Tanking in the NBA is difficult to explicitly define, but pretty obvious when seen in the wild. And what the Phoenix Suns are doing right now is tanking. Unabashed, plainly visible tanking.
The Suns sat starting point guard and best player Goran Dragic on Thursday against the visiting Kings. He is healthy right now. The great Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains why the decision-makers kept Dragic out of the game (reportedly against his wishes):
Dragic was told that he was being rested to give rookies Kendall Marshall and Diante Garrett opportunities and because he could use the rest for how intensely he has played and his upcoming summer duty for the Slovenian national team. Marshall could use the time after sitting most of the year, and Garrett merits a chance but Dragic had no health issues and two games in March will not make much of a difference on the European Championship in September.
And also, because the Suns are trying to lose as much as possible to boost their lottery chances. The eventual blow-out loss to Sacramento on Thursday made Phoenix the third team in the league to reach 50 losses on the season. There's a tight group of eight teams with between 22 and 26 wins this season. Phoenix has 23. Finishing the worst among those teams leaves you with the No. 3 best chance for the No. 1 pick in the draft, and a worst-case scenario of the No. 6 pick. Finishing with the best record among those teams leaves you with the No. 10 best chance for the No. 1 pick, and a basically assured likelihood of getting the No. 10 or 11 pick.
I don't actually oppose tanking. Not all bad teams do it. And there's no faking being the worst: Charlotte and Orlando are the two worst teams in the league by a solid margin, and they'll finish the season with the top chances at the top pick. Some teams value going into the offseason on a run. Some teams prioritize learning about their own players. Some teams want those ping pong balls.
A lot of people have a problem with that last one. So it's a problem when a team is as obvious as the Suns are being. Because this is pretty much an indisputable piece of evidence that tanking exists, the sort of thing the NBA can't ignore when folks who don't like tanking point it out. Just like the Warriors' incredibly obvious attempts last season. (Attempts that were totally successful.) And just like the 2006-07 Celtics and 2005-06 Timberwolves.
Eventually, cluelessly obvious teams like the Suns are going to ruin it for all the teams (like the current Magic and Cavaliers) who are actually a bit suave about their tanking. So yes: Phoenix can't even lose properly. Well done, y'all!
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