Reforming The NBA Draft The Right Way: A Solution To Tanking And League Parity

On September 28th, the NBA’s Board of Directors will meet with Commissioner Adam Silver to discuss a proposed plan on reforming the NBA Draft Lottery system. The issue that the league is hoping to solve with any type of reformation of the Lottery, is the practice of tanking.

The league believes that the idea of losing games for the sole purpose of having better odds at receiving the #1 overall pick in the Draft is detrimental to the league. Make no mistake about it, having teams essentially conspiring to lose, certainly is not good.  No, that it is not the fiery hot take you may be looking for; but it is the truth.

The league reportedly is proposing that instead of giving the worst team a 25% chance of winning the lottery, the bottom three teams would each be given roughly a 14% chance of winning the grand prize. Should they lose, the worst team could drop all the way down to the fifth pick. While this new format could potentially solve the issue of tanking, it won’t fix all of the league’s problems.

Since LeBron famously, “took his talents to South Beach,” the league has been dominated by so-called “super teams.” Yet on the complete other end of the spectrum, the league has been run amok with teams essentially losing on purpose for draft stock. There is no parity, there are no underdogs and there are no Cinderella teams. When was the last time the NBA had a true postseason upset? The 2014 sixth seeded Brooklyn Nets vs the third seeded Toronto Raptors? That team included the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, Deron Williams, and Joe Johnson. This doesn’t quite make the cut. You would have to go all the way back to 2012 when the eighth seeded Philadelphia 76ers uprooted the one seed Chicago Bulls.

Although the excitement behind the “super teams” has generated lot of worldwide interest in the league and the game, is this level of interest sustainable? What incentive do casual fans have to watch multiple regular season games throughout the year if the Finals are already a forgone conclusion?

Let’s take a look at the NFL for good measure. The league stands alone on top of the sports pedestal in terms of popularity here in the US. They didn’t get there simply by displaying sheer brute and violence. League parity has been a prominent characteristic of the NFL so much that a movie was made based off of the idea that any team could beat any team on the right day. “Any Given Sunday,” as the saying goes. Nearly every week, including in the postseason, something unexpected happens. Game plans fail, coaches make mistakes and injuries run rampant. All of these situations can have a far reaching impact on the outcome of the games. It all makes for an incredibly exciting product.

The proposed Lottery reform would be detrimental to a league already devoid of any type of parity. Getting out of the cellar would a near impossible task for the worst teams if they are not given the ability to draft the best possible players available. Bottom tier teams have trouble signing high profile free agents as it is, why would they be interested in signing with a team that has no legitimate shot chance of improving? Fortunately for the league, rectifying these issues is not as difficult of a problem as they are making it seem. The solution to their problems has been right under them the entire time.

Get rid of the Lottery system. Toss it out and go back to a traditional draft format. The worst team gets the first pick, the second to worst gets the second pick. Simple enough. Sure, teams are still going to tank in this system; but is there ever any discussion about “tanking” in any other sport? No, its simply called rebuilding. The lottery system creates a stigma amongst NBA brass that they need to be as bad as possible right now because who knows where they’re pick could fall in years to come. Right now might be their best shot at landing a star player and if they miss out, they will be living in the NBA basement for years to come. Teams will no longer feel pressured to lose as many games as they can in order to secure one of the top picks.

A regular draft system is not the sexiest solution to these problems. It is the most logical one however. Implementing this system would bring more parity to a league that is rampant with “super teams” and would give more teams the chance to succeed right away. Sometimes the simple way out is the best way out; and for the NBA, this is the best solution to their problems.

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