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Report: Owners discuss tweaked draft lottery system that flattens out odds

Jul 16, 2014, 5:13 PM EST

Grant Gilbert AP

Tanking — and even the perception of tanking — has become a real problem for the NBA with no easy fix.

The purpose of a draft is to help some of the league’s worst teams get better and to give those fan bases hope for the future. The problem is the current system incentivized losing — you need elite players to win and for middle to small markets the only way to get them is to be high up in the draft. So call it rebuilding, call it tanking, call it whatever you want there were incentives not to win a lot of games.

The NBA’s competition committee looked at a variety of options debated a new system that tries to walk the fine line of helping weaker teams while disincentivising losing. Zach Lowe of Grantland broke the story with a description of what teams may vote on.

The league’s proposal gives at least the four worst teams the same chance at winning the no. 1 pick: approximately an identical 11 percent shot for each club. The odds decline slowly from there, with the team in the next spot holding a 10 percent chance. The lottery team with the best record will have a 2 percent chance of leaping to the no. 1 pick, up from the minuscule 0.5 percent chance it has under the current system.

The proposal also calls for the drawing of the first six picks via the Ping-Pong ball lottery, sources say. The current lottery system actually involves the drawing of only the top three selections. The rest of the lottery goes in order of record, from worst to best, after the top-three drawing is over.

There are several proposals in this general ballpark, according to Lowe, with different numbers in them but the same basic idea of flattening out the odds.

The goal here is clear — if it doesn’t matter much if you have the worst record or the 6th worst record (a percentage point or two at most) then the incentive to lose games and get that worst record is gone. The goal is to target teams such as last season’s Philadelphia squad that was clearly built with the intent of being a high lottery team.

The two concerns about the new system laid out by Lowe are first when it would be implemented — teams have been constructing rosters this summer and in recent years with an understanding that this lottery system would be in place — and second would teams still try to tank late in the season to improve their position a few slots.

That might happen in any system — there is no perfect lottery system, no easy answer. This will likely get modified and tweaked more before any kind of vote happens.

But with an image conscious NBA (one truing to negotiate massive new television deal) the perception of tanking issue is going to force action sooner rather than later.

  1. joerymi - Jul 17, 2014 at 12:17 AM

    Just do it the way the NFL does. Obviously the lottery does not prevent against tanking, so they should put it out of its misery.

  2. kosmokenny - Jul 17, 2014 at 12:35 AM

    This is all just a conspiracy to get a mediocre Cleveland team the top pick again next year.

    • daddyb1gdrawz - Jul 17, 2014 at 12:44 PM

      100% agree. There is no way under the rules of the NBA Lottery they should have gotten that many #1 overall picks.

  3. bkbell3 - Jul 17, 2014 at 12:43 AM

    How often does the team with the worst record get the first pick anyway? In the last 20 years hasn’t it only happened a couple of times? Someone correct me if i’m wrong.

  4. rmccleary97 - Jul 17, 2014 at 1:35 AM

    Let’s pretend some team is “tanking for a top pick.”

    1. How many top picks instantly turn a team from chumps into champs? Lebron couldn’t do it in 5 years in Cleveland; MJ needed 7 years (and a new coach) to do it in Chicago. Maybe the “best” example was Tim Duncan to the Spurs, and that was because David Robinson missed virtually all of ’96-97 due to injury (Bob Hill got fired over the 3-15 start, and Gregg Popovich “saved” them by going 17-47 on the bench).

    2. Tanking likely involves moving better guys to other teams to increase the chances of going bad. Those acquiring teams get better and thus have a better chance of making the postseason – which means we get more of the better players in the postseason. Is that really such a bad thing? Shouldn’t we want the better players playing for a title instead of hitting the golf course at season’s end and missing out while Adam Morrison takes up space on the bench and claims a ring?

    3. If you really think tanking is such a problem that it *needs* to be solved, what does changing the draft lottery odds do? Little to nothing – but it almost certainly hurts the team that are truly bad and need the help. No, if tanking is really a problem and it’s really going on (and you can really prove it – something that sounds easy to do but isn’t once you start getting into the details), the solution is simple: take away the 1st-round pick. That *instantly* gets everyone’s attention and stops the “problem” cold, as it immediately puts everyone on notice that “hey, we get caught trying to run up the losses for a high pick, and we could have a crappy team *and* nothing to show for it.

  5. bdazzler00 - Jul 17, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    Maybe in addition to not being able to pick any lower than a certain spot, they can make it so the you also can’t pick any higher than a certain spot. For example, if you finish with the 6th worst record you can slide up to the 4th pick, but no higher, or down to the 8th pick, but no lower.

  6. muhangis - Jul 18, 2014 at 12:14 AM

    The NBA Draft Lottery is just fine. There is nothing wrong with the system than what it currently is! If there is corruption (Cav’s often #1 pick) then that certainly needs to be taken out! But draft “corruption” is a complete different discussion or issue than “tanking”.

    One fix, is that the entire 1-13 pick of ping pong balls does need to be televised. However the lottery is a great concept in itself, and one which I feel the other leagues should adapt. The lottery does not encourage tanking like the NFL or NHL draft system may, where if you perform to the worst record in the league – you are GUARANTEED the #1 spot! If a team finishes with the second worst record in the league, they are guaranteed the 2nd pick.

    The NBA with their ping pong lottery does not guarantee such, and the team with the worst record is not automatically awarded the #1 pick!

    Is that not *logically correct? Therefore, I don’t understand the logic of some people here.

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