At this juncture, it’s difficult to argue that the Philadelphia 76ers‘ “process,” first instituted by then-GM Sam Hinkie in the mid-2010s, hasn’t been a smashing success.
Sure, it resulted in Philly losing nearly 200 games over a three-year stretch from 2013-14 through 2015-16, but the high draft picks that came as a result have helped propel the team to its current contender’s status.
While it worked out in the end, though, not everyone is a fan of the blatant tanking the Sixers did to acquire all-world talents like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Apparently, the powers that be in the NBA were prompted by Philly’s lose-to-win strategy to rethink its approach to playoff hoops as a countermeasure.
For the first time ever this season, teams on the fringes of the playoff races have been given the opportunity to play themselves into a postseason spot via the league’s new play-in tournament. As a result, clubs like the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs have an opportunity to usurp the teams that finished ahead of them during the regular season and earn a spot at the playoff table.
On Tuesday, one respected NBA insider opined that there is a clear connection between the institution of the play-in tourney and Philly’s controversial process.
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Nixing the Next ‘Process’
During a playoff preview episode of The Woj Pod, host Adrian Wojnarowski and guest Zach Lowe spoke at length about the play-in tourney. For his part, Wojnarowski believes that Philly’s tank job was a major motivating factor in the tournament’s creation.
“It goes back a few years, like what Philadelphia did spooked the league. And they didn’t want to see, not just another team do it, but having multiple teams doing it,” said Wojnarowski.
Tanking has long been a bugbear for those who desire a competitive league where teams are constantly striving to win on the floor as opposed to playing for draft positioning. Simply put, they believe that putting one’s best foot forward and winning should be rewarded over attempting to work loopholes and game the draft lottery system.
Woj believes that league officials don’t like tanking and, really, who could blame them? It took literal years of the Sixers putting a horrible product on the floor and chasing their own fans away to hit pay dirt. Multiple teams doing the same in perpetuity with no guarantee of it ever paying off could be bad for business.
It could even tarnish the integrity of the NBA game, some say.
“The play-in was a way, obviously, to try to curb some tanking,” Woj asserted. “It was a way to keep more teams involved in meaningful games later in the season.”
Fans and players alike have expectations and losing is almost never part of that equation, even if there is a clear logic in tanking. There are also financial ramifications to consider for teams that continually fall short of those expectations. The play-in works to mitigate those issues by dangling the carrot of a possible playoff spot.
In its maiden voyage, the effort worked to perfection in the case of at least one team. Namely, the Washington Wizards, who may have packed it in a month ago in any other season, but instead battled to put themselves into a position where they could contend for a playoff spot.
While the play-in looks to have been successful in getting more teams to push for spots that otherwise would not have been available to them, it may have affected other aspects of the league as well.
“You look at the other sort of unintended consequences, a lot of teams talked about it jamming up the trade deadline,” Woj said. “It was just harder to get deals done because there were fewer sellers. And then the sellers that were there were asking so much for players that teams were like, ‘I don’t really know if that player is going to impact us, I’m not mortgaging our future with this young player, that pick, we’re not doing that deal.'”
Nevertheless, Woj and Lowe noted that it “allowed teams to hang around and try to get into the play-in.”
Aside from the teams that actually made the play-in, clubs like the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans also opted to pursue a play-in berth rather than tank games for lottery ping-pong balls that may not yield anything.
While they conceded that there would still be certain teams that “can’t get out of their own way” or will continue to tank, Woj and Lowe ultimately reached the conclusion that the play-in was likely a positive development for the league.
The NBA’s 2021 play-in tournament tips off on Tuesday night when the with the Eastern Conference 9/10 game between the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets.