Earlier this month, it was reported by Grantland’s Zach Lowe that the NBA was looking at tweaking the draft lottery to make it less likely that the team with the worst record would get the No. 1 overall pick.
In essence, the proposal would give at least the four worst teams the same chance at winning the top pick at approximately 11 percent each. The odds would decline from there—10 percent for the team with the next spot down to a 2 percent shot for a team with the best record in the lottery.
The new proposal would also increase the number of picks selected in the lottery from the first three picks to the first six, meaning the team with the worst overall record would be guaranteed to pick no lower than No. 7 overall, as opposed to being assured at least the fourth overall pick under the current system.
The goal is obvious: To stop teams from overt tanking by the league’s worst teams to chase the top overall pick.
By equalizing the odds for the four or five worst teams and giving the next few teams close to the same odds, it removes a lot of the incentives for teams to blatantly build rosters designed to go for 70 losses.
That’s also the aim of limiting the best chances to seven or eight of the 14 lottery teams. If the odds for all 14 teams were equal, the races for those final playoff spots in each conference would turn into survival of the most unfit—teams would have an incentive to drop into the ninth spot rather than actually compete for seventh or eighth place in the conference.
The Philadelphia 76ers have come out with strong objections to any proposed changes to the lottery system.
Of course the Sixers would object—general manager Sam Hinkie is being hailed as a genius in some demented circles for putting together a roster that is not only allowing him to stockpile draft assets and young talent, but also still be incompetent to the point Philadelphia would have a very good shot at landing yet another top three pick in 2015.
The irony of this was that the lottery system, when it was instituted for the 1985 draft, had a singular aim of reducing the incentive for teams to blatantly tank.
Prior to the lottery, the teams with the worst record in each conference went to a coin toss to determine the top pick.
The Houston Rockets secured the bottom spot in the Western Conference, finishing at 29-53 by losing nine of their last 10 games, just edging out the San Diego Clippers, who went 30-52 after losing five of their final seven games.
The “race” was more blatant in the East, although there were questions why. The Indiana Pacers went for it hard, dropping seven of their last eight to finish 26-56, one game worse than the Chicago Bulls, who dropped 19 of their last 23, including 14 of 15 to close out the season.
What made that odd was that Indiana didn’t own its own pick—that pick belonged to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Houston won the coin flip and took Olajuwon. Portland took Sam Bowie second. Chicago got their guy anyway, getting Jordan at No. 3.
In 1985 and 1986, the first seven picks (the number of teams that didn’t reach the playoffs at the time) were determined by a random draw, with each team having the same odds of receiving the No. 1 pick.
In 1987, that was switched to where the first three picks were determined by drawing and the remaining teams were slotted from No. 4 down based on inverse order of standings.
The weighted lottery came about in 1990 and variations of that have been in place since.
But teams—yes, we’re looking at you Philadelphia—are still attempting to game the system. The odds being so heavily weighted in favor of absolute incompetence created almost a split-level league, with the teams at the top of the ladder and those at the bottom.
Meanwhile, teams in the middle—not bad enough to get good lottery odds, not good enough to be contenders for anything but a seventh or eighth seed—had to choose a direction, because no one wanted to be stuck.
I’m all in favor of a system that will take the incentive out of losing. I understand the logic behind what the 76ers and other have been doing, but I’ll never like it.
In many ways, the worst thing that ever happened to the NBA was Sam Presti, first in Seattle and later in Oklahoma City, hitting three draft home runs in a row with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
It provided a blueprint for the Sam Hinkies of the world to attempt to follow.
I already know the counterargument—making it more difficult for the worst teams to get the best picks in the draft punishes them for being bad.
If you don’t want to be penalized for being the worst team, here’s a thought—stop sucking so much!
It’s hard to fault teams for attempting to game the system. The rules are the rules and every franchise will try to exploit them to their greatest advantage.
But leaving the system in place just because a few teams have been gaming the system is ludicrous.
The sooner the NBA can get away from teams having an incentive to throw teams together that would have trouble going .500 in the D-League, the better.
Sam Hinkie be damned.