NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke to reporters in Las Vegas yesterday, and fielded questions on topics ranging from playoff re-seeding to the NBA’s age limit. One topic he did not seem too interested in talking about was tanking.
At one point, Silver was asked to comment on something Mavs owner Mark Cuban said while on the Dan Patrick Show in May. While talking about the draft lottery, Cuban said that once the Mavericks had been eliminated from the playoffs last season, they did “everything possible to lose games.” This is not a shocking admission, but it is an admission nonetheless, and one that leads to the guy in charge of the league having to awkwardly answer questions. Here’s what Silver had to say yesterday about Cuban’s comments:
Yes, it is not something you want to hear as commissioner. I will say that Mark has a long track record of being provocative, and it was something that we spoke to him directly about and I think he acknowledged that it was a poor choice of words. When we looked at what was actually happening on the floor, which is most important to me, there was no indication whatsoever that his players were intentionally losing games. And so we were satisfied with that, and we moved on.
If you dislike tanking and find the NBA’s current draft model to be broken, this is an indication that you are going to remain unsatisfied. The NBA has long operated under an unspoken policy that although tanking is clearly a thing that happens, it is not to be talked about openly. The trouble with this is that there is little hope of the system ever being overhauled if the league is unwilling to straightforwardly address the problem, which is that teams have every reason to put terrible players on the court for months if not years at a time, fucking over fans who’d like to see an honest effort if nothing else. In the specific case of a team like the Mavs, tanking makes sense because of the NBA’s perverse incentive structure. That, not the fake issue of players throwing games and certainly not Cuban acknowledging this, is the issue.
If an incentive structure is leading to bad outcomes, the usual thing to do is change it, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen here. Any momentum behind the famous lottery wheel that was proposed in 2013 seems to have fizzled, and so far Silver’s preferred methods for addressing the problem have been shushing and sweeping. He punished the Sixers for their grand tanking plan by chucking Sam Hinkie out of the league, and now he’s scolding Cuban for acknowledging the obvious. Neither of those actions were designed to prevent teams from tanking in the future, only to stop them from being honest about it.
Adam Silver presides over a league that relies on an immoral amateur draft to stock young talent and incentivizes a significant number of teams to put the worst possible product on the floor. The more people like Mark Cuban are willing to say this out loud, the sooner things might change.