LOS ANGELES -- NBA commissioner Adam Silver has warned that teams will face harsh punishment for deliberately losing amid a reported "tanking epidemic" in the league's lower echelons, it was reported Wednesday.
USA Today reported that Silver had sent a memo to the league's 30 clubs on February 21 warning them that any side suspected of throwing games would receive the "harshest response possible."
Teams at the foot of the NBA are often suspected of tanking in order to improve their chances of being given a favourable pick in the following season's draft.
This season has seen an unusually large number of teams fall under suspicion. The last nine teams in the league have 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 how draft picks are allocated. It also coincides with a 2018 draft class which is expected to feature several potential elite talents.
Under the current system, the team with the worst record in the NBA has a 25 percent chance of landing the top pick in the draft lottery. Changes to the rules which take effect in 2019 will mean that those odds fall to 14 percent.
- Race to the bottom? -
EMBED - CUBAN
CAPTION - Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in attendance during the three point contest at Staples Center. Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
Silver's warning came after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 (488,214 euros) by the NBA last week after comments in which he suggested his team should adopt losing as a strategy.
"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs. I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option,'" Cuban said on Julius Erving's "House Call with Dr. J" podcast.
In explaining Cuban's fine in his memo to teams, Silver said the league drew a distinction between teams in the middle of rebuilding and sides tanking, which he maintained there was no evidence of.
"Over the past several seasons, discussions about so-called 'tanking' in the NBA have occurred with some frequency, both in the public discourse and within our league...," Silver wrote.
"Throughout this period, we have been careful to distinguish between efforts teams may make to rebuild their rosters, including through personnel changes over the course of several seasons, and circumstances in which players or coaches on the floor take steps to lose games.
"The former can be a legitimate strategy to construct a successful team within the confines of league rules; the latter — which we have not found and hope never to see in the NBA — has no place in our game.
"If we ever received evidence that players or coaches were attempting to lose or otherwise taking steps to cause any game to result otherwise than on its competitive merits, that conduct would be met with the swiftest and harshest response possible from the league office."
Silver added that the integrity of the competition was "the cornerstone of our league."
"It is our pact with the fans and with each other, the fundamental reason we exist as a preeminent sporting organization, the very product that we sell," he wrote.
"With everything else changing around us, it is the one thing in our league that can never change. We must do everything in our power to protect the actual and perceived integrity of the game."
© Agence France-Presse
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