LOS ANGELES • It has long been an open secret that National Basketball Association (NBA) teams mired near the bottom of their respective divisions engage in "tanking" to improve their chances of being given a favourable pick in the following season's draft.
But that could soon come to an end after USA Today reported on Wednesday that NBA commissioner Adam Silver has warned that teams will face harsh punishment for deliberately losing amid a reported "tanking epidemic" in the lower echelons of the league.
According to the paper, Silver sent a memo to the league's 30 franchises on Feb 21, informing them that any team suspected of throwing games would receive the "harshest response possible".
This season has seen an unusually large number of teams fall under suspicion. Before Wednesday's games, the last nine teams collectively won three and lost 25 since the All-Star weekend. The "tanking epidemic" comes in the last year before the NBA reforms its rules over draft pick allocations.
It also coincides with a 2018 draft class expected to feature several potential elite talents. Under the current system, the team with the worst record has a 25 per cent chance of landing the top pick. This will fall to 14 per cent with rule changes that take effect next year.
Silver's warning came after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined US$600,000 (S$795,000) by the NBA last week after comments on Julius Erving's podcast in which he suggested his team, who are out of play-off contention, should adopt losing as a strategy - their "best option".
On Wednesday, there was no lack of heart from the Mavs despite going down at home to a 30-point night from Russell Westbrook. The guard completed a go-ahead three-point play late in overtime to lead the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder to a 111-110 win.
Paul George scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, while Westbrook added 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder (36-27), who have won three of four games since the All-Star break.
Veteran Dirk Nowitzki scored 12 points and became the sixth player in NBA history to reach 31,000 career points for the Mavs (19-43).
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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