Ask anyone who plays basketball professionally if they ever try to lose games. Ask any member of the Philadelphia 76ers if they are trying to lose games. Of course, the answer in both scenarios would be no. Why would anyone who loves the game of basketball purposefully lose games?
In reality, it's pretty hard to try to lose games. Obviously, one could miss a lot of shots on purpose and turn the ball at an alarming rate, but any coach in their right mind would bench that player pretty quickly. There are not any insane coaches in the NBA, including on the worst teams. After all, if a coach were to allow that kind of level of play consistently, his job security wouldn't be as consistent. Tanking collectively as teammates is even more difficult than one player's concerted effort. How can you convince players of different backgrounds and struggles to risk their job security to not play well? Why would a player like K.J. McDaniels, after fighting his way into the NBA and then taking a huge contract risk purposefully conspire with his teammates to lose games and endanger his stock by making decisions that could ultimately lead to a loss?
One could make the argument that there are certain players in the NBA who haven't looked all that interested in actually loving the game. Some players have lost that love of the game after being exposed to the business that is the NBA. But think about this concept for a second. How often does a case like Andrew Bynum come along where it appears as if the player does not love the game? Okay, now take that rare concept and apply it to fourteen other guys on a team. Think about that before looking at a mediocre team and yelling at your television for them to tank. It really makes no sense from their perspective. Tank for what? Why would players put so much stock in just one talented player when they've spent their entire lives putting stock in themselves to make it to the NBA? Do you think any player looks at himself and thinks, "I'm finally in the NBA. Let's lose a bunch of games to get someone more talented than me!" No, I didn't think so.
That said, does tanking exist? Of course. The problem is that a plethora of people don't understand the source of tanking. It's not the five guys on the court playing for a team at a given time. It's not the guy on the sidelines calling plays and yelling when players make mistakes. It's for sure not the athletic trainers letting their players get injured. No, it's the men in suits.
General managers and their staffs are the source of tanking. Get men who are passionate about basketball into the NBA, and they'll play their hearts out (or at least try) on a nightly basis. To tank and lose the most games, as a general manager, you take the less talented players and put them on your team. The NBA is the most predictable league out of the four major sports leagues. Why? The disparity of talent is too obvious. If the Golden State Warriors go up against the New York Knicks, an upset is possible, but not probable. Looking up and down the schedule, rarely does one see a game that could go either way. The playoffs even encourage this model, pitting the worst against the best in the first round. It's probably the best way to go, but their generally incredibly predictable. What do you think is gonna happen when the first seed takes on the 8th most talented team in the same conference? Well, when everyone's healthy, generally, the outcome is predictable. Obviously, there are some outliers, but that's all they are: outliers.
For example, the Boston Celtics just traded their "star" Rajon Rondo. What they got in return were assets, not a player of (or near) the same caliber as the player they shipped out. Ask anyone in Boston's locker room if they're not trying as hard to win as they were with Rondo. Strap them to a lie detector. The answer will still be that they are still trying hard to win games. The reality is that they're just not as good as they were a month ago. You don't lose an All-Star-caliber player, not get one in return, and play just as well. As a result, the Celtics have only won one out of their last five games. In this case, the general manager, Danny Ainge, sacrificed this year's team success to increase their chances at getting a talented franchise cornerstone in this year's draft to rebuild.
Although players aren't the ones to tank, it isn't necessarily a bad prospect. Take, for example, the Atlanta Hawks of the 2000's. They were the epitome of the "middle of the pack." Too good to be too bad, but too bad to be too good. It's a frustrating paradox, and while making the playoffs every year was probably cool for Hawks fans, it must have stunk knowing that they had no chance of going deep. Ainge of the Celtics has chosen to bypass this process by stockpiling young talent that will be a force in the NBA down the line. It's better than having no hope. The Hawks finally became a lottery team one year, and now they're one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Coincidence? Maybe, but regardless, the team looks good now.
This year, there are a litany of centers and power forwards who could develop into prized big-men in an NBA that currently lacks in that department. For teams like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, being as bad as possible could net them a quick return to the top just like in their glory days. For now, though, they'll have to endure the pain of losing constantly. Just don't blame the players for it. They're doing their best.