The Philadelphia 76ers are well on their way to another season full of losses and no-name players. It's all part of Sam Hinkie's plan to strip the roster to nothing but rookie contracts and non-guaranteed deals with an eye on ultimately rebuilding through the draft. It's the tanking strategy to its ultimate extreme, and not everyone is happy about it.
Tom Ziller and Paul Flannery discuss:
Ziller: So, Larry Brown ripped the Hinkie Plan, surprising no one. It gets to the issue of perception since there are other tanking teams that no one complains about. There's something about the Sixers that gets the crowd really worked up.
Flannery: Mr. Play the Right Way is not on board? No. Way. Wasn't he a candidate for the job at some point? Still, it's fair to say that a lot of people are ripshit about the 76ers and it's interesting how it's framed. They're not really mad about what they're doing, they're mad at how they're doing it. It's an honor among thieves kind of thing.
Ziller: This gets back to my recent commentary on credible deniability. Teams like the Lakers and Kings, if they are tanking, have it. They can make the case they are trying to win and things went sideways. There's none of that in Philly. It's fully transparent.
But that bothers people. A lot. We say we want honesty and maybe we really don't.
Flannery: When you say "we," you mean fans and media, but that doesn't include the league. What the Sixers are doing is too transparent. They're completely driving the perception that the NBA has a vast underbelly of fraudulent teams that aren't trying to win, and perception is a big deal for the NBA. I mean, no one's writing that the Cubs are tanking because Theo Epstein is building through the draft and restocking the minor leagues. Maybe they are locally, but it's not a national talking point.
This bothers me. How many teams were really 'tanking' last year? Four, maybe six. We can run through the list. Philly, obviously. Utah made a deal to clear cap space and play their young players. Fine, smart move. Boston traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and didn't rush Rajon Rondo back from a knee injury. Had to be done. Orlando's taking the long road too, and people were mad that they didn't trade those veterans earlier. Milwaukee tried to win. The Kings desperately want to win.
The perception is the problem. Tanking, or whatever you want to call it, is a necessary evil in every sport. The bigger issue is that the best way to get good quickly in this league is through the draft and the draft rewards losing. Now, how do you solve that problem? It's not as easy as people think.
The Sixers' website doesn't know who's on the team
That's the wrong basketball-playing Outlaw pictured on the Sixers' roster, NBA.com. It's... you know what, don't worry about it.
Ziller: The league tried to fix it by deterring teams from copying the Sixers, but that presents its own problems. You'd damage fabled competitive balance by reducing the impact of the single greatest competitive balancer in pro sports: the NBA Draft. That didn't pass, so the only thing stopping the Sixers from further Sixering or a team from mimicking them is shame and the threat of near-future reform.
I'm not convinced the Sixers are hurting the NBA, despite the perception issue. No one has copied them, and if teams do, the league can push reform again. Plus, as these teams devalue quality NBA players, other teams will exploit that.
I wonder how players feel about it. They are being thrown to the wolves, but most of them might not otherwise be in the NBA or in a position to play serious NBA minutes. Like, Tony Wroten can't really complain, right?
Flannery: My issue with the reform proposal is that it tries to fix a problem that doesn't need fixing. The lottery doesn't reward anything but pure, dumb luck. It works. Structurally, I don't think think there's a huge problem with the current system, but again it's the perception that teams are actively trying to lose. If you want to blow up the entire lottery system, that's a different question altogether. I don't think it can be solved with stop-gap measures.
What does make people legitimately angry about Philly is that it completely betrays the notion of competitiveness. It strikes them as anathema that you would take every measure to be worse. I think they have a point. It's not right in a moral sense, but there's no way to legislate fairness in a league where one great players makes such a huge difference.
So, what do we do? Drastically overhaul the system or status quo?
Ziller: We snark-shame the Sixers and Hinkie so much that no other franchise management team would dream of copying them. I'm only half-joking: the stigma and local backlash (such as that from sponsors) is what would stop most franchisees in their tracks.
On that note, I think the Board of Governors can exert pressure by tweaking revenue sharing to make this strategy as painful financially as it is competitively without touching the draft. It'd be tricky to find a way to punish the Philadelphias without hurting the Milwaukees, but that's why Adam Silver makes the big bucks.
Flannery: There's only one surefire way: Ban the draft.