Sidelines: The art of tanking and the possibility of the biggest fight of all time

By Matt Barrett ‘17 and Brian O’Neill ‘16

Collaborative Writers

Halfway into the 2015 NBA season, the 2014 draftees have not lived up to the hype, with players either injured or underperforming. Don’t forget that many teams tanked to get these players. Tanking is intentionally losing games to gain a better draft pick following the season’s end. Is tanking the right way to build a team in the NBA?

B.O: What teams are trying to accomplish by doing this is to essentially reduce themselves to ash and rebuild through what they hope is a spectacular new talent on whom they can build a successful following season.

It seems silly on the outside, but it really is the only way to ensure that a team’s draft pick is high, considering the draft lottery into which all teams are entered is heavily weighted by the team with the worst overall record. High draft picks can also be used as leverage in trades for existing NBA players who may also help the team. Some might see the act of intentionally losing as dishonorable or even a travesty to the very nature of competitive sports (and in some sense they would be right), but sometimes you just have to retreat to fight another day.

I would not, however, call this a “new” formula by any stretch, although do believe it can be a strong contributor to long-term success. Back in 1996, the San Antonio Spurs were in a bit of a rut after a series of disappointing seasons stretching back to the late eighties. So what did they do? They tanked the ‘96-‘97 season, earning a first round draft pick in the form of one Tim Duncan, who went on to be the rookie of the year in the ‘97-‘98 season and ultimately helped lead the Spurs to win five championships over the next decade and a half. I’d call that successful. Of course it isn’t always going to work—and I think all NBA teams understand that—but when the payoff has the potential of being so huge, it is certainly a more attractive option than trying to make a losing team win.

M.B: With this season a sham more many NBA teams, there is still no evidence that tanking is good for NBA teams. Tanking has gained much popularity in the league the last few seasons. An obvious example is the 2013 Philadelphia 76ers. [At the end of the 2012 season, the Sixers traded away their entire starting lineup.]

The big problem with relying on draft picks is that there is no guarantee that the player will perform at the NBA level. Andrew Wiggins, the number one overall picked from a year ago has not looked as sharp as scouts had reported. Wiggins ranks second to last in player efficiency rating for players with as many as more minutes per game average [Trevor Ariza ranks last]. I know it’s very early to judge a career, but his first season has not lived up to the hype. In the last 20 years, only 11 players drafted number one overall have been selected to more than one All Star team. Even fewer (two), have won an NBA championship. The draft does not guarantee that your team will land a superstar. The possibility also arises that a player could suffer a career ending injury in their rookie season, as Greg Oden did in 2007 and Sam Bowie did in 1984.

Besides the fact that you won’t find Michael Jordans growing on a tree, the NBA draft is a lottery system, so there isn’t even a guarantee that you will get the number one overall pick if you have the worst record in the league. Last year the Sixers has the worst record but were granted the third overall pick in the draft.

What turns me off the most about tanking is that teams trade away veteran players to secure their draft picks. In the absence of veteran players, rookies have less room to develop on a team. Also, in the absence of veterans, teams lack any experience come playoff time. Teams must keep their veterans and land big name players through free agency to give them a real shot at winning a championship. The Lakers in the early 2000s signed Shaq, the 2008 Celtics traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and the 2011-2012 Miami Heat signed LeBron James.

There is also no historical indication that tanking helps teams win championships. Many people try to argue that the San Antonio Spurs 1996-1997 season was an act of tanking; the Spurs’ performance was an effect of David Robinson’s broken foot.

So far, there’s no guarantee that you can land a superstar in the draft, and there’s still no guarantee that a young superstar will bring home a Larry O’Brien trophy.

After seeing Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather meet courtside at a Miami Heat game, people have been speculating that 2015 will be the year that these two will meet in the ring. But will this actually be the year that Pacquiao and Mayweather fight?

M.B: Even though the two boxers exchanged phone numbers at a Miami Heat game on January 28, the likelihood of a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight is still slim. Their history shows that organizing a fight is much easier said than done.

A fight was agreed to take place on March 13, 2010 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, but was ultimately canceled due to Pacquiao’s reluctance to submit to a random drug test within 30 days of the fight. Having done so, Mayweather accused Pacquiao of using banned substances. The accusations backfired for Mayweather when Pacquiao fired a lawsuit for defamation.

Later in 2011, Pacquio publicly expressed that he would be fine with submitting to a drug test. In 2012, Mayweather reportedly called Pacquiao to negotiate a fight, but Pacquiao ultimately disagreed, because Mayweather would not split the profits of the fight fairly.

Just six days ago, Floyd Mayweather posted a video to Instagram of both fighters in a room together, to which Mayweather remarks, “We need to make this fight happen.” Just because Mayweather appears to want to make this fight happen, don’t be too sure he’s telling the truth. The 37-year old [Mayweather] still holds a perfect career record of 47-0 and Pacquiao might be the one thing standing between him and a perfect career record. Pacquiao would be the most accomplished fighter that Mayweather has had to face since fighting Miguel Cotto in 2012. A win by Pacquiao would certainly put a damper on Mayweather’s career. For Pacquiao [36-years old], a win would only bolster his career, while a loss would do no harm. Pacquiao is the only boxer in history to win in eight different weight classes; a loss to arguably the best of all time would not hut Pacquiao’s legacy.

Having said this, the only thing standing in the way of a May 2 fight is Mayweather. This time it will take Mayweather’s doing to spoil this fight. But with their past bad blood, don’t be surprised when Mayweather doesn’t act on this opportunity.

B.O: This is the question of the boxing world. Will the two best boxers in the world, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, finally meet for the first time? It seems crazy that this hasn’t happened already, and the reason that it hasn’t, is pretty crazy by itself. In 2010 Pacquiao wouldn’t submit to a drug test within 14 days of a proposed fight between the two, claiming he believed it would weaken him, which of course raised the immediate suspicion that he was doping. This rumor became an accusation on Mayweather’s side and lead to a lawsuit on Pacquiao’s end for defamation.

If the stakes weren’t already sky high before that, with a 50 million dollar split up front, they reached outer space with this falling out. These guys are a couple of pit bulls on thin chains just waiting for a chance to get loose.

Emotions alone aren’t going to make this thing happen, though—the two are going to have to level with each other as professionals and find a diplomatic way to approach this fight to make it happen. I think I speak for a lot of boxing fans when I say that they really have to figure this thing out; the window of opportunity is getting smaller and smaller as the two get older, with Pacquiao almost 33 and Mayweather pushing 38.

[Photo Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org] Floyd Mayweather at a press conference before fighting Victor Ortiz.
[Photo Courtesy of en.wikipedia.org]
Floyd Mayweather at a press conference before fighting Victor Ortiz.

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