NBA Tanking Tales of 2023

This is my first NBA story of the season.  As a former high school hoopster who played in adult leagues into my thirties, I have always enjoyed watching basketball.

Today’s NBA is another matter.

I simply don’t find a lot of drama in their way-too-long 82 game regular season which drags at a snail’s pace from October through April.  The NBA playoffs then consume another two months (which is a full month longer than it should take) before mercifully ending in mid-June.

Basketball season is played during the cold weather months for good reason.  Playing basketball inside a warm(er) gymnasium during the winter months is fun for both the players and fans alike.

In addition to the length of the current NBA season, there seems to be very little drama from year to year about which teams will be good and those which continue to linger near the bottom of the standings again.

In the last decade, the Golden State Warriors have captured the NBA title on four occasions (2015, 2017, 2018, and 2022).  The Warriors also made it into the Finals on two other occasions (but lost) past ten years.  The Warriors have dominated the past decade.

Other recent NBA Finals winners include the Miami Heat (2013), San Antonio Spurs (2014), Cleveland Cavaliers (2016), Toronto Raptors (2019), Los Angeles Lakers (2020 COVID-modified season), and Milwaukee Bucks (2021).

Two other NBA teams (Phoenix Suns – 2021 and Boston Celtics – 2022) participated on the runner-up side of the NBA Finals in the ten seasons.

That makes a grand total of just nine teams (out of 30) which have participated in the NBA Finals over the past decade.

It’s like the other 21 teams might as well be named the Washington Generals.  That’s the team which nearly always lost to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Did you know that there are six NBA franchises which have never even played in the NBA Finals at any time during the team’s history?

  1. Charlotte Hornets – 2004 (18 years)

The Bobcats/Hornets have yet to appear in the Eastern Conference finals.

Interesting note – the primary owner is Michael Jordan.  He bought team for $275 million in 2010.  The team is now worth an estimated $1.5 billion.

  1. Memphis Grizzlies – 1995 (27 years)

The Griz (who began as the Vancouver Grizzlies prior to moving to Memphis in 2001) have played in only one Western Conference final (losing to San Antonio in 2013)

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves – 1989 (33 years)

The T-wolves have appeared in the Western Conference finals only one time (losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004).

  1. New Orleans Pelicans – 1988 (34 years)

The team (which actually began as the Charlotte Hornets prior to coming to the Crescent City in 2002) has never even played in the Conference finals.

  1. Denver Nuggets – 1976 (46 years)

The Denver Nuggets (a former ABA franchise prior to entering the NBA in 1976) have played in four different Western Conference finals (1978, 1985, 2009, and 2020).  Denver has never advanced into the NBA Finals.

The NBA FUTILITY WINNER!  Los Angeles Clippers – 1970 (52 year draught)

Founded as the Buffalo Braves, the team moved to San Diego in 1978 and became the Clippers.

The team moved to Los Angeles in 1984 but retained the Clippers nickname.

The team’s first and only Western Conference Finals appearance came in 2021 (losing to Phoenix).

In recent years, the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets have become frequent guests at the NBA Draft Lottery trough.

Though the NBA playoffs allow 16 of the league’s 30 teams into the post-season, the remaining 14 teams participate in the league’s annual draft lottery each spring.  The lottery determines which of those 14 teams will select in the first and second round of the NBA’s two-round draft.

For many years, the NBA’s draft lottery gave equal weighting to each of the 14 teams which failed to make the playoffs.  Over time, the system has been modified to give more statistical opportunity to the teams with the worst records.

Beginning in 2019, the NBA again changed the system to (wink) avoid the appearance that some teams were trying to lose games on purpose to have the greatest odds of winning the top draft pick in the next player draft.

Now, the worst three teams each have a 14% chance to have their name called as the winner in the NBA’s draft lottery.  The fourth worst team has a 12.5% chance to win the top pick.  The odds slide all the way down the 14th worst team that season.  It only has a .5% chance to get the #1 pick.

After the midway point of the 2022/2023 NBA season, a true horse race exists to get one of those coveted three highest statistical chances at this year’s NBA Draft lottery on May 26.

This year’s BIG prize is 7’4”.  Victor Wembanyama from France is really tall.  This giant is officially listed as weighing 230 pounds.  If so, the weight must be mostly in his shoes.  He is a string bean with exceptional coordination and basketball skills for his height.

Do you remember Ralph Sampson out of the University of Virginia?   Forty years ago in 1983, the 7’4” Sampson (who looked a lot like this year’s big man) was selected by the Houston Rockets.

