Basketball
Silver cautions NBA teams to protect integrity of game

This is a Happy Hour of sorts for the league’s worst teams, the end of a draft era that changes next year when the value of sustained failure will take a major hit because of reformed rules.

Feb.28 - SportLand: A week after the NBA fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $600,000 for his public admission of tanking, the race to the bottom has continued in full force.

Entering Wednesday, just six games separate the last nine teams in the league — from the New York Knicks on down to the Atlanta Hawks. Their combined record of that woeful group since the All-Star break? A paltry 3-25.

But while losing is one thing, losing on purpose is quite another. And therein lies the league’s legislative challenge in these final six weeks.

This is a Happy Hour of sorts for the league’s worst teams, the end of a draft era that changes next year when the value of sustained failure will take a major hit because of reformed rules.

Starting in 2019, the last-place team’s odds of landing the No. 1 pick drop from 25% to 14% — the same odds that will apply to the bottom three teams in this new structure. The “Trust the Process” Philadelphia 76ers are largely to blame for all of this, of course, as they took tanking to a whole new low under general manager Sam Hinkie from 2013 to 2016 and inspired change.

A Feb. 21 memo sent by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to all 30 teams explaining the Cuban fine made that much abundantly clear.

“Over the past several seasons, discussions about so-called 'tanking' in the NBA have occurred with some frequency, both in the public discourse and within our league, and you as governors have taken steps to address the underlying incentive issues by adopting changes to our draft lottery system that will go into effect next year,” Silver wrote in the letter which was obtained by USA TODAY Sports. “Throughout this period, we have been careful to distinguish between efforts teams may make to rebuild their rosters, including through personnel changes over the course of several seasons, and circumstances in which players or coaches on the floor take steps to lose games.

“The former can be a legitimate strategy to construct a successful team within the confines of league rules; the latter — which we have not found and hope never to see in the NBA — has no place in our game. If we ever received evidence that players or coaches were attempting to lose or otherwise taking steps to cause any game to result otherwise than on its competitive merits, that conduct would be met with the swiftest and harshest response possible from the league office.”

This is the last, best chance to take advantage of the current system. But tankers beware: The league is watching more closely than ever.

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