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Opinion

NBA disregards problem of teams tanking games

April 12, 2007

Two weeks ago I arrived at my apartment to find my roommates watching a Timberwolves game.

“Are the Wolves winning?” I asked. I quickly corrected myself. “And by winning, I mean losing.”

Due to another in a long line of terrible trades, the Timberwolves can lose their first-round pick this season if that selection is higher than tenth in this year’s draft. This would be detrimental to a franchise devoid of top-end talent, other than perennial all-star Kevin Garnett, who will likely be traded at season’s end.

Compounding the problem is that this year’s draft class looks to be loaded. Experts like ESPN’s Chad Ford have said it could be the best group of talent in nearly a decade. So apparently fans think there’s nothing wrong with the Timberwolves throwing in the towel and reducing Garnett’s minutes to ensure they aren’t left on the outside looking in when teams begin restocking their rosters with fresh young talent. But there is something wrong with this. It’s cheating, plain and simple. And it’s an old problem in the NBA.

The lottery system was instituted in 1985 to prevent teams from tanking in order to improve draft position. The fact that you even have to institute such a thing is a damning indictment of the nature of sports and mankind itself. The worst part about the examples of tanking in the NBA is how incredibly shameless they are. The Minnesota Timberwolves gave us possibly the most shameless example of it in the season finale last year, with Mark Madsen chucking up seven hopeless three pointers in a 102-92 double-overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Madsen’s anti-heroics and the Timberwolves’ decision to sit down Garnett (left knee tendonitis) and Rick Davis (strained left groin) for the last six games of last season, assured them a first round pick in 2006. If the Wolves had happened to win a few games down the stretch (they went 2-4), they may have had to forfeit their first-round pick as a stipulation of the same wonderful Sam Cassel/Marko Jaric trade that could cost them their first rounder this year. Some in NBA circles were appalled by the Wolves’ theatrics. Yet NBA commissioner David Stern did nothing. Sportswriters, such as Bill Simmons of ESPN.com, have referred to sudden, conveniently-timed injuries like the type Davis and Garnett suffered as tankanitis. With the loaded NBA draft class this year, including Kevin Durant and Greg Oden, if they decide to declare, these injuries should be referred to as Odenitis or Durantitis.

So what have we learned? Not much, because the tanking is happening again this season. Take the Associated Press game recap headline from Milwaukee’s 98-89 victory over the Boston April 4: “Depleted Bucks beat Celtic’s skeleton crew,” a game in which was missing four key players to dubious ailments. For the Celtics, all-star swingman Paul Pierce (sore left elbow) and rising star center Al Jefferson (bruised left knee) both garnered DNP’s in the box score. The Bucks didn’t even get that creative; all-star guard Michael Redd and starting point guard Mo Williams both missed the game with (left knee pain). Pain? Are you kidding me? If you can’t play with pain, you don’t deserve to be paid to play professionally. Thankfully the law of karma applied itself to this game and the Bucks won, or perhaps it was Earl Boykins 32-point effort. I wouldn’t be surprised if Boykins began to experience “Durantitis” sometime soon. On April 9, just to make sure they don’t accidentally win a couple games down the stretch, the Bucks announced Redd was shut down for the season. Granted Redd had been battling knee problems all season, but do you think he’d be declared out for the year if the team were fighting for a playoff spot?

Timberwolves head coach Randy Wittman has announced that Garnett will see decreased minutes the rest of the year. Apparently Wittman realized he needs to do more to lose after the Wolves’ 99-94 victory over the New York Knicks, which put them in position to lose their valuable first-round pick this year. Now, since they’ve reduced their only good players’ minutes, the Wolves have lost three in a row.

These are just local examples of tanking tactics. You could go around the league to all of the franchises that have officially been eliminated from the playoffs and find similar examples.

I won’t pretend to have an answer to solving this problem. You would hope that people would have a little more pride than to just throw in the towel on their season. Apparently that isn’t the case. What I really want to know is what NBA coaches and general managers involved in these blatant examples of tanking games tell their kids about sportsmanship and cheating?

Nick Sortedahl is a student at UW-River Falls.

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