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The Team of Shame

Posted on March 25, 2014 at 8:50 PM

Have you noticed something a little funky with Los Angeles Lakers' coach Mike D'Antoni's decision-making this season? Back in November, he started Jordan Hill for seven games, a stretch during which Hill averaged 15 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks on 56% shooting. For no apparent reason, Hill was relegated back to the 15-20 minute plan in favor of the immortal Shawne Williams (who eventually got waived by the front office, then signed again, then waived again). D'Antoni's been screwing around with Hill all season long. Hill threw up 21 points and 9 rebounds on 8/8 shooting one night and played seven minutes the following game. Shawne Williams played 30. Bob Sacre played 18.

But playing time isn't all that has helped the Lakers along their way to the bottom of the standings this season. In late February, Jordan Hill was diagnosed with a "sore right knee" and missed three weeks! Jordan Farmar was injured on March 14th with a "moderate groin strain" and is likely to miss the remainder of the season. D'Antoni commented, "Maybe he'll get back, we'll see"... What? In any event, it seems like a lot of aches and pains in Los Angeles this season. A few too many.

Additionally, Kyrie Irving recently underwent an MRI for a strained left bicep tendon. ESPN wrote, "The 21-year-old will be shut down for two weeks and re-evaluated. The Cavs said the tendon's response 'will determine the most appropriate course of treatment.'" Why wait two weeks to re-evaluate him? Additionally, the Cavaliers were already lamenting that Irving may be done for the season... before they even did the MRI!

This isn't the first time we've seen suspicious behavior from one of the lowly teams in the league that has all the looks of tanking. In the last nine games of the 2012 season, the Golden State Warriors launched one of the most blatant tanking campaigns in recent history  in attempt to hold onto a top-seven protected first-round pick. They shut down their best player, David Lee, for those nine games for a number of reasons, ranging from "Groin/Hip" to "Coach's Decision" to "Strained Groin" to "Abdominal Surgery." Lee said, “It’s unfortunate because I wanted to finish out the season strong. I was willing to go through any means necessary to try and play these last games, but the doctors didn’t leave any gray area for me.” Um, whatever you say, David. Andris Biedrins also missed two weeks with a "Mild Concussion," and the team didn't even bother providing explanations for injuries sustained by four other key players. The result was the Warriors starting an intimidating big three of Charles Jenkins, Jeremy Tyler, and Mickell Gladness.

Tanking needs to stop. It turns the entire last month of the regular season into extremely low quality and irrelevant basketball.

Building off of an idea from Grantland Editor in Chief Bill Simmons, here's how we fix tanking. Simmons has suggested repeatedly over the last ten years that the NBA implement an Entertaining-As-Hell Tournament at the end of the season. The top seven seeds in each conference would safely secure a spot in the playoffs, and the 8-15 seeds would battle it out in a single-elimination tournament for the final playoff berth in each conference.

This is a superb idea, as it keeps terrible teams invested in the season and disincentives teams from faking injuries to intentionally bottom out, keeps fans watching because their teams are never completely out of the picture, and creates a tournament that would be... well... entertaining as hell. But it still allows for even the worst team in the league to have a shot at the playoffs, thereby not creating enough of a punishment for being atrociously bad. With a simple alteration, however, we could truly put an end to tanking.

Instead, the top six teams in each conference should automatically advance to the playoffs while the 7-14 seeds compete in the tournament for two open spots.

The catch: One team in each conference would be left out of the playoff picture entirely, and thus be named "The Team of Shame." How would we distinguish this team from the others? They'd have to wear their most hideous throwback uniforms for the entire following season (yes, short shorts included).

First, no team would ever want to sacrifice nationally televised Tournament games and the outside chance at the playoffs (they would only need two Tournament wins to make it) just for a 5% greater chance at the #1 pick.

But the greater motivating factor is the bad PR for that owner and front office if every sports announcer across the country constantly referred to their team as The Team of Shame. Current executives and coaches often keep their jobs despite running their teams into the ground because they play the "We're Rebuilding So You Have to Give Me Five More Years to See If It Works Out in the Long Run" Card. I guarantee you there's no way any GM with the words “Team of Shame” on his resume gets a second chance.

Wouldn't it also be harder for a Team of Shame to attract free agents, even if it was a big market city? Wouldn't it be harder to sell tickets the next season? Wouldn't tons of Lakers fans immediately jump ship and root for the Clippers if they fell behind Utah and became The Western Conference Team of Shame?

It's just such a perfect way of exposing and punishing idiotic teams for being idiotic and putting a poor product on the floor, as opposed to propping them up by giving them the benefit of the draft lottery, but with no consequences. It also makes virtually every game down the stretch interesting. (Admit it, you'd absolutely tune in for a Sixers-Bucks matchup if the Sixers having to wear these jerseys all of next season was on the line).

At the very least, the Team of Shame concept will evoke a few laughs every time Hubie Brown says something like "Okay, now when I look at the schedule and see that my team is playing the Milwaukee Bucks, you have to expect an easy win... mainly because they're the Team of Shame." But most importantly, it would likely lead to fewer owners like Joe Dumars, fewer coaches like Mike D'Antoni, more invested fans, more meaningful basketball games, and a more enjoyable league.

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Reply Mike
11:59 PM on March 29, 2014 
I think it would be a great idea to have the last 1 or 2 playoff spots in each conference determined by a single-elimination tournament. Not only would it help end tanking strategies, but I think it would make for more exciting first round playoff matches. Remember in 2007 when 8th-seeded Golden State upset 1st-seeded Dallas in one of the most exciting playoff series in recent memory? That kind of first round series would be more prevalent if the underdog was guaranteed to be at the top of their game come playoff time.

Another option to end tanking would be to adjust the structure of the NBA Draft lottery. For example, the ping-pong ball distribution could be adjusted to be less weighted towards the teams with the worst records. Also, the lottery could be expanded to cover more than just the top 3 picks in the draft; the current structure ensures that the team with the worst record will receive a top 4 pick. Basically, I'm suggesting changes that would make the draft lottery more like this gem from 1985 (minus the corruption):

In any sense, a change has to be made to make NBA basketball more relevant after the all-star break. The average sports fan in the U.S. completely tunes out the NBA until the playoffs begin, and a big reason is the poor quality of play, much of which caused by the current structure of the playoff seeding and draft order.
Reply Seth
11:32 PM on March 29, 2014 
It should only happen as you suggest!