What should we do to stop teams from tanking?

I’m not sure what this would “solve,” since leagues with such systems tend to also have incredible levels of competitive imbalance.

But that would (1) lead to a total death spiral for the worst teams in the league, where they only got middling draft picks to go with their already terrible talent and (2) would definitely lead to hilarious tanking battles between teams who were on the cusp of making the playoffs, since the reward for adding a #1 overall pick to a marginal playoff team is so much higher than the slim chance of upsetting the top-ranked playoff team.

  1. High draft picks are no guarantee of success, of course. But the whole point is to make teams in the bottom third of the league care about winning games, so to some extent this is feature not bug.

  2. Wouldn’t it encourage them to fight all the harder to not be the bottom seed? Anyway a spot in the playoffs is still worth money, even with little chance of advancing. The right thing from a rigorous competitive standpoint is probably to shrink the playoffs.

They could make sure that teams don’t get very high picks two years in a row. If a team gets the 1st pick one year, the next year they can draft no higher than 14th. Similar for the 2nd and 3rd picks only, they pick no higher than 13 and 12. Then a situation like Philly being bad for multiple years to stockpile high draft picks would be very difficult. It would also eliminate teams who get lucky two years in a row.

Ridiculous. I’ll bet you Carl Landry’s expiring contract Sam Hinkie still has his job five years from today.

This is exactly what my post is about. Lottery picks are assets. They are how you get talent. You can’t just look at a stable of draft picks and international players and call them nothing because they aren’t playing for the team right now. The future is, you know, going to occur.

What the Browns do is worse than tanking. They always win a game or two late in the season that drops their draft pick so they’re never truly terrible and the worst team in the league, but they’re always right outside of the range where they could grab a top quarterback. This is actually the worst possible result, because at least with total tanking, you get a shot at making it better. Being consistently bad, but not the worst, has a much lower chance of fixing things.

I’m still a little baffled as to why anyone thinks this is a problem.

The 76ers are an outlier; they are incredibly bad, but clearly they do not plan on ALWAYS being incredibly bad. The franchise can’t go 1-22 every 23 games forever, they’d eventually go broke. No team is that bad forever on purpose. In any North American sports league it’s actually very, very rare for teams to be hideously bad for a long time; they can be mediocre for a long time, but no team is the worst team in the league year after year. The Sixers weren’t even the SECOND-worst team in the league last year.

The only team in recent history I can think of who’ve been absolutely dreadful year after year for longer than 2-3 seasons are

  1. The Edmonton Oilers, who have been shit-tastic since the 2009-2010 season. But the truth is the Oilers aren’t tanking. They’ve actually been trying. They just have awful management who’ve made a lot of bad decisions.

  2. The Detroit Lions, who had ten straight years of losing 10 or more games, including of course the 0-16 year, except one year they got luck and went 7-9. And, again, they were trying most years. They weren’t tanking ten years in a row.

Right, OK, fine, but to borrow from the immortal Chicken Run, are those the only choices?

I’m always a bit nervous to discuss the Sam Hinkie Thing, because everybody I’ve spoken to about it has been either relentlessly hostile about the Hinkie Method or intolerant to any criticism of it. But I think that the sentiment captured in your post - which seems to suggest that the only options are eternal mediocrity on the order of the 2012-2013 team or total breakdown - is frustrating and false. Do you know how we know those aren’t the only choices? Because no team in the history of the entire sport has ever done what the Sixers are doing, and yet somehow other teams have escaped the mediocrity trap in other ways. Whether or not the Hinkie method works - and I think the jury’s really out on that - it’s inarguable that it’s not the only method that’s viable.

I think evaluating the strategy is affected by the fact that the Sixers’ current administration has had problems executing it. Whatever you think of their overarching strategy, the fact that they’ve used three consecutive high draft picks on interior players with no floor spacing ability - three guys who absolutely cannot play at the same time on a winning team - is a huge mistake.

But I think there are other problems with the approach that you’re not crediting in your optimistic look at their prospects. For instance: Nerlens Noel is a potentially really good player in the right place. And in 2017, he’ll be a restricted free agent. You seem to take for granted that Noel will just sort of stay in Philly if they want him to… but I don’t see why that’s necessarily so. If they’re still keeping their cupboards mostly bare by then, why wouldn’t he decamp for someplace where they actually want to win (and, by the way, to the place where they haven’t drafted players redundant to him for two years running)?

