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NBA Tanking: The Solution

Get rid of the draft

by James Leroy Wilson
March 4, 2014

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NBA Tanking: The Solution

Since the off-season and especially the past few weeks, "tanking" has been a topic of conversation among NBA followers. It means that a franchise seems to be intentionally losing games in order to enhance their draft status which, in turn, allows them to pick a talented rookie around whom next season's team could be built.

The players and coaches themselves are not accused of intentionally losing, but management may trade a good player for marginal players or low-round draft picks. This can demoralize the team and its fan base, although many fans hold out hope for the coming year.

This year's problem is that the 2014 draft class is viewed as exceptionally strong at the top, where as many as six or seven college players are viewed as potential all-stars. "Tanking" increases a poor-to-mediocre team's chances of greatly improving the next season, as it has no chance of a championship this year.

That means a lot of meaningless, uncompetitive games in the regular season. The main reason to go to a game would be to see stars from the visiting team in person, or to enjoy the promotions, contests, and halftime entertainment.

This isn't good for the league, and is not akin to good teams such as the Spurs resting aging starters on a given night, NFL play-off bound teams resting starters in late-season games, or late-season minor-league call-ups to major  league teams. They're not changing their rosters for the worse.

If tanking is as frequent as it's alleged, particularly this season, the NBA itself is hurt. Why watch the games, particularly late in the regular season? 

There won't be a quick fix in the foreseeable future, for the simple reason that changes will require a new collective bargaining agreement with the player's association. But if a solution is to be found, the NBA should recognize that to maintain  competitive balance throughout the league, year after year, you could have a draft, or you could have a salary cap, but you don't need both.

My solution would to get rid of the draft and the limits on rookie contracts, but keep the salary cap. It will solve the tanking issue. Rookie prospects could sign with the highest bidder. They are, however, less likely to go to to the best teams, who pay handsomely for the stars they already have and wouldn't be able to afford young stars.

In this situation, where rookies can sign with whomever they want, franchises out of playoff contention would be more likely to try to impress them by competing at as high a level as they can. Instead of tanking to get the best draft pick,  a general manager would make trades to make their team more competitive this year, so that a prospect will think, "They're just one player away from being a contender. I can be that player."

The trading season could be for a period after the season, but before free agents (including rookies) could sign with teams. That will allow teams to make the necessary trades and releases to afford the free agents they want. If a franchise gets into a bidding war for a rookie player and ends up overpaying him, preventing it from affording a solid team around him, that will be fault of management.

In the end, abolishing the draft and allowing a free-for-all in rookie signings may be the best way to preserve the integrity of the regular season.

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