The NBA has sent a warning to the Chicago Bulls, telling the team that they’ll need to start playing their healthy players more often in order to show that they aren’t “tanking” by purposely losing games.

Bulls NBA tanking
The Bulls have been warned by the NBA about resting healthy players down the stretch, including center Robin Lopez. (Image: Reuters/Kelley L. Cox/USA Today Sports)

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports first reported that sources had told him about the league’s warning on resting their healthy veterans. In particular, the conversations appear to center on Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, both of whom have sat out significant amounts of time lately without any apparent injuries.

Over the past six games, Holiday has played just once, while Lopez has been held out entirely.

NBA Crackdown on Tanking

The warning comes after the NBA league office has emphasized that major penalties could be in store for any teams that take steps to purposely lose games. The league made this clear after Dallas Mavericks owner March Cuban said that “losing is our best option.”

Cuban was fined $600,000 for the statement, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver then sent an open letter to every organization in the league.

The integrity of the competition on the playing court is the cornerstone of our league,” Silver wrote in the letter. “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.”

The Bulls have made sure not to talk about losing games or trying to tank their record. However, they have responded to the league’s warning by saying they would play Lopez and Holiday at times throughout the remainder of their schedule.

“After the All-Star break, we had communication with the league office about Robin and Justin’s roles,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We respect the communication and cooperative dialogue with the league and will adhere to their recommendations going forward.”

Sitting on a 21-42 record, the Bulls are largely out of playoff contention, and William Hill gives them 1000/1 odds of winning this year’s NBA Championship. Still, for those not familiar with the league, it may not be clear why a team might try tanking their seasons on purpose.

Bottom Team Benefits

There is a reward for those teams that finish at the bottom of the league standings: a greater chance of receiving one of the top picks in the NBA Draft lottery. In a league where star players are critical for winning, the chance to get a top pick can be valuable. The team with the worst record in the league has a 25 percent chance of getting the first overall pick in the draft, with the odds lowering for teams with progressively better records.

While this might provide incentive to lose, the NBA actively opposes any effort for teams to purposely play badly or intentionally throw games. Teams can (and do) diminish their chances of winning by trading away valuable players for future draft picks, or by giving more playing time to young, unproven players — simultaneously getting a better look at their potential and also lowering their chances of winning.

Chicago’s discussion with the league may have induced some immediate changes. Holiday will be in the starting lineup for the Bulls Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzles, though Lopez is still inactive for the game.

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