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No, the NBA doesn’t have a tanking problem

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Image for article titled The NBA’s tanking problem is more perception than reality, and a relegation system won’t fix that

Photo: Getty Images

During NBA Commish Adam Silver’s apology tour session with beleaguered Phoenix Suns employees this weekend, he was confronted with another concern. In addition to apologizing for suspended team Governor Robert Sarver and his decades of misconduct, Silver was also besieged by a flood of questions about the problem of tanking (cue eye-rolling).

This season, teams improving their position to draft the generational talent that is Victor Wembanyama are being cast as mortal sinners by holier-than-thou large market franchises. That attitude is a tradition as old as the modern draft. Unsurprisingly, Silver agreed, referring to rampant tanking as a serious issue that the league has put teams on notice about. Reportedly, Silver also pushed back against the idea of implementing relegation as a punishment, which is a departure from the usual invocation of European soccer as the deus ex machina for the league’s woes.

When the NBA has a problem, they look to Europe more than any other league. Need a solution for waning interest in the middle third of the season? Europe’s football cup model has the answer. Need to put out an ad for an exciting young phenom to fill the void LeBron will leave behind? Look to France.

If the NBA ever wanted to consider relegation, that ship sailed long ago. The league mismanaged that possibility in the mid-70s when they failed to forecast the long-term business sense of keeping the ABA around as a B-League instead of folding the franchises they didn’t absorb. Instead of the Pittsburgh Condors and Virginia Squires vying for promotion into the NBA, we’re stuck with the Magic velcroing themselves to the NBA floor.

The impending Tank Wars have consumed the attention of the NBA community at the onset of the season. Silver has depicted “tanking” as an offense against paying consumers. For most fans, it’s more hype than an actual problem. If Silver’s meeting had taken place in Indiana, Oklahoma City, or Orlando, fugazi concerns over tanking wouldn’t even be on their radar. As obnoxious as tanking is to large-market teams, it’s definitely not one worth upending the NBA’s entire model over.

The dog-eat-dog NBA hierarchy always creates haves and have-nots. Typically those have-nots are the small-market franchises in locations that struggle to attract first-class free-agent talent. It’s not a coincidence, we’ve never seen a small market dynasty. Instead, these franchises have to target phenoms who they can control for the first six to seven years of their careers before free agency.

Expecting losing teams to keep bad contracts on the payroll instead of whisking them away for economical, developing talent makes the Knicks seem logical. Is that really a world where NBA fans want to live in? Think the San Antonio Spurs regret shelving a recovering David Robinson in the latter half of the ‘97 season so they could draft Tim Duncan?

Instead of a young core featuring Jabari Smith, Tati Eason, Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, and Kevin Porter Jr., the Houston Rockets could have dumped Harden for a fringe All-Star like DeMar DeRozan, whose coattails they could have ridden to a 35-win season. The Rockets have embraced a youth movement. Following six consecutive winning seasons in which they struggled to breach the Western Conference Finals, Danny Ainge’s Utah Jazz have been derided as tankers for trading their grumpy centerpieces for a swath of picks and young talent. As of Sunday, they’re 2-0.

Stars on championship-contending teams like Golden State’s Splash Brothers or Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers are more likely to rest than the best player on a bottom-five team. Very few franchises purposely spend multiple years scraping the bottom of the barrel like the cellar dwellers like Oklahoma City, which resides in the NBA’s third-smallest market, has done for the third consecutive season.

Since trading Chris Paul in 2020 and stripping their roster down to its studs, the Thunder have accrued a 46-98 record, and with their No. 2 overall pick out for his entire rookie season, the Thunder roster is essentially last season’s 24-58 roster preserved in amber. But realistically, how many teams have adopted that super tank strategy over a stretch of multiple seasons?

The Orlando Magic aren’t tanking. Jonathan Isaac, their 6-11 wing who was last windmilling opposing shooters’ attempts at a prolific rate, hasn’t played in two years while he’s been busy promoting his brand on Fox News. Jalen Suggs, the heady point guard the Magic thought would serve as an uplifting force, bricked the way through his rookie season, shooting 36 percent from the field as a rookie and an egregiously bad 21 percent from 3. Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 pick in the most recent draft has performed like the Rookie of the Year frontrunner, but his exploits haven’t translated to wins — yet.

