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Report: NBA considering doing away with draft lottery, going to 30-year set “wheel” cycle

Dec 23, 2013, 12:02 PM EDT

Grant Gilbert AP

It’s going to be the first big issue that falls in the lap of new commissioner Adam Silver — tanking. By the time the All-Star Game rolls around and we move close to the trade deadline a lot of teams are going to eye the deep draft of talent coming up, wonder why they should fight for an eight seed, and just make moves to get bad. No, teams aren’t going to tell players to lose, but watch squads like Orlando and Toronto start to jettison every veteran player who might help them win now in favor of winning in the future.

This is going to become a thing your casual sports fans friends start complaining about. Just wait. But it’s also just part of the reality in a league where you need one of the top 10 players — probably two of them — to win a title. Star players in the NBA influence the game far more than any other sport outside maybe a hockey goalie.

The NBA’s answer to this issue may be to do away with the lottery all together and go with a set 30-year cyclical “wheel” where each team gets the top pick once in a predetermined year. Zach Lowe breaks the story at Grantland.

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery entirely and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide.

Put another way: The team that gets the no. 1 pick in the very first year of this proposed system would draft in the following slots over the system’s first six seasons: 1st, 30th, 19th, 18th, 7th, 6th.

This idea has gained some traction, according to the report (which you should read all of). That said, it’s admittedly in the early stages of discussion a long way from being approved — and you know how hard getting radical change approved by a bunch of stuff old owners is to begin with.

You can see the appeal of this as tanking becomes a growing issue — there is no reason to tank, no reason to try and be bad because we would already know the draft order for this season (and the next 30). You can sell this as a tanking fix.

There are a few big problems with this, however.

One is that some year an elite team getting a top pick and really stacking the deck — in 1982 the Lakers won the NBA title behind Magic Johnson then had the No. 1 pick an plucked James Worthy out of North Carolina (thanks to a legendarily bad trade, but that’s another post). Look at it this way: How big an outcry would there be if going into this draft the Heat were slotted for the top pick (or even top 3)?

Second is marketing — in the NBA teams either sell title contention or hope. But what if you are a struggling small market team in the middle of the cycle where your next picks are 10, 15, 22 and 26? You know a game-changing player is almost certainly not coming to you via the draft now for a while and you can’t recruit elite stars to just come to your market as a free agent. You are stuck and no matter how creative the GM there may be no good way out of it. What do you sell to fans?

In a league where the entire last CBA was about parity and giving the little guys a chance to compete with the big markets, it’s hard for me to see the owners agreeing to a system with those kind of flaws. There is no perfect system, but with tanking comes hope and the chance for turning the Utah Jazz around that might not exist with the draft wheel in place.

(Understand that even if approved tomorrow this could not be put in place until all future draft trades already approved had been completed, so we’re talking more than five years out.)

Still, as the tanking conversation gets louder going into March and early April, you never know quite what the owners will do.

  1. bealwithit - Dec 23, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    I like Chad Ford’s idea.

    Leave the lottery system the way it is, but instead of basing the odds on the record of ONE SEASON base it on the average of the past THREE SEASONS.

    If a GM wants to tank that is fine, but he better be willing to do it for 3 years in a row. Hard to keep a job when your plan includes being bad for 3 seasons without the guarantee of a top pick.

  2. 00maltliquor - Dec 23, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    That’s gotta be one of the worst ideas I ever heard. Ever.

  3. 00maltliquor - Dec 23, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    I’m going to lose it if in 5 years Adam Silver makes me wish we had David Stern back.

  4. redbearwoodall - Dec 23, 2013 at 6:20 PM

    This has got to be the single worst idea I’ve ever heard. I can’t believe this is even getting consideration! Small-market fans will have no reason to support their teams, those teams will stop making a profit, and eventually the NBA will be reduced to 8-10 teams. Nobody wins with this system.

  5. csbanter - Dec 23, 2013 at 6:52 PM

    I guess the NBA is getting tired of the Knicks in it’s biggest market resembling a Utah Jazz knockoff. Its almost 30 years since they tampered with the Ewing pick and still zero titles in NY.

  6. tipstopten - Dec 23, 2013 at 7:18 PM

    Stopping the lottery-SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED YEARS AGO.

  7. northstarnic - Dec 23, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    So does this mean the new commish isn’t comfortable with the current system of fixing the lottery to create the preferred story line, support the preferred teams, and undermine those out of favor with the league heads? Will be interesting to see how the basketball version of “reality” tv creates winners n losers without this valuable tool.

  8. tigersfandan - Dec 23, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    One thing that’s being overlooked is that this would force executives to not depend on the draft so much.

  9. ProBasketballPundit - Dec 23, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    This system would be the end of the Bobcats and probably many other small market teams.

  10. soflosportsfan - Dec 23, 2013 at 8:24 PM

    No system is perfect. it’s creating the one with the least problems. How about every team that doesn’t make the playoffs has an equal chance of getting any slot between 1-14. Also, do it live so theres no conspiracy of rigging.

  11. jrazz22 - Dec 24, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    Still don’t understand why the lottery is done behind closed doors.

  12. muhangis - Dec 24, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    I enjoy the uniqueness of the draft lottery, and I think many other fans, etc. do as well. It may not be perfect, but there is no perfect system! Keep it.

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