It’s a term that has seen a rise in popularity over the last couple years – tanking. The MLB’s Oakland Athletics introduced “moneyball” back in the early 2000’s, and today teams across all sports leagues are implementing their own versions, while sprinkling in a little bit of tanking. The Cleveland Browns are stockpiling draft picks with an eye on the future and a shoulder turned on the present. Numerous NHL teams raced for the top draft pick in 2015’s infamous “McEichel” lottery. That race (or, freefall) resulted in the NHL changing its draft lottery system. Now, it appears the NBA may be making some changes of its own.
Earlier this week, numerous sources reported that the NBA is “aggressively” pursuing a draft lottery reform. The new proposal is designed to discourage teams from tanking. With that in mind, the league would likely lower the odds given to some of its worst teams. Clubs with the worst overall record may be allowed to dip all the way to the #5 draft slot as well. The league would also like to eliminate repeat offenders in its bottom three year after year (aka the Philadelphia 76ers). The new rules could be implemented as early as this season.
Here is a pro/con look at the NBA’s newly proposed adjustments to the draft lottery:
PRO: Creates Competitive Balance
The NBA’s biggest issue today is competitive balance. LeBron James’ 2010 free agency decision created a domino effect throughout the league. Not only did James represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals every season with the Heat, he has now made an appearance in seven straight years. In other words, parity does not exist in the East. Over in the West, Kevin Durant decided to take any intrigue away from the coming season by signing with the Golden State Warriors in free agency. It is already a foregone conclusion amongst most experts that the Warriors will repeat as champions this year.
If the NBA Draft Lottery is adjusted, there will be no more “races” for last place. Normal bottom-dwelling teams will be forced into making moves in free agency rather than stripping their rosters of talent. For example, this adjustment may have forced the Phoenix Suns into pulling the trigger on a Kyrie Irving trade. Talks broke down after GM Ryan McDonough was reportedly unwilling to part with youngster Josh Jackson. Instead of adding Irving, the team will likely endure another subpar year resulting in a high draft pick. The new draft system would be designed to create urgency. In other words, Irving may be a Sun with new restrictions in place against tanking and a gradual rebuild like the one occurring in the desert. With these changes, the league seeks less incentive in the basement and more in the ceiling.
CON: Another Disadvantage For Small Market Teams
To put it simply, there are only two rewards in pro sports – a championship and a top draft pick. And for decades, teams have been chasing both dreams. Sometimes it’s not as obvious as the 76ers “process” but tanking is an all too common method used by teams to get…..well, good. Teams tank to eventually be on the other side of the rewards aka a championship. For most small market teams though, tanking gives them the best chance to become contenders.
A small market squad without a good roster does not look attractive to marquee free agents. Do you ever wonder why Kevin Durant opted not to go to Memphis, New Orleans, or Salt Lake City? Small market cities are already at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting free agents. They view the draft as the only way for them to achieve success and maybe, just maybe, one day that can attract a top free agent prize. The Cleveland Cavaliers became a contender thanks to the draft lottery in 2003. San Antonio became relevant thanks to the 1997 lottery. And Minnesota briefly became a basketball city when it was awarded the right to draft Kevin Garnett. Limiting odds will keep small markets down for the long-term. If competitive balance is the end game, restricting the lottery is not the short-term solution.