Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Returns to tanking 

OK, something a little more lighthearted.

Like me, Bill Simmons is a Celtics fan, an NBA fan. (I only watch the NCAA tournament, not much of the regular collegiate season. I have season tickets I share for the Huskies basketball teams.) He has been incensed about the obvious tanking of games by NBA teams, none more that our Celtics. And this morning on Mike and Mike the listeners voted on whether teams should tank. I don't know who won.

Let's think about this a minute. The odds of who you get in the lottery are explained at Answers.com. The Celtics were angling to be sure to have the second-worst record in the NBA (they can't "catch" the Memphis Grizzlies.) By doing so they gave themselves about a 39% chance of having one of the first two picks, largely assumed to be either Greg Oden (assuming he makes himself eligible for the draft) or Kevin Durant (who's in.) Being third worst in the league lowers your odds of one of those guys from 3-2 against to almost 3-1 (27% chance of picking first or second.) The odds of picking first or second by being the worst team are less than 50-50 (46%), so there wasn't nearly as much incentive to chase down Memphis as there was finishing behind Milwaukee.

The return on tanking with two sure-fire draft picks (you can argue against Durant if you like, but given Celtic GM Danny Ainge was fined for wooing his parents you can guess the team does not agree) was therefore more substantial than any other positioning. Odds of getting one or the other went up more than 40% by finishing second rather than third.

I'm not sure that Ryan Gomes had worked through the probabilities, but what he said wasn't wrong in substance. It's just wrong that he said it in public; I'll bet NBA Commissioner David Stern reinforces that lesson with a fine sometime soon.