In all the tanking discussion that we have engaged over the past few weeks, we never looked to view it through a league lens. We have made it very clear how we feel about the Toronto Raptors “curious circumstances” within the Atlantic Division and how much better a team they are since trading Rudy Gay. As we wrote last time, we believe they are in for this season. What we haven’t done, though, is analyzed how the NBA administration may be viewing the same circumstances if the Raptors commit to the inverse.
Incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver is on record saying that he does not believe that tanking works and that the culture of success is far more important than betting on the off chance that a team may stumble into it.
Of course, what else do we expect him to say? The last thing he wants to do is be the head of a compromised league with undercurrents of dubiousness. But as long as the lottery system is in place, there are going to be accusations of tanking and being suspicious of bad teams. But there are always going to be bad teams.
Maybe the league is going to look closer at the wheel idea that has been thrown around by a couple of league front offices that was supposedly gaining some traction (only to be violently shot down by the majority of others, according to reports).
Honestly, though, there is no reason to even discuss that idea further. No matter how innovative, it is a drastic change and even the seemingly progressive Silver would be remiss to advocate for such a transition so early in his tenure. Besides, it would be a risk in maintaining competitive balance. We don’t feel that is a risk the league office even wants to think about entertaining.
But, like the circumstances would suggest, we feel the Raptors could play an interesting role in how the league office and Silver, in particular, view just how pervasive a problem tanking is in the NBA.
There is no doubt in our minds that Silver is watching the Raptors situation closer than any other this season. In the interview on the subject that he gave in the fall, Silver said that tanking “makes me nervous” and it bothers him that it even has to be asked about.
So we naturally ask: what then would make Silver more uneasy than a team in first place in their division, playing great with one of the best records in the league since early December deciding to tank?
This situation would be unprecedented; it could call for unprecedented action. It would not even be fair for us to speculate on what Silver’s reaction could be. We are certain that his nervousness would turn into a panic, and he would have to confront it in his first year on the job, which is beyond unfortunate for a guy that we feel probably has no interest in Roger Goodell-ing the NBA.
Again, the Milwaukee Bucks are one thing. They have no players. They’re just bad. They should lose almost all of their games without any suspicion. The Raptors are a totally different story. If they make trades and lose games they are purposefully giving up a division crown and talent. The Bucks aren’t giving up anything. One is overt; the other subtle. And if it happens, there has never been an example this overt.
Granted, we are saying this in our first column after claiming that the Raptors now had no choice but to be all-in for 2014. We still believe that. But if GM Masai Ujiri feels like overriding everyone to complete his vision of future competitiveness, then he has to be prepared to be at the center of discussions that the NBA has never had before, and desperately doesn’t want to have.