What exactly are the Magic supposed to do? In an ideal offseason, Orlando could have sold Bradley Beal on their upside and the joys of living near Disney World as a father of three. Small-market teams can’t reload. It’s almost a necessity for them to rebuild from scratch. If the feisty 2019 Clippers or the overachieving pre-KD/Kyrie Nets, who went 42-40 with Jarrett Allen, and Caris Levert weren’t in Brooklyn or L.A., they would have tanked long ago.

Besides, the obvious problem of there being no viable second-tier league for teams it sends mixed messages for relegation to even emerge from the Commish’s lips while rumors of expansion swell. Excessive tanking is more perception than reality. 



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Pakistan vs England | Day five morning highlights

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Morning session highlights from day five of the first Test between Pakistan and England in Rawalpindi.



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France beats Poland and more in today’s World Cup Daily Diary

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France’s Kylian Mbappé (left) and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski

France’s Kylian Mbappé (left) and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski
Photo: Getty Images

Today was about England and France eyeballing each other over their respective opponents, with the only drama being whether or not they would get caught looking too far ahead. They most certainly did not, engaging in a “Anything you can do..” dance that set them up for a glossy quarterfinal on Friday. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts.

Game of the day – France 3 – 1 Poland

Either choice would have been acceptable, if I’m allowed to give myself an out or an excuse, as both games followed kind of the same pattern. The chatter the past couple days has been around what to do against a team that’s sitting off of you and trying to nullify your space in midfield, thanks to the US’s struggle against such a side. One answer is, “have Kylian Mbappé.” Sadly, that’s only available to one team in this tournament.

It’s obviously more complicated than that, but not by much. Poland did their usual Poland thing, which was to pack five across midfield and hopefully limit Antoine Griezmann’s access to the ball while keeping both Mbappé and Dembele wide. The Poles actually looked a little more aggressive, a low bar for them admittedly, on the rare times they got the ball and might have had the best chances in the first half. Hugo Lloris had to pull off a great save to keep from shockingly going behind, along with a Raphael Varane goal-line clearance in addition.

But that was about it for Poland’s threat, because they’re Poland. And you can plan to keep Mbappé out wide or burden him with extra defenders, and he’s still going to open you up. To open the scoring for France was a matter of him drawing defenders to him just enough to find an alley to slip a through-ball to Olivier Giroud, which is the unheralded part of his game:

Again, it’s beyond easy and cliche to say goals change games, but when the team that’s the favorite and has been facing a low block all night scores first, it flips everything on its head. Poland couldn’t simply hold out and hope anymore. Which means more space for France, which means Mbappé has more space, which means…

The second goal, which is unfair and rude, got most of the plaudits but the first one is high on the stupid level too. You’re not supposed to be able to beat a keeper, especially one having the tournament that Szczesny was until this point, that effortlessly at the near post. Poland probably thought they had this covered, for just an instant, given that it did look like Mbappé waited too long and had his options narrowed. Except he always has an out, he always has an option. I guess any player always has an option if, “Release a Hadoken of a shot with minimal backlift” is in their holster.

If France has a worry, and it’s hard to tell if they do, it’s that Poland was able to get at them occasionally down their right side, where Jules Kounde looked a little out of place as a right-back. England certainly don’t lack options on the left side of their attack. But then, when you have No. 10 in your attack, are you ever all that worried?

Other results: England 3 – 0 Senegal

It’ll be washed away after the final score, but England did not look great before they took the lead, and just like Poland, Senegal had the best chance with the score at 0-0. Both teams will spend a while wondering what would have happened if they could have finished. On such margins…

Much like France, much like Argentina, much like the US even, England was facing a disciplined opponent whose first, second, and third aim was defending and cutting off space. But whereas France and Argentina called upon otherworldly individual brilliance, England went the otherworldly team brilliance route for their first goal:

This is what the US couldn’t do, but the US don’t have Harry Kane or Jude Bellingham. Bellingham shifts out a little wider and drops a little deeper, Kane does his thing where he drops in deeper but behind the opponent’s midfield line. The England defense feeds a ball through the lines to Kane who can then flick a pass to the on-rushing Bellingham, whose touch is so silky soft your knees just disappear and he can control it at full speed and get to running at the Senegal defense. Henderson follows him through the middle, both goal-side of the midfielders that had been tasked with marking them and keeping them from getting passes from the England defense. Kane completely flips the play on them. .

