Bill Simmons calls it "Riggin' for Wiggins." You could just as easily call it "sucking for success."
Tanking is now NBA franchise's strategy of choice – and why? Because, with recent changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the punitive luxury tax, the only way to build a long-term contender is through the draft and the only way to build through the draft is to be terrible for a period of several years.
Take a moment to consider what this means for professional basketball. In the name of 'parity,' which is just a euphemism for basketball socialism, the NBA's decision makers have collectively suppressed every independent thinking, even moderately ingenious way to secure elite talents while still actually winning games, playoff series, and NBA titles.
Don't believe it? Just check the facts.
In 1979, the Los Angeles Lakers picked Magic Johnson first overall, despite having a strong record and a contending roster. They earned the pick as compensation for allowing Gail Goodrich to leave via free agency to the Jazz in 1977. Letting good – but not great – players leave for substantial compensation used to be a good way to get elite talent. That outlet no-longer exists: the NBA plugged it years ago when free agency no-longer compensated the losing team. Compensation is still in use elsewhere: savvy Major League Baseball teams regularly use it to restock with young talent while maintaining contending rosters.
In 1996, Shaquille O'Neal left to join a loaded Los Angeles Lakers roster in free agency. The Lakers, free of today's punishing salary cap structure, could afford to sign Shaq to an already loaded team that would soon feature a duo of the original Superman and a young Kobe Bryant. The result was three titles and franchise immortality. In today's NBA, the Lakers would need to strip their roster bare for a chance to sign a player of Shaq's caliber outright in free agency. In a classic catch-22, such a roster cleaning would produce a weak team and would hardly have made Los Angeles an attractive option for Shaq to bolt.
In 2010, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh all signed together with the Miami Heat. The Heat stripped their roster bare and had to take advantage of the old Collective Bargaining Agreement's soft cap and low luxury tax payments to make it happen. Now, Miami looks stuck between a rock and a hard place for luxury payments beyond 2014 and, with current punishing cap restrictions in place, 2010 does not look like something that could be repeated.
So, if franchises are
no-longer able to receive compensation picks, sign and trade for elite
talent at luxury-level payrolls (except for Brooklyn), or sign elite
free agents without stripping their roster bare, what can they do? The
only answer is to either tank and embrace "Riggin' for Wiggins" or shoot
for mediocrity and become the Milwaukee Bucks.
Since no one, under any circumstances, wants to be the Milwaukee Bucks, the only answer is to tank.
Which just leaves the sad question: why has the NBA created a system devoid of any creativity? And why will fans want to watch their chosen teams intentionally play poorly for years on end just for the chance – the chance – to be any good?
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