? Judging by the decade long success of the San Antonio Spurs, and the emergence of the Oklahoma City Thunder–employing two of the smartest front offices in all of sports–tanking works. Except when it doesn’t, as Henry Abbott pointed out over at TrueHoop:
“While good luck and deep pockets play a role, you win a title by getting a huge percentage of your decisions right. Look at the Thunder’s last 20 transactions, and I think we’d agree that they made the good or great calls in at least 17 of them. The same goes for Chicago and San Antonio.
But the teams out there that are not winning year after year … in most cases they’re not just “rebuilding through the lottery.” They’re also making one dreadful decision after another. That means with the draft, coaching hires, trades and everything else. I assure you GMs in many NBA markets really don’t want you to examine the record, because it won’t be kind to them. They’re already preparing their stories about how everybody has bad luck.”
The problem Hoop Idea is trying to solve isn’t necessarily tanking, because done correctly over a short span of time, as the Oklahoma City Thunder did, tanking could easily be reclassified as rebuilding. And nothing is wrong with rebuilding.
Instead, the real attack on the integrity of the game is perpetual tanking; Lazy or incompetent general managers hiding behind a number of first round picks and pitching it as progress.
The system in place works for those who utilize it correctly. As Abbott pointed out, good management and a sound long-term strategy are the only ways to predict success, and there are so many general managers on poor organizations that put less than part-time work in.
The challenge issued by Abbott and Hoop Idea is:
“How do you motivate 30 teams to be great at what they do? Because right now it’s hard to make the case that 30 teams are being as smart as possible. “
As we saw with the lockout, there is only one universal incentive when it comes to NBA owners: financial incentive.
Ending the weighted lottery system, as has been suggested, would merely put team building further in the hands of chance instead of sound management. Instead of trying to fix the draft, fix the incentive. Instead of fixing the weighted lottery system, add a weighted revenue sharing program to lottery teams.
Continue to give the worst team the biggest chance of winning the first overall pick, but in exchange, give them the smallest slice of the revenue sharing pie. The better the record for each lottery team, the more money they receive from revenue sharing.
Teams in full tank mode are shedding salary and assets while acquiring cheap, underpaid talent. It stands to reason that they would require less financial help to cover their lower operating costs. Furthermore, if the winning, big market teams are forking over their money it makes sense that there should at least be some responsibility on the part of the receiving teams to work for it.
This scenario would allow teams a 2-3 year window for a true rebuilding period, but anything longer would be cost prohibitive for an owner depending on that revenue sharing (big market teams rarely tank).
If the lockout taught us anything it’s that NBA owners, especially on poorly run franchises, will squabble over every dollar. Putting a prohibitive cost on tanking will give those owners some incentive to make sure the front office overseeing that tanking has a plan in place. At the very least hopefully it would give owners incentive to make sure the people that run their teams are showing up more than part-time hours.
The incentive to follow the Oklahoma City Thunder model still exists because even with revenue sharing, the best way to get a profitable team is to field a competitive one. And the best way to do that still remains by acquiring elite, cheap talent early in the NBA draft.
The answer to tanking isn’t eliminating it. It’s regulating it. And penalizing the poor management that hides behind it.