For all the success the NBA has enjoyed over the last several years, commissioner Adam Silver has a few issues that must be resolved. While teams arbitrarily resting players is a big concern–especially in primetime games–Silver must address the most glaring problem: tanking.
It’s no secret that teams out of the playoff hunt want to draft as highly as possible in order to improve their future. That’s been going on for as long as there’s been a league. However, a number of organizations are going as far to deactivate their best players–for some 20 or more games–in order to “get a look at the young guys.” Translation: we don’t want to win any more games.
No league has dealt with this problem on such a large scale. The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers are the biggest culprits, and if the Brooklyn Nets retained their own pick–they’d likely be guilty of it, as well.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Suns decided to shut down center Tyson Chandler and go away from guard Brandon Knight. While not the most prudent move for any franchise trying to win games, those moves could be rationalized. This one cannot. The Suns won’t play starting point guard–and arguably best player–Eric Bledsoe in any of the team’s remaining games. For those keeping track, the Suns have shut down nearly 50 percent of its top rotation players for more than a month. The NBA is about entertainment, right?
According to Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, Bledsoe “understands what's best for the organization long-term, probably what's best for him in the long term, and in the short term it's what's best for the young players giving those guys an opportunity to play.”
Bledsoe responded with an unamused emoji on Twitter, while head coach Earl Watson took it a step further: “It’s a great thing for younger players; it’s a dangerous thing for coaches,” Watson said. “This is not college. Coaches don’t have 7-10 year contracts.”
The Lakers made their decision long before the Suns. They shut down their two highest paid players, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, around the All-Star Break. Nick Young has been in and out of the lineup too, while Luke Walton has made a habit of starting David Nwaba, a player on a 10-day contract.
While teams like the Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic have essentially closed up shop for the winter, as well, they are at least playing hard. The Kings’ decision to trade DeMarcus Cousins has paved the way for Willie Cauely-Stein and Skal Labissiere to get playing time, with which they’ve done exceedingly well.
The NBA’s best recourse might be to incentivize winning games. The Draft lottery system awards more ping-pong balls to teams with the worst records. Perhaps Silver should explore creating a bracket system in which teams within a certain record range are rewarded for actually winning games down the stretch of the season.
No in is arguing that the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers should have a shot at winning the lottery, but the Lakers and Suns do not deserve any reward for the way they’ve handled their seasons.