For 33 years the lottery has operated on a lie: the worst teams get the best players even if they have to tank to do it. But the worst teams do not get the best players. In 2007, Memphis won 22 games and should have been hand delivered Kevin Durant. But a 31 win Sonics team won the KD sweepstakes. The next year, the worst record was the Miami Heat. They won 15 games. But Derrick Rose was the prize of the Bulls who had the 8th worst record in the league. It’s a fallacy that the worst teams are rewarded. But teams still tank just in case.
No one goes out to lose games. Everyone in the NBA are competitors. However, what organizations do is tilt the deck. Sign players that can’t compete. Discover mysterious knee and ankle injuries on the bodies of leading scorers. They give more minutes to young players while resting veterans. All because they have their sights on a pheom to be. As a system, it has been called corrupt.
Almost every team in the NBA has a top-10 lottery pick on their roster. Even the bad teams. The only exception, the Atlanta Hawks.
Adam Silver wants to tweak the lottery but tweaking it to try to eliminate tanking won’t save the bottom line. Silver wants to make the odds at the top, that hallowed ground where superstars live, even. The three worst teams would have an equal chance at the number one pick, instead of the worst record having exponentially more ping pong balls. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t cure tanking. But it would put losing in perspective, making it hollow, because there would be no clear advantage to having the worst record. The lottery truly would be a draw, absent math. It would be random luck.
Silver also wants to give teams who didn’t tank but are just pathetic an opportunity to move up in the draft.
Another Silver idea which I am on board with is denying teams consecutive top-3 picks. Why reward continued incompetence? Let someone else get a shot at talent since repetitive losers can’t seem to get out of their own way. If this idea was implemented, it would have a dramatic effect on how teams approach the last 30 games when they know they aren’t making the playoffs.
I’ll go even further. Why not make the lottery equal for everybody? No ping pong balls. Just a straight draw. No one is favored. It eliminates the need to position oneself into the bottom feeder class.
The lottery has always been fraught with complications. It’s inaugural season began on shaky ground when in 1985 the envelope was frozen. Allegedly, that was a secret signal for the Knicks, handing them on a platter Patrick Ewing, the best player in the country. Later, the system went to ping pong balls.
Before the lottery, there was the coin flip. The worst team in each division flipped a coin to see who would get the pick at the top. It is how Magic Johnson ended up in Los Angeles instead of Chicago. Before the coin flip there were territorial picks where teams could pick college players from their area. So the Suns would be able to draft Marvin Bagley (Duke). The Knicks would have the rights to Mohamed Bamba (Texas). The Nets could draft Jaren Jackson Jr (Michigan State).
All of these ways to help pathetic organizations remain awful by throwing them an olive branch and then saying to them, we helped you now produce, relieves the NBA conscience. The playing field will never be fair because the lottery is a promise. Often promises cannot deliver on what their intention was supposed to be.
Crash Course: What Is Wrong With the Lottery?
The Draft Lottery embraces and celebrates losing and it offers no penalties for absurd front offices who follow Freud’s prescription for insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I don’t care how many shout outs Joel Embiid does on behalf of The Process, the Lottery rewards losers and shrew deal makers. Let’s look at the 14 teams in the lottery in 2018 and who they might take.
Sacramento Kings: They have been in the lottery every single year since 2007. What has changed? Nada (Mohamed Bamba, Texas)
Atlanta Hawks: They are truly miserable and are tearing the whole thing down. They won 60 games 3 years ago. Google it. (Jaren Jackson Jr, Michigan State)
Phoenix Suns: They have been in the lottery 9 out of the last 10 years. Devin Booker is a talent but the Suns still had the worst record in the NBA. (DeAndre Ayton, Arizona St.)
Cleveland Cavaliers: Insurance for if LeBron walks. Since the Kyrie trade was a bona fide bust, their only asset is this piece. (Trae Young, Oklahoma)
Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban knows the lottery is bad for business. No one is paying high ticket prices to see 19 years old who don’t know how to play. Unless you have Dennis Smith Jr. (Marvin Bagley, Jr. , Duke)
Philadelphia 76ers: Adding another piece only helps them going forward. They did the hard part. They got two superstars. Now it’s about role players. (Kevin Knox, Kentucky)
Denver Nuggets: Lost out on the last day of the season. The lottery is working. Jamal Murray is exhibit A. (Lonnie Walker, Miami)
The Clippers: Haven’t been in the lottery since Obama’s first term. No Chris Paul. No Blake Griffin. Hello mediocrity. (Mikal Bridges, Villanova)
The Clippers: Detroit’s pick. Thank you Blake Griffin. (Colin Sexton, Alabama)
Memphis Grizzlies: They fired their coach and the superstar was injured. They tanked purposefully. Hopefully they won’t be rewarded but recent history- 76ers, 76ers, 76ers- say they will. Haven’t been in the lottery since 2010. (Luka Doncic, Slovenia)
Orlando Magic: The Lottery is not their friend post Shaq and Dwight. They keep winding up there and have yet to get a franchise player. How is the lottery helping them? This is their sixth straight lottery appearance. (Michael Porter, Missouri)
Charlotte Hornets: They had a breakthrough in 2016. Now it’s welcome back to your old life. Since 2007, they have been in the lottery ten times. Ouch. (Mitchell Robinson, USA)
New York Knicks: I know the Knicks think they created basketball but this is their fifth straight lottery trip. What have they learned exactly? (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky)
Chicago Bulls: Rebuilding with young talent but still a long way away. Second time in the lottery last three years. (Wendall Carter, Duke)