Prospective NBA tankers beware: Commissioner Adam Silver is watching.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was recently fined $600,000 for pro-tanking comments. But the league, and Silver, didn’t stop there. A memo was sent to all 30 teams shortly thereafter, according to USA Today‘s Sam Amick, the contents of which left little to the imagination about where the Association stands on the bottoming-out topic.
“Over the past several seasons, discussions about so-called ‘tanking’ in the NBA have occurred with some frequency, both in the public discourse and within our league, and you as governors have taken steps to address the underlying incentive issues by adopting changes to our draft lottery system that will go into effect next year,” Silver wrote in the letter which was obtained by USA TODAY Sports. “Throughout this period, we have been careful to distinguish between efforts teams may make to rebuild their rosters, including through personnel changes over the course of several seasons, and circumstances in which players or coaches on the floor take steps to lose games.
“The former can be a legitimate strategy to construct a successful team within the confines of league rules; the latter — which we have not found and hope never to see in the NBA — has no place in our game. If we ever received evidence that players or coaches were attempting to lose or otherwise taking steps to cause any game to result otherwise than on its competitive merits, that conduct would be met with the swiftest and harshest response possible from the league office.”
It’s unclear what Silver means by the “harshest response possible.” Is it more fines, like the one levied upon Cuban? Would the NBA consider stripping teams of draft picks or lottery odds if it sees fit? How would those punishments work? Tanking, after all, is subjective even at its most egregious. It wouldn’t be hard for teams to craft defenses of their record around injuries or attempts to develop their youth.
Next year’s lottery reform will address some of these issues. The new system will give the bottom-three records equal odds at landing the No. 1 pick while offering other lottery-bound squads a greater chance of leap-frogging those in front of them. But even under the tweaked structure, there will still be an incentive to bottom out. The NBA can’t change that. Not entirely. And to be frank, they probably cannot fully enforce their anti-tanking stance outlined in Silver’s email either.