Does tanking work in the NBA?

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is an incredibly competitive league that is home to some of the most talented athletes on the planet. With all of the pressure to win and make the playoffs, it can be tempting for teams to “tank” or purposely lose games in order to get a better draft pick and improve their chances for success in the future. But does tanking really work in the NBA? In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of tanking, and the potential implications for the league.

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What is Tanking?

Tanking is the practice of a team deliberately losing games in order to get a better draft pick and improve their chances of future success. NBA teams sometimes “tank” in order to accumulate higher draft picks, which can be used to select better players or be traded for established veterans. The concept has been around for decades, but has become more prevalent in recent years as teams seek to build rosters more quickly.

Pros of Tanking

The Draft

One of the biggest advantages of tanking is the potential to acquire higher draft picks. NBA teams are always looking for ways to improve their rosters, and the draft is one of the most effective ways to do so. By tanking, teams can get a higher pick and select a better player or package the pick to acquire an established veteran.


Tanking can also be a useful strategy for rebuilding a team that is stuck in a rut. Losing games on purpose can help a team accumulate assets such as draft picks, cap space, and young players to build a more competitive roster. This can be a difficult process, but it can be an effective way for teams to turn things around in the long run.


Tanking can also be used as a motivational tool. For teams that are out of contention, tanking can provide players with an opportunity to prove themselves and show that they can be part of the team’s future plans. This can be a powerful motivator for players and can help create a culture of hard work and dedication.

Cons of Tanking

Lack of Interest

One of the biggest drawbacks of tanking is that it can lead to a lack of interest from the fans. Teams that are tanking are often not competitive and put out a poor product on the court, which can lead to lower attendance and lower ratings. This can have a negative impact on the team’s finances and can also damage the league’s reputation.

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Player Morale

Tanking can also have a negative impact on player morale. Players who are on a tanking team can become frustrated and disinterested, which can lead to a drop in performance. This can be damaging to the team’s culture and can lead to a lack of trust between players and management.

Culture of Losing

A final concern is that tanking can lead to a culture of losing. Teams that are tanking often lack the motivation and desire to win, and this can become a habit that is hard to break. This can have a long-term impact on the team and can prevent them from becoming a successful and competitive franchise in the future.

Implications for the League

Tanking can have a major impact on the NBA as a whole. It can lead to teams intentionally losing games, which can be damaging to the league’s reputation and can lead to a lack of interest from the fans. It can also lead to a lack of competitive balance, as teams with higher draft picks can become more successful and powerful than other teams. Tanking can also create a culture of losing, which can be difficult for teams to break out of.

Alternatives to Tanking

Fortunately, there are alternatives to tanking that can help teams become more competitive and successful. These include:

  • Trades: Teams can use trades to acquire established veterans and other assets to help improve their rosters. This can be a quicker and more effective way to build a competitive team than tanking.
  • Free Agency: Teams can also use free agency to sign experienced players who can help their team become more competitive. This can help teams fill any gaps in their rosters without sacrificing too much of their future.
  • Drafting: Teams can also use the draft to select talented young players who can become the cornerstones of their franchise. This can be a more effective way to rebuild a team than tanking.


Tanking can be an effective strategy for some teams, but it can also have major implications for the league as a whole. While it can be tempting for teams to tank in order to acquire higher draft picks, there are alternatives that can help teams become more competitive and successful in the long run. Ultimately, it is up to each team to decide whether tanking is the right strategy for them.


  • Kerner, S. (2020, October 31). What Is Tanking in the NBA? A Look at the Pros and Cons. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved from
  • Lipson, D. (2019, May 21). 10 Alternatives to Tanking in the NBA. Fadeaway World. Retrieved from
  • Zillgitt, J. (2020, June 18). NBA execs could face fines, suspensions if teams found to be tanking. USA Today. Retrieved from