If you are a sports fan then you’ve probably noticed the growing trend of tanking in the NBA. I don’t know if Adam Silver will ever do anything about it, but I have to think that players, coaches, and GMs openly acknowledging their efforts to tank is not a look that the league wants to deal with.
For the record, I’m not anti-tanking as a business decision. I get it. Even the 3rd and 4th best teams in the league have to look at the top 2 and think “Really? We’re supposed to keep up with that for 7 games?”
So I can imagine how helpless the bottom feeders of the league must feel. The owners and GMs just let their houses burn down and try to collect the insurance money, hoping for a payoff in the form of Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Karl Anthony-Towns, etc.
But it is annoying, and I like to fix things, so let’s get down to it. The core of the problem is that the bottom teams have no incentive to do anything other than lose and all the incentive in the world to get a #1 pick. This is the NBA and basketball is unique in that 1 or 2 players can change a franchise’s future. That’s not true in other sports, just ask Andrew Luck.
Currently, teams that finish 30th through 17th get placed in the draft lottery with the worst teams getting the best odds for the #1 pick. So my proposal consists of a few mini-lotteries:
First Lottery: Teams 30 & 29 have a 50/50 shot for the bottom 2 picks.
Second Lottery: Teams 28, 27 AND each 8 seed in both conference playoffs are in a 4 team lottery for picks 3-6. The 28th and 27th teams will each have a 30% chance for selection, the 8 seeds will each have a 20% chance.
Third Lottery: Teams 26 through 23 (4 teams) and the two 7 seeds as well as the two 9th place team in each conference (4 teams) will have an 8 team lottery for picks 7 through 14. The bottom 4 teams would all have a 15% chance for selection and the top 4 teams would each get a 10% chance for selection.
The rest of the draft would simply take place in order of overall record.
One of the biggest problems with tanking is that it is so simple. For every game you lose, your odds of winning a higher pick increase proportionally. This adjusted system would make it extremely complicated to influence your own selection while still allowing the “worst” of the worst teams to get most of the top 6 picks. However, it would add value to the 7th, 8th, and 9th best teams in each conference because that is a casualty in tanking efforts. You essentially have to keep tanking until you think you’re good enough to compete in the playoffs. This may force you to halt the growth of young talent and instill a mentality of losing in your up and coming stars.
The current growth track among GMs is either to be so bad for 8 years so you can land 3 quality players to build around for the next 10, or get decent talent and try to sign free agent superstars. Both are flawed.
With these changes you could do it the old fashioned way. If you’re bad, get a couple good picks and develop them. Go through some growing pains. After a couple years you sniff the playoffs (right now, 9th place is the worst possible finish you can have). Get another decent piece. Get to the playoffs a year later, even if it’s just a 7 or 8 seed. Now you’re rewarded with another good pick. Then you can make a push for a 6 seed and get bounced in the 1st round. At this point those young guys that you’ve grown organically over the last 6 years are ready to fight for a home court playoff spot. Best case scenario, if you’re San Antonio, you’re just great for 25 years somehow.
I just feel that this would be a much more enjoyable process because it would be so chaotic and create better storylines. A 6 seed may tank a little to try and get a 7th seed due to the draft incentive. The bottom few teams may trade away some assets in an effort to tank further but the 10th and 11th place teams would scoop them up to make a push for a 9th place finish or even an 8 seed. It would make trades involving draft picks wildly exciting which GMs would probably hate but fans would love. Every team shouldn’t just race to the bottom because no one wants to see that.