And I think that will infect their ability to turn around, unless they REALLY hit big on a LeBron / Durant level lottery pick. Because who the hell is going to want to play there, given any other choice?

Ultimately, though, as a non-Sixers’ fan I have to hand it to Sam Hinkie. He has created a narrative where he literally can never fail. No matter how badly he guts this roster, no matter how many times he kicks the can fifty more feet down the road, he has an infinite hall pass because it’s all part of the plan.

But at a certain point, the plan becomes indistinguishable from no plan at all, doesn’t it? It’s trivially true that eventually the Sixers are going to get good. Given a long enough horizon, every franchise in every sport is going to get good eventually (except the Browns, the Browns will never be good). The question is whether Hinkie’s approach is actually increasing their chances or reducing the time-to-contention in a meaningful way… and I contend that, at least so far, it has not been proven to do so.

It’s possible that the people who aren’t opposed to what Hinkie’s doing don’t start out hostile about it. It’s definitely true that I’ve heard all of that before and don’t find very much of it responsive to what my actual feelings about the whole thing are. “Can never fail” and similar are, as far as I can tell, the same as just telling me that I’m stupid, drinking the Kool Aid, and so on. As if I don’t know the difference between three shitty years which lead to a stockpile of assets which lead to a good team, and year after year of stumbling on good players and frittering them away for nothing while drunkenly muttering about first rounders. Well, OK. I’m stupid, then. Let’s pick this back up in two years.

To rattle off a sort of bulleted list of responses – of course those aren’t the only choices. The existence of other choices doesn’t make this one not the best one because it’s the most distasteful to a certain kind of fan. They could have tried another Andrew Bynum trade, if they’d liked. They could have hoped Jrue Holiday was a hall of famer and given him another couple years. I don’t think that would have been wise. They were moribund. You cannot, no matter how forced an approach you take to it, paint me a picture that will make me believe in the 2013-14-15 76ers as anything relevant. Knowing that, I thought, back then, that blowing it up and starting over would be wise. I still think that.

It’s demonstrably not true that nobody’s ever done what the Sixers are doing. They just have had the saving grace that, when they did it, they did it either unintentionally or with enough of an air of unintentionality not to become some sort of lightning rod for every competitive purist that has apparently existed all this time. Why are the Thunder good? Answer: Durant #2, Westbrook #4. The Cavs? Wiggins #1, traded for Love (#5, incidentally), LeBron #1, then he came back. Tim Duncan weren’t no accident. The T Wolves tanked last year, and now they have Towns.

I already said the Okafor pick was a mistake. So, they missed on that one, I think. They maybe missed on Embiid; we’ll see. But you’re doing the same thing I was talking about before – you’re acting like what the team is now is a reflection of what they think a team looks like when they aren’t tanking. Noel, Embiid & Okafor are never going to play on the same team together for any length of time. So? They’re tanking! If they trade Okafor in 9 months for two lottery picks after he averages 20 a game or whatever, that one’s erased. If somebody believes Okafor is a better, younger Al Jefferson, then come at me, bro, and I’ll roll the dice again. If Embiid never takes the court, well, I guess it’s good that they have a starting center. It’s totally unfair to act like optimal execution of a strategy is the standard for whether or not it should be spoken about the way people speak about Hinkie’s strategy, especially when the most notable thing about how he’s doing things is that he actually acknowledges how much of a crapshoot it all is… which is why you have to maximize the number of craps you shoot. He said from the very beginning that this was going to be a slow process and was going to take as long as it takes. That made sense to me at the time. The more Jahlil Okafors he drafts, the worse I feel about it. But, you know, the MCW pick & flip was great. The Holiday -> Noel flip was great. Jerami Grant, very good. I like Saric. I like having multiple first rounders, including the Lakers’, and the swap rights, and infinite cap flexibility. Embiid was we don’t know what, but I supported rolling the dice there.

