Suggestions on how to fix the NBA Draft Lottery

Suggestions on how to fix the NBA Draft Lottery
May 21, 2014, 11:38 am
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It seems an awful lot like there are a lot more people out there complaining about things than there are offering solutions to real-life problems. Take, for example, the NBA Draft Lottery. After the Cleveland Cavaliers were awarded the No. 1 overall pick for the third time in four years, virtually everybody knows now what I knew on Monday, that the lottery system is broken.

But that makes me one of the worst offenders, because the only solution I offered also happened to be the only answer the NBA will not view as an option. The Association feels—perhaps justly—it must prevent teams from losing on purpose, or “tanking,” to improve their chances of landing a player that alters the landscape of the entire league. Also, the lottery is a televised event and it garners additional interest in the draft for months.

So instead of doing away with the lottery, let’s compromise and fix this thing. The following is a procedure that both limits and expands the lottery field simultaneously, while addressing the nasty tanking issue in the process. Admittedly, it’s a work in progress, and I may be overlooking some potential loopholes, but the important thing is it’s a start.


1. One lottery pick only

The excuse behind holding a lottery in the first place is to prevent franchises from tanking full seasons for the chance at landing a once-in-a-generation player. But how often is there more than one of those in the same draft class?

Then why are we re-arranging up to three selections at the top of the draft?

Every once in a great awhile, there are two of these coveted prospects, but fine, then the legitimate worst team in the NBA gets the other one. Would that be such a terrible outcome?

Actually, the potential to move up to the first, second or third overall picks undoubtedly encourages some tanking in its own right, because the probability of moving up at all improves for everybody. If only one pick were being awarded through the lottery, moving up becomes a far less likely scenario.


2. One entry per team

If you want to further lessen the incentive to tank, don’t reward the franchises that finished the worst any more than the teams that tried and failed. Everyone that’s entered into the lottery should have the same odds to win it.

We’re only re-arranging one pick now, so that eliminates the need to protect the worst teams. So if this entire deal truly is over tanking, that should take care of it, because all but one team is going to get the pick they get.


3. Teams that already have a No. 1 overall pick on their roster not eligible

What’s that? The Cleveland Cavaliers recently won the lottery, but the team is still terrible? Gee, that’s really too bad. Guess the front office should be making better decisions.

There is no reason any franchise should be able to stock up on first overall picks until there’s a title contender. If you get the No. 1 overall pick, then regardless of finish, you’re done for awhile.

This rule only applies to No. 1s that are still playing for their original team. And to prevent an organization from trading or declining to re-sign that player solely to gain entry into the lottery must wait a year before regaining eligibility. Cleveland problem, solved.


4a. Wildcard playoff teams that don't have a No. 1 overall pick on their roster are also eligible…

And if the league really wants to curb tanking, why limit the lottery to teams that didn’t make the playoffs? Every year, plenty of teams reach the postseason that are not legitimate contenders.

Now, let’s remove only the clubs that have a former No. 1 pick of any kind on the roster. That means since LeBron James joined the Miami Heat as a free agent his team is ineligible.

The players union might have an issue with this, because it’s going to be that much harder for Kwame Brown to find work. That being said, now there’s almost no excuse for not trying to reach the playoffs even when winning a championship is only an afterthought.


4b. …Excluding division champions and conference finalists

Except we can probably all agree that allowing stacked squads like the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder the chance at No. 1 is probably overkill. This part of the rule should eliminate most of the remaining legitimate NBA title contenders.

In fact, in 2013-14, the only clubs that advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs and still would have been eligible to win this lottery are the Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trailblazers. Did anybody view either of them as a serious threat?

Sure, Brooklyn and Portland are better off than most, but what do they have to do to reach the next level? Whatever it is, it can’t be easy to acquire.

Besides, why would giving the occasional jolt to a “good” team be any worse than what it just did for Cleveland? At the very least, this would rid almost every organization of any urge to ever start over.

Even if we decided to eliminate all second-round playoff teams from the equation as well, that leaves us with 16 franchises that are eligible for the lottery, which is probably still a tad high. Now it’s time for the final step to whittle down to the truly worthy.


5. Must finish worse than Round 2 of the playoffs at least two years in a row

Really earn that label as an organization that’s going nowhere fast. Prove a commitment to being nothing more than a fringe playoff team. There’s no reason any franchise that was just on the verge of playing on the league’s biggest stage should need to go straight back on the rise with a superstar in the draft.

Plus, fielding a marginal or outright bad team for one year can be a fluke. What if injury sidelines the best player on a perennial contender with no lottery picks?

Once a team has been bad or relegated to first-round playoff finishes for a second straight season—and isn’t eliminated by any of the previous criteria—we know they are honestly declining, stuck or running in place. If you really wanted to make it interesting, make it until the third year for playoff teams that aren’t advancing past the preliminary round.

If I’m adding this up correctly—and as complicated as all of this is, there’s a good chance I’m not—that would’ve left 13 franchises in line for the first overall selection in the 2014 draft: the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz.

I could live with that list. How about you?

Don’t get me wrong, if it were up to me, there still wouldn’t be any lottery at all. But as long as there absolutely must be a lottery, it could certainly stand to be repaired, if not overhauled with a few fresh ideas.

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