Do you ever stop and think about that time that Mark Madsen shot seven three-pointers in an overtime game, when Minnesota and Memphis had the most blatant tank-off that history has ever seen? No, nor did I. That is, not until this morning, when I woke up thinking about it.
It’s not an entirely normal thing to wake up thinking about, even for the most hardcore Madsen fans amongst us. (For we are all Mark Madsen fans, obviously.) But some part of this must have ruffled my feathers, stoned my crows and enraged my loins, because this was all that i could think about for about three minutes after waking up.
It is now a permanent blot on the NBA landscape. The situation Minnesota found themselves in – not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to bottom out without trying to – left them deliberately trying to lose games. It needn’t have done, but General Manager Kevin McHale had already trded away Minnesota’s first rounder that season, as it was owed to the L.A. Clippers along with Sam Cassell in exchange for Lionel Chalmers and Marko Jaric. The pick, however, had top ten protection, and so in order to be able to keep it, Minnesota had to lose with a bit more regularity and finesse than they were doing up until that point.
They did this with aplomb, telling Kevin Garnett to stop playing (or so we thought), playing their better players for merely token minutes, and letting their lesser players do whatever the hell they wanted, in what then-head coach Dwane Casey called “letting them have some fun” (to be read as “playing really badly so that we lose”.)
The fact that they met an equally-tanking Memphis team, who were tanking for a different reason, was an unfortunate coincidence. Memphis had comfortably made the playoffs, but was trying to lose for a different reason – they were residing in the fifth spot, with the Clippers in sixth. Whoever finished fifth would face the 60-22 Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, without homecourt advantage, but whoever finished sixth would face Denver with homecourt advantage. After *accidentally* losing four of their last five games, the Clippers secured the worst (and, thus, the best) seed, in spite of Memphis’s valiant efforts on the final day.
(The Clippers then beat Denver comfortably. The Grizzlies were swept by Dallas even more comfortably. Memphis were right not to want it.)
The whole exchange highlighted two key flaws in the NBA’s system – the new playoff system and the protection of draft picks. The playoff system has been somewhat resolved, as the possibility of a team finishing lower down the seedings than a team with an inferior record has been decreased with the new decision to grant division winners no less than a top four seed, as opposed to a guaranteed top three seed. But the other situation remains intact, with lottery teams able to lose at will to either retain traded picks, or better their lottery chances. And it remains a travesty based around a socialist idea of parity. (The draft lottery isn’t a million miles away from what Stalin was trying to do. Remember that.)
At this point, this post would benefit greatly from a well thought-out and heavily-critiqued suggestion for a better way of going about these things, so that such a deplorable situation won’t ever happen again. (The concept of teams deliberately trying to lose is still prevalent – Miami, for example, has told Dwyane Wade to stop playing, and Memphis recently gifted away Pau Gasol just to take them out of purgatory.) However, as mentioned at the top, this post had a mere three minutes of thought, and so I haven’t got one.
Any scenario in which teams are deliberately losing, though, is a gaping flaw in the otherwise well-constructed NBA machine. Therefore, it gives me something to moan about. And so, I did. Quietly. To myself. For about three minutes.
Coincidentally (and it really was), a report came out on this very day (note: this note was not published on the day that it was written, which was the 18th) on the subject of Minnesota’s recent tanking.
Responding to claims that his team tanked it down the stretch in recent years to improve draft position, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor fired a barb at Kevin Garnett on Tuesday, as reported by Yahoo.com.
Taylor pointed out that Garnett, who was traded to the Celtics this offseason, took himself out of the lineup late last season and missed the last five games with a sore right quadriceps.
“It was more like, I’d say, K.G. tanked it,” Taylor told the Pioneer Press. “I think the other guys still wanted to play, but (the loss of Garnett) sure changed the team and didn’t make us as (good).”
While the quote may have been taken out of context, or Taylor had not necessarily said what he meant, it does sure look like he is trying to pass the blame onto this entire situation onto Garnett’s shoulders. This hardly seems entirely fair, given the Madsen situation that inspired this post.