And, you know what, Porzingis was who I thought he would take in that spot, and he didn’t do it – but what if he had? How different does this aimless joke of a moribund franchise look then? He didn’t, so he doesn’t get credit for doing it, but that’s exactly what the plan is. Collect lottery tickets and see which ones come up Porzingis. It means nothing to me that free agents won’t sign in Philly. You think they were going to sign up to play next to Spencer Hawes and ET the sociopath Turner?

I don’t see myself as being very optimistic about this. It’s just math. You keep doing this until you’ve got a superstar. Then everything changes, and you’re a good team. There’s a better way?

A briefer way of looking at this. I am a fan of the 76ers. I go to games.

Pre-Hinkie, I was looking at a team of Holiday, Turner, Thad Young, Hawes, Lavoy Allen, Dorell Wright, Nick Young, and Jason Richardson. They had their own first rounders, except next year’s, and nobody else’s.

Right this second, after they’ve done all this, at the cost of the most miserable stretch by any team ever in the meantime, to be clear, they have Noel, Embiid, Saric, Okafor, probable #1 lottery odds, the Lakers pick, the Thunder pick, the Heat pick, a future Kings pick, swap rights with the Kings and Warriors, and their own pick next year, plus twelve second rounders, plus Wroten, Jerami Grant, Stauskas, and a bunch of guys who probably aren’t good but one of them might end up being Jerami Grant.

Which is better, even by our agreed upon in this thread metric of trying to be competitive?

Oh, and Covington.

My only problem with Sam Hinkie is he might be a mush, a loser.

He trades for Nerlens Noel, he gets injured and cant play for an entire year. Now Joel Imbiid might never play on an NBA court. This year, we have Jahlil Okafor, who might end up in jail or shot before season end. I get this feeling I’m my stomach the Sixers will go 4-73, and not get even Simmons.

But even if they do, God Forbid, hell get hit by a car.

Sam Hinkie might have missed his calling as a casino cooler.

Noel was injured before the trade, in a regular season game for Kentucky. The 76ers knew they were getting a guy with a torn ACL.

@Jimmy Chitwood -

The first paragraph of your first post is exactly why I wade into every conversation about the Sixers nervously. I don’t think anyone is stupid. You’re not stupid, I’m not stupid, and Sam Hinkie is definitely not stupid. That doesn’t make him right though - plenty of very smart people have developed strategies that don’t actually work in the end - and I find it interesting to discuss whether or not he is. But I keep finding that everyone I try to discuss it with has already made up their mind about the Sixers’ strategy one way or the other.

My whole point is that we at the moment simply don’t have any evidence to draw any conclusions about the Hinkie Method. Maybe it’s a good approach that will maximize the team’s chances of getting good one day, and maybe it’s an approach that will lengthen the period during which they are bad without appreciably improving their likelihood of being a contender one day.

More later.

…but that’s a crazy comparison. Again, those are not the only two possible states. You’re comparing what the Sixers did do with a hypothetical world in which they didn’t do anything - in which their team was basically the same as it was pre-Hinkie.

The question is not “are they in better shape than they were when Hinkie arrived;” if the answer to that is “no,” then you really have a problem. The question is, “would a more traditional approach to team building have gotten them at least as close to contention as they are now, with less pain along the way?” If the Sixers had hired a more “typical” (but still good) GM three years ago, would they be better off today or not?

I submit that we don’t know the answer to that question, because we don’t know (yet) how close the Sixers actually are. Their strategy - constant asset churn and deliberate stockpiling of large numbers of picks - is not unassailable. It’s not insulting to question its wisdom, or at least, it shouldn’t be.

I don’t think tanking is really as much of an issue as it’s perceived to be. First, you can’t really have a coach tell his players to deliberately lose. Not only is it going to be painfully obvious when you see players that have been striving hard all season suddenly put in lackluster efforts, but it’s probably going to leak out. How can you tell a whole team, especially a large team like in football, and not have an anonymous source leak that to the media? Further, most athletes probably wouldn’t be willing to tank. Many are just too damn competitive, but let’s not forget that many (most?) have incentives in their contracts, so tanking could hit them in their wallet THIS season, and even if not, lower stats hurts their ability to negotiate deals for larger contracts in the future.

