Robin Lopez is arguably the best player on the Chicago Bulls, and at the moment he is fully healthy and ready to play, yet he has not appeared in a game since February 14. Why? Because the Bulls would rather lose for ping-pong balls than win for pride, and benching Lopez, along with guard Justin Holiday, gives them a better chance to do so.
Well, according to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports, the NBA has had enough. Charania reports that the league has warned the Bulls about sitting healthy players and that Chicago will now play Lopez and Holiday more often over the remainder of the season.
Sources: The NBA issued a warning to the Chicago Bulls this week on resting healthy players, and the team now plans to play veteran starters Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday again more extensively to close the season.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 6, 2018
The Bulls’ situation offered a test to the NBA in how seriously it takes anti-tanking enforcement. The league proudly unveiled a policy last fall through which it can fine teams for resting healthy players, but it has sat idly this season as contending teams like the Spurs have come up with creative excuses to bench stars and tanking teams like the Bulls have abandoned all appearance of trying. (Though Mark Cuban’s admission of tanking apparently crossed a line, because the NBA fined him $600,000.)
The end of the NBA season always features a frenzied race to the bottom, but this season’s tanking jamboree is even more crowded than usual. There are currently eight teams between 18 and 21 wins, with the Grizzlies leading/trailing at 18-45. The Bulls actually spent much of the season above the fray but have conveniently lost 14 of their past 17 to fall to 21-42. Playing Lopez and Holiday could prevent them from falling behind other teams that have found less blatant but equally effective ways to tank, such as playing nonsensical three-big man lineups.
Tanking should be somewhat less of a problem in future seasons, once the NBA’s new lottery reform takes effect, but in the meantime, teams are losing like crazy. For the sake of basketball over the next few weeks, the NBA needs to have a backbone about it. Hopefully the league’s warning to the Bulls sent a message not only to Chicago, but also to other teams planning similar stunts.