It can't be ignored any longer. Simply put, NBA teams tank games. Going against the principles of competition, sportsmanship and customer service, NBA teams intentionally field weak lineups in order to lose games and potentially improve their positions in the draft. This is not a new concept, but the widespread tanking in the NBA this season has reached humiliating proportions. Sub-.500 NBA teams' have acting like junkies looking for a fix in their desire for "more ping-pong balls" in the Oden-Durant Sweepstakes.
The Celtics did everything but take bats to their players' knees in their epic quest for losses (seriously, Sebastian Telfair was getting minutes!); the Grizzlies fired Mike Fratello, a proven, successful NBA coach in favor Tony Barone (who? exactly!), who's revolutionary "run around and shoot" system has not produce a high level of basketball (shocking!); the 76ers thought they were tanking the season when they traded Allen Iverson, only to play better-than-.500 ball since January 1 (damn it!); once the Indiana Pacers accepted that playoff success wasn't in the cards, they traded for the starting frontcourt of the "What the $%^& Contract" All-Stars; late in the season, the Sonics, Timberwolves and Bucks declared their best players out "indefinitely", which quickly turn into "out for the year." Why?
This June's NBA Draft, headed by Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, is being touted as the deepest in at least a decade, and teams want a piece of the action! While the consolation prizes are pretty enticing, teams really want either Oden or Durant, and the blatant tanking that this has brought on will give May 22's NBA Draft Lottery higher TV ratings than most playoff games. Only two teams will get the pleasure of drafting Oden and Durant, leaving 14 heartbroken lottery teams looking for a silver lining while trying not to vomit. Not to worry, quality NBA players are always found at the top of the draft! Yeah, about that....
History shows that the teams who chose to mortgage improvement, competitive pride and the goodwill of their fans will not necessarily be rewarded with a star-quality player. Sure, they'll have a bigger pool of talent to choose from, but that's hardly a guarantee. It's no secret that every year, teams do well in the draft despite not having a top pick, proving that how teams draft has far more impact on their success than how high they draft.
Here is a look at the best non-lottery draft picks since 1996. It's plain to see that teams can, in fact, play to win, make the playoffs, and draft successful players, several of them All-Stars, even an MVP. In the interest of not making snap judgements and allowing young players time to develop, the 2006 draft has been omitted. Here's something to think about while praying that your favorite team doesn't leave the lottery with the second-coming of Todd Fuller, Nickoloz Tskitishvili or Olivier Saint-Jean:
2005: Danny Granger (#17), Hakim Warrick (#19), Jarrett Jack (#22), Francisco Garcia (#23), David Lee (#30), Monta Ellis (Round 2, #40 overall), Ryan Gomes (#50),
2004: Al Jefferson (#15 overall), Jameer Nelson (#20), Kevin Martin (#26), Anderson Varejao (Round 2, #31 overall)
2003: Luke Ridnour (#14), David West (#18), Boris Diaw (#21), Carlos Delfino (#25), Josh Howard* (#29), Jason Kapono (Round 2, #31 overall), Luke Walton (#32), Mo Williams (#47), Kyle Korver (#51)
2002: Tayshaun Prince (#23), Nenad Krstic (#24), Carlos Boozer* (Round 2, #35 overall), Ronald "Flip" Murray (#42), Matt Barnes (#46)
2001: Zach Randolph (#19), Gerald Wallace (#25), Samuel Dalembert (#26), Jamaal Tinsley (#27), Tony Parker* (#28), Gilbert Arenas* (Round 2, #31 overall), Mehmet Okur* (#38), Bobby Simmons (#42)
2000: Desmond Mason (#17), Quentin Richardson (#18), Jamaal Magloire* (#19), Morris Peterson (#20), Eduardo Najera (Round 2, #38 overall), Michael Redd* (#43)
1999: Ron Artest* (#16), Kenny Thomas (#22), Andrei Kirilenko* (#24), Manu Ginobili* (Round 2, #57 overall)
1998: Ricky Davis (#21), Al Harrington (#25), Nazr Mohammed (#29), Ruben Patterson (Round 2, #31 overall), Rashard Lewis* (#32), Cuttino Mobley (#41), Greg Buckner (#53)
1997: Bobby Jackson (#23), Stephen Jackson (#43)
1996: Peja Stojakovic* (#14), Steve Nash* (#15), Jermaine O'Neal* (#17), Zydrunas Ilgauskas* (#20), Derek Fisher (#24)
*- Played in at least 1 All Star Game, Bold- MVP Award winner