So, without the help of most of the athletes, you’re pretty much stuck to the coach tanking the team by making decisions about who plays and what sort of strategy they play. This is obviously a better option, and could be disguised as using otherwise meaningless games to give young players experience, but like others pointed out, it’s hard to justify keeping a coach when they’ve had an abysmal season. I suppose if the owner is in on it, they’d overlook it, but at the same time, if the team is SO bad that they’re so far out of a shot at the playoffs that tanking is a valid strategy, shouldn’t the coach’s job be on the line already? And if his job is on the line, what’s his incentive to help the future of a team he’s likely to be fired from and not be doing the best he can to finish out the season as well as possible so he has the best to present to a potential future employer.

That said, I think the whole perception here, even if it isn’t actually a problem, is still an issue because it raises concern in the fans. Further, some years there’s huge prospects and others not so much. It seems odd to give two teams that were equally bad but one gets a shot at a potentially great player because of losing a tie breaker and the other doesn’t as odd.
So, with all of that said, let me float an idea: What if there were a bidding war for draft order? This way teams aren’t rewarded for doing poorly or punished for doing well. Similarly, it would allow teams to customize their draft strategy based on what their needs are directly, rather than just on the luck of the value of their pick. I see two main possible ways of making this work, either with a set of draft points that each team spends, or actual money, where they throw it into a pool for the right to draft someone and afterward, the pool gets distributed evenly to all teams.

So how I envision this working is that teams use this method to bid on the value of a pick. If there’s some once in a lifetime prospect, teams that believe the risk is worth it or really need that position will bid more, teams that don’t think it’s worth it, are already set at that position, or maybe are more interested in spending points elsewhere can do that.

Yes, this sort of thing more or less happens now with the trading of picks, but just in a less effective way. Sometimes you have a team with the top pick, they don’t really need the top prospect, so they’re either stuck drafting a player they don’t really need or trading the pick for less than it would be worth in another draft. Instead, only the teams that have interest in that player even bother to bid, and the winner is then less able to bid on other picks later. Thus, if a team wants to blow their wad on a top pick or play more conservative for more players, they can do that.

And it’s still likely to work out similarly in helping bad teams get better and good teams not stay good forever, because of regression to the mean and intelligent drafting decisions. Rarely is a bad team made a playoff contender by getting the best overall pick, but rather by making effective trades for other picks, and getting good prospects and roleplayers in multiple positions. Meanwhile, that team that just needs a few players can trade, but not in a way that makes whatever team got lucky for that position better, but spreads that out to everyone.

I also think it could make it interesting for the fans too. You have no idea what the draft order is and you get to have all the excitement of seeing teams vie for various draft positions that they think will help out the team. You get to cheer if they get good positions or boo if they fail to make good bids or blow their wad on a player or two you think aren’t worth it. Might even be able to add more draft excitement in the later rounds by having, say, the first x number of picks determined by bidding ahead of time, but after a certain point let the teams bid for the right to draft in the later picks. Probably still need an order for the last few rounds because there’s not going to be much excitement over picks of players that are likely 3rd stringers or practice squad players, but I think it could definitely add excitement to the first part of the draft AND solve the perception of tanking.

Quite a few of boffking’s threads have been “How do we solve this problem?” for something that isn’t actually a problem.

I’m comparing what they were then, when they had been operating in non-tank, incremental improvement or incremental decline mode, i.e. traditional team-building, and what they are now, when they’ve been operating in tank mode, and saying that they are now is more likely to become competitive than what they were then, and that on that basis I don’t see the complaint or the wisdom of wondering what if they had tried the traditional route. Improvement is improvement. I don’t care that you’re criticizing it; the criticism writes itself. It’s not sensitivity that’s causing me to say things like “I’m not stupid.” It’s the fact that your particular criticism is dependent upon me not being able to tell the difference between three years and ten years, or between something and nothing, because what you’re saying is that because it calls for success in the future, there’s no way to say right now whether the Sixers are doing anything good, and what I’m saying is you can look at what they’ve done and it’s already working. If one of us is relying on a hypothetical world where something crazy happened, it’s you, because you’re suggesting the Sixers could have gotten better faster some intentional way that isn’t blowing the franchise up and hoping to strike it rich. So… what was it? Sign Aaron Afflalo and trade for Dion Waiters? You submit that we can’t know enough to make that call, and I submit that, well, then so what’s the criticism exactly? You’re allowed to make it, but what is it? This is what they’re doing, and it’s a good plan.

