1. Tanking: The theme of the final month of the NBA season has been tanking. Namely, that the bad teams have quit trying in an attempt to amass ping pong balls for the NBA Lottery. But is this true? Well, the anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly supports this assertion. Of the 16 teams currently in the NBA playoffs, all are at least 5-5 in their last ten games, except Orlando (which is 4-6 and has been reeling with the injury to Dwight Howard). Of the 14 teams now outside of the playoff picture, only four teams are 5-5 in the past ten games and two of those teams (Phoenix and Milwaukee) are still actively competing for the playoffs. Ten of those 14 teams are 3-7 or worse in their past ten. Of course, one would expect the poor teams to play poor in any random sampling of ten games but the ineptitude is palpable and most of these bad teams have shut down key players already.
Of course, there is little incentive for bad teams to really try to win once they obviously won’t make the playoffs. Indeed, teams get a better chance to win the Lottery with more losses. There is some value to finishing strong, as winning will give the bad team some positive feelings with fans for the next season. But good feelings aren’t going to be too strong enough merely because a team the goes from loser to competitive non-playoff team. Throw in that competing requires risk to your best players for the next season, and the slim benefits of finishing strong are clearly dwarfed by the benefits of losing. So, unless you are on the perimeter of the playoff race, the only real incentive to compete after a team has established itself as bad is where the coach or GM who is at a risk of job loss and hopes to show intra-season improvement sufficient to avoid being fired.
Henry Abbott over at ESPN argued that tanking is deleterious to the NBA and rewards bad decision making and should, therefore, be eliminated. Tanking is not really good for the NBA but it is difficult to think of a system that incentivizes competition over tanking. The concept of the NBA Lottery was invented to limit tanking (particularly after the Rockets were accused of tanking to get the pick that became Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984). The Lottery initially gave all non-playoff teams an equal shot of winning the Lottery and thus a team on the verge of the playoffs had as much of a shot of getting the top pick as the worst teams. The NBA figured that the system wasn’t fair to the really bad teams and could even encourage border line playoff teams to junk a run at a low playoff seed for the shot at the top pick. So, the weighted Lottery system was adopted and being bad became the best way to possibly get a better pick, even if you weren’t sure to have a top three pick.
Is this current system a problem? Well, it isn’t good that bad teams look like even bigger pushovers come April but fixing this only creates more problems. The best idea put forward came from Bill Simmons, who has talked about a tournament between the non-playoff teams, with the winner getting the best pick. This would encourage teams to play harder for better seeding in a theoretical tournament but the incentive still isn’t that great. Playing hard won’t help because the seeding isn’t really that important since none of the really bad teams are usually so good that getting a top seed in a loser’s bracket would be that big a deal. For example, if we were to fictionally create a loser’s tourney right now for 2011-12, the Suns would be the top seed and would have a bye but the third seeded Bucks would draw the Bobcats, not exactly a huge disadvantage for Houston. Also, the moderately bad teams, like the Nets or Raptors probably wouldn’t care which top seed they draw and winning a round in the bad tourney wouldn’t exactly excite the fans. A loser’s tourney has the distinct stench of the NIT, much ado about nothing to the fans. At the end of the day, the Lottery is the best way to balance between making sure the decent teams shoot for the playoffs teams and the bad teams are given a better chance but not a guaranteed shot at the highest picks and no artificial system is really going to fix this. For now, we just have to accept that the bad teams will be worse by the end of the season.
2. Bobcats Are Quite Bad: It may be a shortened season but Charlotte is threatening to have the lowest winning percentage in modern history. At 7-56, the Bobcats are worst offensive and defensive team in the NBA and their expected won-loss doesn’t short change them either, as the point differential projects to the same 7-56 record. It is clear that Charlotte has been managed horribly from day one and it is important for the team to get another win just to avoid another humiliation for the continually alienated local fans. At the end of the day, though, the Bobcats already bottomed out with some terrible drafts and the trading of Tyson Chandler for nothing but financial savings. It seems, though, that the Bobcats have figured this all out and Michael Jordan has finally hired a competent GM in Rich Cho. If Charlotte gets Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, they will have a nice building block. The fans may never feel for the Bobcats like they did for the Hornets but better the Bobcats are doing the right thing in dumping their mediocre vets and starting over. Now they just have to not screw up the coming draft choices.
3. Metta World Elbow: I caught much of the fun Lakers/Thunder game on Sunday. A great game was lost to the side story of Metta World Peace’s hard elbow to the head of James Harden. World Peace was rightfully tossed from the game and has earned a suspension of five games or so. World Peace claimed after the game that the elbow was unintentional and part of his celebration of a made basket. In reviewing the tape, World Peace seemed very much aware of Harden’s presence and meant to shove him off, though he probably didn’t mean to hit him so squarely in the head. The elbow looked very similar to one that World Peace threw at Chris Paul earlier in the season.
While World Peace definitely deserves his punishment, this incident should not be looked at as a back slide to his reckless behavior from many years ago, when he started a brawl in Detroit. The elbow on Harden was vicious but is a part of the game. Being guilty of serial elbow is not a character defect, as Bill Cartwright, Dikembe Mutombo, and Karl Malone can attest.