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.

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 43 points and the Toronto Raptors rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 107-97 on Friday night.

DeRozan shot 15 of 28 from the floor as he surpassed his 42-point effort against the Houston Rockets on March 30, 2015, helping the Raptors overcome the absence of fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with a right wrist injury.

Serge Ibaka, acquired by trade from the Orlando Magic last week, scored 15 points in his debut, while fellow newcomer P.J. Tucker, picked up from the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, had a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points in his first game for his new team.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston, which also got 19 points each from Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart (see full recap).

Westbrook triple-double lifts Thunder over Lakers
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 17 points in his 28th triple-double of the season, and his new teammates fit in seamlessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night.

Westbrook also had 18 rebounds and 17 assists for the 65th triple-double of his career.

It was the first game for new Thunder players Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, acquired Thursday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Gibson scored 12 points and McDermott added eight, even though they arrived Thursday night and weren't even available for shootaround on Friday.

Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson each set a career high with 19 points, and Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

D'Angelo Russell scored 29 for the Lakers (see full recap).

Pacers beat Grizzlies to snap six-game skid
INDIANAPOLIS -- CJ Miles made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, Paul George had nine points and nine rebounds after remaining with Indiana following the trade deadline, and the Pacers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Monta Ellis finished with 16 points, Myles Turner scored 12, and Lavoy Allen, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young each added 10 for the Pacers.

The Pacers outscored the Grizzlies 64-42 across the middle two quarters and never relinquished their lead, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half. The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 41 percent from the floor (35 for 84).

Troy Daniels had 13 points for Memphis and Marc Gasol scored 12. Indiana outrebounded Memphis 50-39 and scored 29 points off 17 Grizzlies turnovers (see full recap).

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

BOX SCORE

For as much as the Sixers’ bigs are talked about, Richaun Holmes often is left out of the conversation. 

He’s not the centerpiece of the team like Joel Embiid nor was he heavily involved in trade talks like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. He is the backup center who bides his time on the bench and quietly stays ready when he gets the nod.

And on Friday, he was the standout player in the Sixers’ 120-112 win over the Wizards (see Instant Replay)

“He’s been sort of the person that people forget about because of the logjam of five men,” Brett Brown said. “We all sort of think, ‘Well, he should just accept it because he’s behind Joel and Nerlens and Jahlil. Good ol’ Richaun. Go to the D-League and it’s OK.’ And that doesn’t work. He’s a pro, he’s competitive. He’s handled it. He’s really been a wonderful teammate.”

Holmes was bumped up in the rotation following the trade of Noel to the Mavs. He moved into the second-unit role while Okafor started in place of the injured Embiid. 

Holmes recorded his first double-double with 12 points (6 for 9 from the field) and 10 rebounds (three offensive). He also blocked a career-high five shots, tying Embiid for the most by a Sixer this season. The second-year big man put together this impressive performance in 26 minutes off the bench (see feature highlight).

“Just play hard,” Holmes said of his approach. “Just go out there, show what you’ve been working on, play hard every second you’re out there. That’s the motto I’ve got.”

Holmes is averaging 16.1 minutes and has appeared in just 32 of the Sixers’ 57 games. This season, he also spent time with the Delaware 87ers of the Development League to get playing time. Holmes embraced an opportunity similar to Friday’s a month ago when he scored 18 points in as many minutes against the Clippers. 

“I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt,” Holmes said. “Prepare like I’m going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance.”

Brown did not rule out the possibility that Holmes could start at some point if he continues this production. The Sixers are limiting Okafor to 20 to 24 minutes per game, according to Brown. That, combined with Embiid’s injury, could lend itself to an increased role for Holmes. 

“I think in that environment, it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for Richaun to get a start from time to time,” Brown said. 

Even if he remains on the second unit, Holmes proved he can provide a spark off the bench. Dario Saric noted how Holmes’ impact on both ends of the floor bolsters the frontcourt in addition to a more offensively-minded Okafor (11 points, two rebounds). 

“I think he played unbelievably good in both ways,” Saric said. “Everybody knows he’s an elite guy finishing around the rim, and he stepped in Nerlens’ place, he replaced him unbelievably good. I hope he will get the same minutes for the next game because we have Jahlil, who is more like a post-up player, who likes more to score from the low-post block, and we for sure need some guy like Richaun who will play in both ways." 

Perhaps the person least surprised by Holmes' game was Holmes himself. It was the result he puts in long hours to produce.

“It’s all about the grind,” he said. “All about keep working, keep trying to move up, keep trying to get better every second and it’ll pay off.”