How NBA Fans Can Tell the Difference Between Tanking Teams and Plain Bad Teams

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 15:  Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Team Chuck moves the ball against Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 of the Charlotte Bobcats and Team Shaq in the second half in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge 2013 part of the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend at the Toyota Center on February 15, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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While it's a problem that the weighted lottery system is meant to help, there are always going to be people complaining about NBA teams purposefully shaving wins off their total in order to get a chance at a better draft pick.

There are constant shouts that something should be done to limit teams tanking, as fans are paying to watch their teams win games, not coast through them to win for the future.

The league could do something as drastic as ending the weighted lottery and going back to the old system of giving every team that misses the playoffs an equal chance at landing the coveted top pick.

Of course, that will inevitably lead to a situation in which a team that missed the playoffs by a single game wins the lottery, while a team more deserving ends up further down the list.

One of the problems that arises is that people get so offended when the idea of tanking comes up that it's hard to definitively tell which teams are slipping, and which teams are tanking.

When you look at a team down the stretch, something that has to be looked at over anything else is what players they're putting on the floor.

Obviously a general manager or a coach can't go out and overtly tell guys to throw games, but they can alter minutes, change up lineups, and just plain hold players out of games.

To give an example of how difficult it is to tell the difference, we can look at two very different situations, both of which could be construed in one way or another as a form of tanking.

On the one hand we've got the 1997 San Antonio Spurs. The 1996 incarnation of the team won 59 games and was behind just the Seattle Supersonics in the Western Conference. In 1997 they won the draft lottery following just 20 wins.

David Robinson was held out of the first few months of play with a back ailment, but then went out for an extended period of time thanks to a broken foot, an injury that was supposed to hold him out for six weeks.

The full recovery time should have come and gone by the end of March, yet the Spurs decided to shut him down for the season.

I ask you here, is that tanking for a better draft pick, or are they simply avoiding a situation that could further their star player for a few measly wins?

Beyond that, can't the two be one in the same?

Fast-forward a few years to the 2003 season with LeBron James coming out of high school and every team wanting a shot at grabbing him.

The Cleveland Cavaliers eventually ended up winning the lottery, thanks to their impressive 17 wins.

All season long they watched the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ricky Davis lead their team along the way, and both players were given different roles down the stretch.

Ilgauskas, who had averaged around 30 minutes per game, suddenly saw a reduction in minutes as Chris Mihm came in to gobble some of those minutes up.

For those of you unfamiliar, Ilgauskas was Cleveland's best player in 2003, while the mere utterance of the name "Mihm" still gives Cavaliers fans shudders.

It seems as if there was another strategy with Ricky Davis, who was simply overworked over the course of the first 69 games, Davis played 40 minutes or more in a game 36 times, or just over half the time.In the next nine games he averaged 43 minutes per game and spent the rest of the season completely exhausted.

The difference between the two was that Big Z was capable of contributing to the future of this team, so putting him at risk would be a big no-no. Meanwhile, Davis was a volume scorer who only hurt the team by getting more shots.

In reality, there's a huge difference between these two teams.

San Antonio was doing their best to protect its future in 1997, while the Cavaliers were doing the same, just by putting an inferior product on the floor.

In the end it worked out for the best for both teams, as they each picked up a player who could be considered one of the 10 best in NBA history by their retirement, but there's a difference in how they went about landing them.

The best way to smell out tanking is looking for those changes in team rotations, but also look for the injuries that can't show up on an x-ray, but are more dependent on how a player feels, rather than how they're healing.