Ralph Sampson (with his 7-foot tall twin tower buddy, Hakeem Olajuwon) helped to lead the Rockets into the 1986 NBA Finals (losing to the Boston Celtics 4 games to 2).  Ralph Sampson became injured the following year.

He was traded to the Golden State Warriors and then played for two more teams.  7’4” Ralph Sampson vanished out of professional basketball after just ten years.   He averaged 15 points and just under ten rebounds per game for his career.

Returning to 2023, the Houston Rockets are again primed to make another run at obtaining a 7’4” basketball player soon.

The Rockets sport the NBA’s worst record at 11-36 today.  Right behind are the 12-37 Detroit Pistons, the 13-36 Charlotte Hornets, and the 14-33 San Antonio Spurs.  The fifth-worst team (Orlando) is now at 18-29, but there is still time for them to tank prior to the end of this season.

I have watched the Houston Rockets play on television twice this season.  The team is filled with a roster of very young players and a relatively young coach.

In the first game I watched, the Rockets simply did not play very hard for all four quarters of the game.  A young team should hustle every game compared to a more veteran squad.  Even though the younger players will make mistakes, the team must give it their all to win against veteran teams.

Last week, I watched the Houston Rockets play against another of the NBA’s worst teams this season, Charlotte Hornets.  Just like the other game I had seen, the Rockets did not play hard at key times of this game.  The team rarely passed the ball more than once on any offensive possession.

In the post-game television show, Rockets’ retired player and NBA Hall-of-Famer Calvin Murphy was at a loss for words as to how Houston could play with so little passion on their own home floor against one of the league’s worst teams.

Does the team fail to play hard because of issues with the coach or do the players simply sense that the team’s management wants them to lose this year to increase their chances for the #1 pick?


Trying to rebuild your NBA team via “tanking” has not proven to be a winning strategy.

The NBA poster boys of “tanking” in the past decade have been the Philadelphia 76ers.  They openly tried to finish at the bottom of the NBA standings several years in a row to draft a few of the top college players in order to build a future contender.

The first overall selection in the 2016 NBA draft was Philadelphia’s pick of LSU’s one-and-done player Ben Simmons.  Loved by pro scouts prior to the NBA draft, this 6’10” player has actually regressed every season in the Association.  His shooting (including free throws) is atrocious.  Ben Simmons and his $35 million annual contract were traded to the Brooklyn Nets.  This year, he is averaging just seven points and seven rebounds per game.  P.U.

In 2017, the Sixers picked Markelle Fultz from the University of Washington with the #1 overall selection.

A lights-out shooting guard in college, Fultz lost confidence in his shot in Philly.  He literally forgot how to shoot the basketball after he arrived into the NBA.  Markelle Fultz was traded to the Orlando Magic and averages just 12 points per game.

Ironically, the Philadelphia 76ers have utilized the trades of those two players to finally become an Eastern Conference playoff team in recent years!


The NBA players who are unlucky enough to play on these “tanking teams” already sense that their management and ownership are not interested in winning games this season.

That can make for a miserable year for everyone except those in the executive suite.  The franchise owner can count on receiving a nice big check from the NBA’s league office due to those generous network television contracts to offset the team’s expenses.

In truth, having several teams racing toward the bottom every season SHOULD matter to the entire NBA family.

In recent years, the quality of play and teamwork for a growing number of NBA teams is simply not worth watching in person or on television.

Prior to the advent of lucrative long-term television contracts during the past twenty years, NBA owners had to depend more on ticket sales and in-stadium revenues to stay afloat.  That meant putting together a talented and competitive roster to attract paying customers to attend the games.

Though there may be no shortage of players with “talent”, many are coming into the NBA lacking personal maturity and don’t care to or understand the need to sacrifice their own goals to help the team win more games.  Talented basketball showboats playing on high school and AAU teams then attend college for a mandated “one-and-done” year.  The NBA continues to select more and more of these 19 and 20-year old players via the draft instead of opting for more mature college upperclassmen.

If the NBA’s television ratings should erode, future network TV offers may not be as lucrative as the current arrangements. That’s why it is rare that you will see one of the NBA’s 14 bottom-feeder teams featured on TNT and ESPN’s weekly coverage.

At some point, the current 30-team NBA may be forced to consider reducing the number of franchises to provide a better quality product on the court to regain fans watching the games on television and in person.

As for me, I’ll stick with watching college hoops (and rooting for all of the teams with the most upperclassmen) until the end of March Madness!