Adam Silver on tanking: ‘absolutely no evidence’ that any team has lost a single game on purpose

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NEW ORLEANS — Adam Silver held his first public press conference since taking over as the NBA’s new commissioner on Saturday, and the theme of what he hopes to accomplish during his tenure can be described using just two words: transparency and innovation.

On of the issues that is widely discussed among fans is the need for teams to bottom out in order to have a better chance at acquiring a high draft pick via the lottery system that’s currently in place. Tanking would imply that in order to do this, teams must find a way to lose essentially on purpose, or at minimum, more than perhaps their roster construction would seem to allow.

Silver seemed adamant in stating his belief, however, that teams simply don’t lose on purpose — despite the public perception.

“My understanding of tanking would be losing games on purpose,” Silver said. “And there’s absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game, or certainly in any time that I’ve been in the league, on purpose. And, to me, what you’re referring to I think is rebuilding.  And I’m not sure it’s just a function of the collective bargaining agreement; I think there’s a balance with any team of the need to look out to the future and at the same time put a competitive product on the floor.”

In a large and formal press conference setting, there isn’t really the opportunity to follow up with multiple questions to get into the heart of any single matter. But what might have been asked in a different situation is not about how players and coaches behave, but about the way front offices sign minimum- or low-level salary players to stay under the luxury tax threshold, and conserve a franchise’s dollars for a later season when making a playoff run may be a more legitimate enterprise.

Anytime I have spoken with players or coaches about tanking, the topic is laughed off completely, and with good reason. Individual players can’t afford to not put forth their best effort on a consistent basis, and coaches are as competitive as they come. They similarly want to win, and that never changes — even if there is a directive from the front office at some point in the season to give the younger players on the team more minutes in order to develop them for the future.

Rebuilding is a necessary part of the process that even the glamor teams must go through from time to time, as we’re seeing in Los Angeles with the Lakers this season. That’s something Silver is alright with, but in his mind, it has nothing to do with teams intentionally losing games.

“I think what we’re seeing in the league right now is there’s no question that several teams are building towards the future,” Silver said. “And I think their fans understand that, as well. If there was any indication whatsoever that players or coaches somehow were not doing their absolute most to win a game, we would be all over that. But I don’t believe for a second that’s what’s going on. I think we have the most competitive players in the world, the most competitive coaches, and I think they’re doing everything they can to win games.”