The NBA Draft Lottery is unjust, even (and especially) if Sixers win

The NBA Draft Lottery is unjust, even (and especially) if Sixers win

Let’s get this out of the way right at the top. If the Philadelphia 76ers pull the No. 1 overall pick at the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday, as a local sports fan, I am thrilled—but that doesn’t mean they deserve it.

In a just world, the No. 1 overall pick would belong to the Milwaukee Bucks, by virtue of owning the worst record in 2013-14. No lottery. No ping pong balls. No luck of the draw.

The Bucks are the worst team in the NBA. The Sixers were the second-worst team in the NBA. They should go one and two respectively.

Instead, there’s a decent chance they could actually wind up being Nos. 4 and 5.

Isn’t the whole point of the amateur draft in professional sports to correct the inequities of talent and restore competitive balance between franchises? To provide the underprivileged with a better future? To help the down-and-out climb out from under the shit heap?

Not in the NBA. If you happen to root for the worst team in the league in any given year, regardless of by how wide a margin, you have no reasonable expectation they will be able to rebuild around the best young athlete available in that year’s draft.

Philadelphia has seen how that works out firsthand, only in the NHL of all places. The league instituted its lottery system in '07, a year where the Flyers finished with the worst record—the first time the franchise missed the playoffs in 11 seasons.

The Chicago Blackhawks wound up with the No. 1 pick and took Patrick Kane. The Flyers selected James van Riemsdyk second.

Chicago is currently working on its third Stanley Cup in five seasons. JVR plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs now.

Why is such randomness allowed to exist? In the NBA, apparently it’s done in the name of preventing teams from “tanking,” or losing games on purpose, to land the highest possible pick—and we all witnessed how well that’s working.

The Sixers are Exhibit A as to why the lottery does absolutely nothing to prevent tanking. Even without the promise of landing the best player in this year’s class, the organization still found it was in their best interests to unload as much “talent” as it could.

General manager Sam Hinkie purposely spent as little money building the team as he could. He traded the former second overall pick in the draft for an aging veteran who had no intention of playing one second here. Something called Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson were among the Sixers earning top minutes by the end of the season. Why?

More ping pong balls, yes. Better odds of winning the lottery, yes.

Most of all, because landing a premier talent at the top of the draft is the only means of improvement in the NBA more often than not.

Basically, the Association is punishing clubs like the Sixers, who not surprisingly couldn’t crack the elites with a roster built almost solely around first-round picks no higher than No. 9 in a superstar-driven league. Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday are nice players, but all their limbs put together aren’t worth one LeBron James.

Anybody remember the last time the Sixers were legitimately good? Not coincidentally, it was when 1996 No. 1 overall pick Allen Iverson was coming into his own as an MVP-type player.

I suppose the NBA’s issue with tanking is it will become an epidemic—as if it hasn’t already—and more and more if its bottom-feeders members will continue to lose on purpose in the hopes of landing the next Tim Duncan. To be fair, those concerns are not completely without merit.

The problem is these tanks can still hit landmines along the way. There’s no guarantee the first overall pick in any given year will alter the entire landscape and destiny of a franchise. There’s no guarantee he’ll even be a very good player.

Sixers fans won't have to travel far down memory lane to find a premium draft pick (No. 2 overall) who didn't pan out (Evan Turner).

And franchises like the Sixers who make these gambles to be as bad as they can be for one year run the risk of digging themselves into a bigger hole. If the rebound doesn’t happen quickly, have they created a culture of losing? They have plenty of money to spend under the salary cap, but can they lure name free agents?

It certainly isn’t a sound business strategy. Forget how many games were lost. How much revenue did the Sixers lose this year? How much did they disenfranchise the fanbase, particularly impressionable children who may turn their attention to other teams or hobbies, like bird watching, stamp collecting, or soccer?

Forget about the profits that were forfeit in the short-term. What kind of negative impact does losing have on the future revenue stream?

These are all pitfalls the Sixers had to consider and wisely ignored because the NBA is broken. With 30 teams, there simply aren’t enough Kevin Durants and Blake Griffins to make every franchise a viable contender or even competitive in any given season.

Parity is dead, so teams tank. And at the end of the road, they’re not even guaranteed to pick in the customary order of finish.

If the NBA thinks it’s special in this regard, they’re wrong. Different types of tanking go on in every professional sport, most frequently in the form of “letting the kids play.” The reality is the most tried-and-true method of improvement is through the draft, and generally speaking, teams have to lose in order to get the best picks.

The message the NBA Draft Lottery sends is it’s better to be kind of bad indefinitely than be excessively terrible for one year in the hopes of a brighter tomorrow. That’s not good for franchises, and it’s not good for basketball fans, either.

Unless your team wins the lottery, of course.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

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The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It’s pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That’s the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don’t get any hits there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we’re in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It’s frustrating, but it happens. It’s baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I’m really not worried about it right now. I know that I’m going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There’s no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

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OTTAWA, Ontario -- Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period to give the Ottawa Senators a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night and force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third.

Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa and Craig Anderson stopped 45 shots, including 22 in the second period.

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

The Senators managed to quickly forget a 7-0 loss two days earlier in Game 5 and extend their season for one more shoot at a return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 10 years. and land one more shot at a first Stanley Cup final appearance in 10 years.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. The 35-year-old struggled through Games 4 and 5 -- allowing seven goals -- but it was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).