Adam Silver on NBA’s handling of tanking incentives: ‘We’re not there yet’

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has defined tanking so narrowly – a team purposefully losing – he can deny it happens.

A team sitting good healthy players? Not necessarily tanking.

A team using suboptimal lineup combinations? Not necessarily tanking.

Players giving less effort as they feel the morass of a situation in which everyone understands the organization is better off losing? Not necessarily tanking.

Obviously, these things happen, and they happen because teams want to lose and secure a better draft pick. But as long as Silver doesn’t see evidence of that motive – and he’s not copping to looking – he can deny tanking occurs. That’s been the approach for years.

But the NBA explicitly warned teams not to tank this year. The league specifically warned the Bulls not to rest Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday.

Maybe Silver is getting more proactive about a problem he has repeatedly denied even exists?

Silver:

Q. I was just curious why the Grizzlies weren’t punished for tanking when other teams were. You came out strongly against tanking earlier this season, and I’m just wondering, that team specifically seemed to have some issues —
ADAM SILVER: No team was, so-called, punished for tanking —
Q. Or warned.
ADAM SILVER: I will just say we had conversations with several teams about what the product was that they were putting on the floor, and I’ll leave it at that. They were just direct conversations we had with teams.
Well, let me add, I find it an incredibly difficult issue. We are changing the Draft Lottery for next year. That was something that had already been voted on, but we continue to look at the issue. We recognize that our goal was to put the best competition on the floor, and it’s balanced against legitimate rebuilding of some teams. But I know we’re not there yet, and I certainly wasn’t satisfied.
There can only be so much cajoling out of the league office. It’s one of those things that the last place I want to go as the commissioner of the league office is to start dictating minutes and which particular players should be playing at what points in the game.
I recognize that the incentives are not aligned right now, that there’s a huge incentive to increase your chances in the Draft Lottery, especially under the old system. As I said, we’re switching the system for next year. We’ll see how much of an impact that has, but my sense is we’re still going to have some work to do.

This far closer than Silver had ever come to admitting tanking happens. That’s the first step in combatting it.

But for far too long, his priority was fighting the perception of tanking – not actual tanking. It’ll take more action before I’m convinced the NBA will actually get at the meat of the issue.

Lottery reform – which will reduce the reward for finishing in the absolute basement – could reduce tanking. But as long as teams are incentivized with valuable draft picks to lose, tanking will still occur in some form.

That’s the problem with this lottery reform. It allows the league – which has finally admitted to, let’s generously say, tanking-like problems – to delay more meaningful action for years while assessing this minor change.

At least Silver is already saying this tweak probably won’t be enough. But how long until the NBA  actually does something else?

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.

 

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

NBA: NOV 06 Cavaliers at Lakers
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In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).