Much like France, the game flips when England take the lead, as Senegal couldn’t wait around. Whereas the US has Jesus Ferreira only occasionally attempting this, and also having a terminal case of “being Jesus Ferreira” and not Harry Kane. The US midfield wasn’t dedicated enough to dropping deeper or wider to try and either lose their markers or provide space for their forwards to dive into. And they simply don’t have this level of talent. That’s how you get what we got here last week (or Saturday, as it were). This is how you get to be England, prancing to the quarters and looking like a genuine favorite for the whole thing.

Senegal haven’t been great when they have to take the initiative in this tournament, as England really only had to focus on Ismaila Sarr. They were pretty easily picked apart for goals two and three:

Life’s easier when you have Jude Bellingham to dribble through an entire midfield.

England-France is almost too good for a quarterfinal, but that’s our treat. England’s strength, the Rice-Bellingham axis in midfield, is exactly where France have suffered some injuries and are a little inexperienced as a result. Griezmann makes them dangerous but he also leaves them a little lightweight in the middle. But they also have Mbappé, which is the punch-the-game-board answer to everything.

Goal of the Day

It’s a tie between England’s first, a symphony of passing and movement, and Mbappé’s third. We already posted both, so you can decide:

Did VAR fuck anything up?

Not today, Satan.

Did FIFA/Qatar fuck anything up?

No, but now feels like a good time that the broadcast of every game does not need a shot of Gianni Infantino in his fucking suite sitting in his fucking plush recliner every goddamn time. It’s a reminder of how we ended up with this hell tournament. Remember, originally FIFA thought they could hold this thing in the summer in Qatar, because all the people voting on it were not only bagging bribes for millions (allegedly) but they didn’t have to concern themselves with the heat. They would go from their air conditioned hotel suites to their air conditioned limos to their air conditioned skybox at the stadium and back again. Seeing Infantino sitting in one every game he attends is just about the starkest image of how such a thing like this ridiculous tournament could happen, because the guys making decisions are only the types to be sitting in that type of a chair at that portion of the stadium, only making considerations for guys who sit in that type of chair in that portion of the stadium.

Did Alexi Lalas say anything stupid?

After two weeks it’s getting harder and harder to actually distinguish words Lalas says more than just hearing his voice as a constant drone. It’s aggravating that Fox’s coverage of this has tried to mimic their NFL coverage’s most annoying habit, which is having their analysts not only narrate replays (not their job) but also trying to sound funny and cool while doing it. Lalas’s trick today was while doing postgame highlights of France’s win, attempting to advertise and tease his Power Rankings to follow as if we were waiting for them on the same level of the CFP standings. Power Rankings are a curse upon all sports coverage, and even more so when a dunderhead like Lalas is authoring them and justifying changing them based off one game or one half, and even more so beyond that when he treats them like some final tablet on the state of the game today. NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.



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Raheem Sterling leaves England World Cup camp after armed burglary at Surrey home

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Sterling did not feature in Sunday’s 3-0 win against Senegal and the FA said before the game that the Chelsea forward was “dealing with a family matter”.

Sources have confirmed armed burglars broke into Sterling’s home on Saturday night when his family were in.

Sterling was shaken up by news and, as soon as he learned about the incident, wanted to return home to check on the well-being of his three children.

Sterling has been determined to play a big role for England in Qatar and it is understood only his concern for his children pushed him to leave the squad and return home.

Asked whether he will figure for England again at the World Cup, Southgate said after the Senegal game: “We have got to wait and see.

“At the moment the priority is for him to be with him family and we are going to support that and him to have as much time as he needs.”

Pushed on the likelihood of Sterling returning to the England squad, Southgate said: “I really don’t know.

“At the moment it is a situation he needs time with his family to do deal with and I do not want to put him under any pressure. Sometimes football is not the most important thing and family should come first.”



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