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A Stern Look, But Is There A Stick?

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Stern David Stern is reportedly [via SportsCenter] going to speak with Ryan Gomes about the comments he made about the team possibly playing for ping pong balls. When given a chance to talk about the issue in his ESPN Chat today, Stern sidestepped the direct question about tanking teams but focused more on assuring the public that the system would be reviewed this offseason.

Kevin (Rochester, NY): Let's get to it. What do we do about the "tanking." I know the pc thing to say is that tanking does not exist, the players and coaches are trying to win, etc but it is clear to fans that follow the game closely that it does happen. I like the idea of giving the teams that miss the playoffs with the better records more ping pong balls rather than the other way around so they fight all the way to the end.

SportsNation David Stern: I like a system that gives the teams that don't make the playoffs the best chance to improve. What we deal with in all sports is trying to foster competitveness, particulary for those teams that have done very poorly. But there has been a lot of comment about this year and I think it merits our going back and seeing whether the system needs some adjusting.

Clearly Stern is going to throw his weight around and make his presence felt by the teams he feels are giving the sport a bad name. In reality, however, I wonder just how big a stick he has.

If he had some tangible evidence or confession of a player or coach that admitted to throwing games, he'd have a case. As it is, (provided Gomes doesn't throw his coach and team under the legal bus) he only has insinuation and plenty of ugly basketball as proof. No coach or general manager is going to admit to throwing games. Even Gomes, when pushed, will not likely admit to knowing one way or the other what Doc's intentions were.

I think Stern just wants to do damage control on the story of tanking before it gets out of hand. He needs people to see him acting in the best interests of the game. He's doing this for the image of the game.

If he took action against the Celtics, he would also have to take action against the Grizzlies, Bucks, TWolves, and other teams. Then the question becomes "where do you draw the line?" Do you punish teams for shutting down players that otherwise could play? Could you go back a year and fine the TWolves for Mark Madsen's 3 point shooting clinic?

How can you tell between tanking and bad coaching? There just doesn't seem to be a way you can punish a team without a silver bullet.

So that leaves Stern with attacking the problem from the other side. I am sure that the system will be tweaked somehow this offseason. The league will wave a finger at the "tanking" teams and hold the Celtics up as a bad example. And then the news cycle will move on to the next topic (like the playoffs - which would make Stern happy).

The sad part of all this is the way the Celtics' name has been dragged through the mud this year. First it was the 18 game losing streak making us the laughingstock of the league. Then there were Doc's preemptive denials calling all sorts of negative press on the team. Now Ryan's comments have made us the poster boys for the parade of tanks lumbering down main street. For a franchise that prides itself on a Championship image, this bad press has to be very unsettling to say the least.