There is a well known strategy in the NBA that can set a team up to acquire a franchise changing player in the draft to secure a successful future. The problem is this strategy requires losing. Losing a lot. And then losing some more. Losing by shutting down a star player on a team, such as the Knicks, or by shipping off every player worth a contract to secure cap space, such as the 76ers. But is this method known as tanking bad for the NBA? Does it stem the competitive nature of the sport? And if so, how can teams be stopped from doing this?
The man’s name is Sam Hinkie, and he is the NBA’s most interesting man. Mr. Hinkie is currently the General Manager for the Philadelphia 76ers and is a tanking expert. Would he admit that willingly? Probably, considering he got his job with a detailed pitch on how he turned the Houston Rockets franchise into a potential title contender pretty quickly.
The story goes like this. Hinkie was the Vice President of Basketball Operations in Houston, who after numerous injuries to both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, was nothing more than a middle of the road team. Sure they had a lot of pieces, but that’s all they were. Players like Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, and Jordan Hill. Players that have more meaning now than they ever had then. Hinkie started shipping these role players off for assets. Future first-round picks, trade assets that could be flipped for future assets and younger players. The roster was dismantled and all that remained when the dust cleared was a plethora of draft picks and a whole lot of cap space to make a move on a big name free agent. Hinkie then turned these draft picks, which didn’t seem like a lot on paper into potential MVP candidate James Harden, signed him to a max deal, and got the Rockets a new franchise player. The Rockets were also able to use their massive cap space to sign center Dwight Howard. Hinkie turned Houston into a team that consistently missed the playoffs to a team that can contend for a title. All it took was some foresight and patience on his part.
Now Hinkie is up to his old tricks in Philly. He traded All-Star guard Jrue Holiday to get injured Nerlens Noel, and then benched the power forward for his first season, so he could get healthy… and so the Sixers could lose. Those loses converted into Joel Embid, a supremely gifted big man who drew comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, but fell in the draft because of injury concerns. Hinkie also drafted Elfrid Payton, flipped him to the Orland Magic for a 2015 second round pick, a future first round pick and the rights to Dario Saric, who is an impressive prospect unable to make the move to the NBA for two years. Hinkie may have built a championship contender not for next year, but possible three to four years down the road.
Look at other teams tanking now. Phil Jackson is shipping everyone and anyone out on the Knicks current roster and shut down Carmelo Anthony for the rest of the season. The Knicks are trying hard for the number one overall pick to land Jail Okafor. The Celtics are not afraid to move anyone in an attempt to secure more draft picks for a brighter future. And it seems to be working in their favor with draft picks Jared Sullenger and Marcus Smart working out so far. But is tanking hurting the NBA?
I say no. Every year there will be teams that cannot buy wins. There are locations that are not as alluring to free agents as others. There are teams that just don’t have enough talent to compete. So if a front office decides that blowing up the team and starting from scratch is the best fix, why not allow it. It allows for these teams that can’t compete to be at a championship level in a couple of seasons rather than a five or six years. I say its boring to see the same teams in the playoffs every year. So in a way tanking may be good for the NBA. It allows for the playoff picture to be shaken up every season. But buyers beware: its a lot easier to lose, than to tank. And not every GM is as brilliant as Hinkie when it comes to sucking.