It’s everyone’s favorite part of the NBA season: tanking time! It starts every year when the calendar hits February, then ramps up over the final two months. Who doesn’t love to see star players sit with fake injuries, or rosters made up entirely of names that you’re convinced are taken from NBA2K MyPlayer mode? The thing is, before this season, tanking had always been an open secret. Everyone knew that it was in the long-term best interest of mediocre and terrible teams to lose in order to earn a higher pick in the draft and have a better chance of adding a franchise-altering superstar (“Trust the Process,” anyone?). But owners never admitted this because doing so would seem to violate the time-honored covenant between team and fanbase. The entire relationship between these two entities, the reason we fans are supposed to invest ourselves in a bunch of professional athletes who will never return the favor, is a quid pro quo: you put out a quality product, we will root for you. Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, apparently decided he was done messing around with pretense and began worshipping at the altar of the golden tanking calf. Last week, he revealed that he told several of his players that “losing was the best option.” For shame, Cubes, for shame. Naturally, the NBA fined him $600,000 (as if that matters to a billionaire) but everyone and their mother knows it’s an incredibly hollow gesture. Always outspoken, Cuban was just speaking the truth. In the current system, if you’re not a contender, it behooves you to bottom out. As long as the NBA remains a star-driven league, there’s nothing you can do to prevent this without overhauling entire nature of the sport or the drafting system and those just aren’t feas… oh wait, one of those options is 100-percent feasible. It’s been revealed in the past couple of days that the NBA is considering overhauling their draft and playoff systems, and I would just like to use my soapbox here to endorse the Stan van Gundy Draft Wheel. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the idea is that each team is assigned their draft position every season for the next 30 years, distributed such that each team is guaranteed one top pick during that span and a top five pick every five or six years. A team’s record in any individual season will have no bearing on their position, which means there will be no incentive to lose. Fanbases will be saved from having to sit through consecutive travesties of seasons on nothing more than a wish and prayer for something better. Plus the overall product will be better when everyone is trying to win, and the Joe Edmunds of the world won’t be able to complain as much about entitled and lazy NBA stars playing no defense. Everyone wins!
Obscured in the news cycle behind another fairly important investigation, “Yahoo Sports” published a report on Friday which featured some new findings from the FBI’s ongoing investigation into widespread NCAA recruiting violations. The report mentioned several big names currently playing college basketball, as well as a few that have already entered the NBA, like Markelle Fultz, Dennis Smith, Jr. and Bam Adebayo, and suggested that “impermissible benefits” were given to these players and their programs. None of the dollar amounts stated were particularly high, and some of the contributions were merely free meals, but there is undoubtedly more to come out of this. You’d have to have your head buried in the sand to believe that recruiting corruption begins and ends with Rick Pitino, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the annals of college sports history, this marks the start of a long-winded decline. It won’t be Lavar Ball who does it, but all it will take is one enterprising individual starting a relevant, competitive minor-league system, and college ball will feel the walls beginning to close.