On the day the NBA season tips off, one of the big stories is tanking. David Stern (and Adam Silver) has to feel just a little nauseous about it.
We all know that the coming 2014 draft is loaded with potential franchise changing talent — Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Dante Exum, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker — and we know as much as they deny it some teams were putting out their young players to lose a lot of games in an effort to get a better shot at those players in the lottery.
Then in an ESPN The Magazine piece one GM didn’t deny it — he has admitted he worked with the owner to tank this season.
You need superstars to compete in this league, and the playing field for those guys is tilted toward a few big-market teams. They are demanding trades and getting together and deciding where they want to go in free agency. It’s tough for us to compete with that. So a high lottery pick is all we have.
How do you pull it off? First, you talk it over with ownership. I analyzed the team and told them what I wanted to do, the guys I wanted to get rid of and the guys with future value whom we wanted to keep. We obviously traded away some of our veteran guys who gave us a better chance of winning right now for future draft picks and young players. The owners didn’t want to tread water any more than I did. They’d rather go down to the bottom with the hope of coming up, so they signed off on it. It wasn’t a fight at all. In a different season, it might not make sense, but this draft certainly makes it more appealing.
Our coach understands that too. It’s no secret what we’re trying to do, and you can’t lie to him anyway or you’ll lose all trust. We never really had to tell him, because the handwriting is on the wall. He knows exactly what’s going on, and he’s good with it. What’s hard is keeping it from the players. If you took a poll in all 30 locker rooms, regardless of how the roster looks, I bet they’d all say they are a playoff team. That’s good, because you want them to play with effort and lose organically. You never tell the players not to try to win a game, but it’s obvious that you’re putting out a team that’s just not good enough to win.
There are no state secrets here — it’s obvious the 76ers, Jazz, Suns and Orlando have been on this path. We know how they did it. We know others will join them. We also know the odds of the plan succeeding get longer the more teams that try this.
Who wrote this for ESPN and came clean? Well, the GM references the 76ers, implying it is not them (which could be deception). There is Ryan McDonough in Phoenix, Rob Hennigan in Orlando, Kevin O’Conner in Utah (although after the Derrick Favors contract somehow this seems less likely). There are others out there who may have done it. It doesn’t really matter which one, in an honest moment they would all say the same thing.
This is not a surprise to anyone following the league, but it’s going to be a public relations black eye for the league as more and more casual fans and media start to discuss it. This will be first real issue Adam Silver will be saddled with as commissioner — the second half of this season there will be more and more organizations angling for lottery Ping-Pong balls (I know that’s not really how it works anymore, but the analogy is too good). It’s going to be a big story and the league is going to have to address it in some form.
Welcome to the hot seat, Adam Silver.