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NBA

What is tanking in the NBA and why do teams tank?

While tanking is a strategy in sports that can yield criticism, it can also help teams be in the playoff mix. What is tanking and why do teams do it?

Update:
While tanking is a strategy in sports that can yield criticism, it can also help teams be in the playoff mix. What is tanking and why do teams do it?
Christian PetersenAFP

Tanking is purposely creating a bad team while intending to lose games in order to win high draft picks. In the NBA, where almost all teams need to have a superstar to be able to win a championship, more and more teams have adopted this strategy to get them closer to winning titles.

When do NBA teams consider tanking?

Generally towards the end of the season, teams may start benching key players in favor of youth to improve their odds of landing a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

The Portland Trail Blazers are a good example of this from last season. After star guard Damian Lillard’s injury substantially minimized the Blazers’ chances of making the playoffs, Portland dropped CJ McCollum to New Orleans and welcomed a rebuild. Additionally, after ending the season with 27 players appearing in at least one game and a 27-55 record, the Blazers landed the No. 7 overall pick and took Shaedon Sharpe out of Kentucky, a possible top-five pick in the class of 2022.

The Blazers are now hugely expected to be in the playoff mix this year, thanks to a reloaded roster.

Win vs develop

But while this could be the case for some NBA teams, it doesn’t seem focus on the problem. Overall, tanking is pretty much being bad, but it’s also a shortcut that focuses fully on ‘instant’ winning of games, rather than developing a team and working on their weaknesses.

Is the Utah Jazz tanking this season?

As for this season, the Utah Jazz are probably tanking as well. After trading Rudy Gobert to Minnesota in a move that saw four future first-round picks and a pick swap in 2026 involved in the return, they’ll likely use that strategy with all the veteran players they can.

Utah’s executive Danny Ainge intentionally cleared his roster of all his talented players that fit a team trying to win now and replaced them with young players and draft picks. He’s likely targeting losing many games this season, as it would maximize the chances of getting a top pick in the upcoming draft. The 2023 NBA Draft is regarded as one of the strongest in many years, and the Jazz already have three first-round selections to make in it. Depending on future trades, they could get even more.

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