The issue of tanking has come to the forefront in recent NBA seasons.
Under the current lottery system, teams have a clear incentive to purposely lose in the hopes of receiving a higher first-round pick. Although that system is slated to change in the summer of 2019, franchises can capitalize on that strategy this season, much to the dismay of the league office.
In the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks all have 24-or-fewer victories heading into Friday. In the West, the Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies all have 20-or-fewer.
Although the Nets do not own the rights to their own 2018 first-round pick (Cleveland does), the other eight teams are all in the mix to earn the coveted No. 1 overall selection. Even though commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to all 30 teams warning them against tanking last week, there are ways that teams can disguise what they're really doing.
The Knicks might be one of those teams. But despite New York's presence in the group above, head coach Jeff Hornacek made it clear that the term "tanking" does not apply to the Knicks organization despite going 7-27 since getting off to a 17-14 start.
Recently, they traded for young guard Emmanuel Mudiay and have given rookie Frank Ntilikina and young guard Trey Burke extensive minutes in the backcourt, sending veterans Jarrett Jack and Courtney Lee to the bench.
“There’s a difference between tanking and trying to look at the future,” Hornacek said, per Barbara Barker of Newsday. “We made a trade to bring these guys in. We brought in Trey from the G League and Emmanuel from another team. That’s a totally different thought process. We’re trying to see if these guys can play for us. We still want to try to win games. We want to see if our young guys can have us win games. It’s part of the evaluation process. It’s not like we’re putting them out there going, ‘Oh, heck, if we put them out there, we’re going to lose games.’"
The coach added that tanking “has gotten worse in the last four, five, six, seven years. That’s why they made adjustments. I don’t know why they didn’t make adjustments and implement them this year. I don’t know why they waited a year. If they had what they’re going to do, just put it in now. So maybe these teams are trying to get their one last crack at it.”
If the season ended right now and the lottery's results followed the current standings, the Knicks would receive the ninth overall selection in the upcoming draft.
While it's important for the team to evaluate whether or not the three young guards will be a part of the team's future or not, it's easy to make the claim that they're not giving themselves the best chance of winning on a nightly basis.
It remains to be seen where the Knicks end up at the end of the season.