It’s no secret that the Buffalo Sabres and New York Knicks are struggling this year, but they could be losing on purpose. “Tanking” is the art of losing games purposefully to finish with the league’s worst record with the hope of getting the best draft pick possible. Nobody is questioning the motives of the two bottom-dwellers this year. The 15-33-3 Sabres have won just one game so far in 2015 and were outscored 62-21 during a recent 14-game losing streak. The Knicks began the season with a terrible start and now boast a 10-39 record, one of the worst in the league. Star forward Carmelo Anthony has been hurt for most of the season and his supporting cast is probably one of the worst we’ve ever seen.
The reason for tanking is simple: both upcoming National Hockey League and National Basketball Association Draft classes feature once-in-a-generation type prospects. The big prize in the National Hockey League is center Connor McDavid, an 18-year-old Ontario Hockey League superstar who is being called the “LeBron James of Hockey.” Players like McDavid don’t come around often––McDavid’s presence alone can reverse a franchise’s losing ways and regain its fan base. Many forget how dismal the Pittsburgh Penguins were before they drafted center Sidney Crosby in 2005, who was dubbed “The Next Wayne Gretzky.” They won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
In the NBA, teams have their sights set on Duke University freshman center Jahlil Okafor. Scouts say the transcendent 6’11” center will be an immediate superstar. He has drawn comparisons to Tim Duncan with his soft-touch and execution under the basket. In a sport where only five players are on the court at a time, Okafor will change any franchise right away.
It should be noted that both leagues have lottery systems in place to prevent teams from tanking. In the NBA, only the top three picks are decided by lottery, but the 14 non-playoff teams are in contention. The league’s worst team cannot receive worse than the fourth overall pick. NHL rules are similar, however, the league’s worst team cannot receive worse than the second overall pick.
The morality of tanking is a tough question. It is a result of a flawed system where the bad teams are rewarded, but it is hard to decipher between a truly bad team and one that’s just tanking. The fact is that we just have to live with it; tanking will always be a part of sports. Some say it’s cheating and others say it’s strategy. Until actual evidence is given, we will continue to speculate ourselves.
If you’re not winning in sports, you’re rebuilding. It’s the circle of life as teams fluctuate year to year. One day, maybe we will see these two New York franchises back on top. The second half of the NHL and NBA seasons are set to begin, so may the worst man lose.