NBA commissioner Adam Silver, in recent comments to Phoenix Suns employees, addressed possible solutions for tanking while noting that he understands why teams would do it when a "once-in-a-generation player" is about to enter the league, according to sources who were present.
Calling it a "serious issue" that has sparked "hundreds" of meetings, Silver's comments came this week during a question-and-answer session in the Suns' arena, where Silver also apologized multiple times on behalf of the league office to a large group of Suns employees for workplace misconduct under majority team owner Robert Sarver.
During the session, one employee asked Silver about tanking, a theme that is widely expected to dominate the league conversation with 7-foot-4 French phenom Victor Wembanyama -- a potentially franchise-altering prospect -- being projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft.
"We put teams on notice," Silver told employees. "We're going to be paying particular attention to the issue this year."
Speaking of a concept in European soccer, Silver told employees that the league has thought about relegation as a potential solution to ensure the worst-performing teams are incentivized to compete. But the commissioner then said relegation would be "destabilizing" to the NBA.
In such a scenario, Silver told employees, relegation would essentially mean demoting the worst one or two teams to the G League while promoting the best team or two from the G League to the NBA.
"It would so disrupt our business model," Silver told employees. "And even if you took two teams up from the G League, they wouldn't be equipped to compete in the NBA."
In an effort to help reduce tanking, the NBA flattened draft lottery odds in 2019, so now teams with the three worst regular-season records each have a 14% chance of winning the lottery. (Before that, the team with the worst record had a 25% chance, the second-worst team had a 19.9% chance and the third-worst team had a 15.6% chance.)
Still, Silver told employees that tanking remains an issue this season.
"It's something we have to watch for," Silver said. "A draft is, in principle, a good system. But I get it, especially when there is a sense that a once-in-a-generation player is coming along, like we have this year." Silver didn't mention Wembanyama by name, sources present said, but added that the league will adjust as necessary.
"Teams are smarter, they are creative, and they respond -- we move, they move -- so we're always looking to see whether there's yet a better system," Silver told employees.
Silver also addressed a question about league expansion, which he told Suns employees the league will look at more closely once it is through its upcoming television rights negotiations. (The NBA's current TV rights package, a nine-year deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, is slated to expire after the 2024-25 season.)
"In order to evaluate any teams coming in, we need to know where we stand from a media standpoint; that's obviously our most significant form of revenue overall," Silver told employees.
But Silver also discussed the "potential dilution of talent" -- that is, adding more teams would weaken the overall product.
"None of us can remember going into a season where there was a perception of so much competition, but, still, the goal is to have 30 competitive teams, not 20, or whatever it is, so think we do pay attention to the dilution factor," he told employees.
Still, Silver said that the league is, overall, doing well and that there is no shortage of strong candidates for new teams in new cities, though he didn't name any specific cities. Las Vegas and Seattle are considered likely candidates for new NBA teams should the league expand.