You’re so certain that I’m making crazy comparisons about hypotheticals that you don’t hear what I’m saying, which is that I’m evaluating the actual transactions the Sixers have made, and I’m deciding that I like them (except that Okafor is a stiff). I keep listing what they’ve done, and it sure seems like it doesn’t matter to anyone that they’ve turned a pile of dogshit, for the most part, into like a full rotation’s worth of lottery picks. It is true that for the most part the dividends have yet to be paid out. It is not true that this makes them ephemeral.

Here’s another try. Again, you tell me why these aren’t things that we can right now make judgments about, because it seems, well, unassailable:

Sixers trade nothing for first round pick
Sixers trade nothing for seven players and four picks, including Stauskas, Thompson, Landry, first rounder, two first round swaps
Sixers trade nothing for a first and a second

I don’t know what to tell you. These are the things that have happened. If you keep doing them, you become better. I’m comparing what they were on the day Hinkie arrived with what they are right now. If they had every pick in the next draft, but had one win right now, that would be good, right? That would be a good plan?

They could have done different things; what they had done up to that point – which is the only reasonable, non-crazy hypothetical thing to compare to – was make the playoffs five times in ten years and win one series. I wanted them to stop that. If they had traded Spencer Hawes for Anthony Davis and Shelvin Mack for Russell Westbrook, that would have been fine, but that shit wasn’t happening. They sucked and needed assets. So what I’m talking about is what they have done from that point, and whether I think it’s worked. When Hinkie arrived, they had no shot at becoming a contender without becoming an entirely different organization. There was no roadmap, no plausible route to becoming a very good team within, I dunno, four years… except blowing it up. That’s what they’ve done. Now the roadmap is so obvious that people acknowledge it (backhandedly, by saying things like “oh, sure, get the first pick a few times and you’ll probably get a good player :rolleyes:”) before going back to ripping them for being terrible and having no plan. The fact that they are terrible – really terrible – is a complete null tell. If you write off the product on the court last night, which you absolutely must do unless that’s your criticism, what you are left with is a really really obvious fact, which is that they’re better off than they were and that this is a plan that has a clear trajectory. If you don’t want to write that off, that’s a perfectly reasonable criticism.

But it’s never the one people make. They say well, if when all these guys are 26 they’re on different teams and the Sixers are still trading for future draft rights, what then, how is that a good idea? Well, like you said, nobody involved here is stupid, right? If that happens, that will be dumb. You think that’s what’s going to happen? I don’t.

At least in the NBA, it’s the GM that tanks the team, by trading away veterans for draft picks and young players. Meanwhile, the coach and players are doing all they can to win, they’re just overmatched.

Money is right out; the highest-revenue teams are based in the glamour cities that already have a huge advantage due to greater free-agent appeal; if you let them just buy first-round picks, you’ll be rotating the title between New York, LA, and Chicago for the foreseeable future.

A points system could work, it could reward a Belichickian strategy of trading down for multiple, lower picks, and great scouting. You’d just have to be careful to protect teams from themselves (like the Stepien Rule); if you could use a decade’s worth of points to grab the next can’t-miss prospect, there are GMs that would do it.

There’s two phases - making the plan, and executing the plan. Hinkie’s certainly done the first, but the jury is very much out on the second. If you keep drafting the wrong guy with your lottery picks, then the build-through-the-lottery plan isn’t going to work. Further, there’s a real transaction cost in the NBA, the team initiating the deal either overpays or gets undercompensated. You can’t reliably flip assets for assets of like value.

ETA: Look back at the Thunder. In a three-year span, they spent their first-round picks on a small forward, a point guard, a power forward, a shooting guard, and a center. They didn’t draft three centers and hope to flip them for guards sometime down the road.

And that’s why James Harden is such a big part of their offense this year, one presumes.

Which is to say that all you need is to win the lottery once or twice, and you can’t play if you don’t have a ticket.