In March and April of 2012, the Golden State Warriors found themselves in a predicament: They needed to tank so they would retain their 2012 NBA lottery pick. If they finished out of the Top 7, that pick would go to the Utah Jazz due to a Monta Ellis trade.
The backstory on the Ellis trade: The Warriors drafted Ellis right out of high school, and in his 2nd year, he was the Most Improved Player in the NBA, helping the Warriors to the 8th seed in the playoffs and a massive upset of the top-seeded Mavericks in the 1st round.
But then they missed the playoffs three years in a row and drafted Stephen Curry out of Davidson. For a year they tried to make the pair work, but it failed, and when it looked like they’d miss the playoffs in 2011-2012, they dealt Ellis in March. Instantly, they went into tank mode so they could keep the 1st round pick that was part of the Ellis trade.
The Warriors proceeded to lose 17 of their final 20 games. That, friends, is tanking. They were able to keep their lottery pick.
With the 7th pick, Golden State selected Harrison Barnes, a sophomore out of UNC. He was the high school basketball player of the year, then ACC Rookie of the Year, and returned to Chapel Hill to try and win a title (they didn’t; star point guard Kendall Marshall got hurt, and the #1 seeded Tar Heels choked late in the Elite 8 against Kansas, losing 80-67.)
The rest, as they say, is history: Golden State made the playoffs after drafting Barnes and upset Denver in the 1st round before pushing eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio to six games. Then in 2014, they lost to the Clippers in seven games in an epic series. After that? Sixty-seven wins and an NBA Championship, followed by an NBA-record 73 wins and another Finals trip.
Tanking works in the NBA. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s smart.
The Lakers could learn something about tanking.