For 32 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.
How corrupt is it? 6 out of 8 playoff teams in the Eastern Conference wrote a check to a top-5 lottery pick during the 2016-17 season. In the West, 6 out of 8 playoff teams were indebted to a top-5 lottery pick. It’s the hamster on the wheel. Beneficiaries of a lottery system feed the NBA’s post-season. Teams on the outside looking in are desperate enough to lose on purpose as a systemic solution. Superstars are drafted.
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 (Knicks that’s you) 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. That would have meant the Lakers, Celtics and 76ers would have picked no higher than 4th in this year’s draft. 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 Lakers would be able to draft Lonzo Ball (UCLA). The Hornets would have the rights to Jayson Tatum (Duke) or Dennis Smith (NC State). The Heat could draft Jonathan Issac (Florida 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.
But the system being rigged against those who it is trying to help, and, a finally punish of the 76ers (coming way too late) is why we’re here.
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 creates losers. Let’s look at the 14 teams in the lottery in 2017 and count how many times they have been there since 2007.
Los Angeles Lakers: 2017 was their fourth straight year. They have not gotten better. They have stayed awful.
Sacramento Kings: They have been in the lottery every single year since 2007. What has changed? They drafted a talent in DeMarcus Cousins. But what has changed?
Phoenix Suns: They have been in the lottery 8 out of the last 9 years. Devin Booker is a talent but the Suns still had the 2nd worst record in the NBA.
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. The Mavs have only been in the lottery twice since 2007.
New Orleans Pelicans: Getting Boogie didn’t keep them out the lottery for the sixth time since 2007.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Back-to-back Rookies of the Year and back-to-back Slam Dunk Champions still cannot save the T-wolves. Haven’t been in the playoffs since KG went to Boston. This year is the 11th year without a playoff appearance. They have been in the lottery 10 times since 2007.
Detroit Pistons: We thought the Pistons made a breakthrough with their playoff appearance last year but they have Reggie Jacksons so this is what happens. In the lottery 6 times since 2007.
Miami Heat: Pat Riley works hard to keep his team out the lottery, despite grabbing Dwyane Wade in 2003. This is the third lottery trip since the Heat won 15 games in 2007-08.
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 fifth lottery appearance since 2007.
Charlotte Hornets: They had a breakthrough last year. This year it’s welcome back to your old life. Since 2007, they have been in the lottery nine times. Ouch.
New York Knicks: I know the Knicks think they created basketball but this is their fourth lottery trip. What have they learned exactly?
Philadelphia: The Process was good for one thing. Making everyone hate the lottery and want to change it. And what has it produced? Nerlens Noel was traded. Ben Simmons has yet to play. Jahlil Okafor is so-so. And Joel Embiid continues to have knee issues. Seven years in the lottery since 2007.
Denver Nuggets: Like the Lakers, good draft picks but fourth year in the lottery.
Boston Celtics: Fleeced the Brooklyn Nets for draft picks, the C’s were the big winners in the lottery, the number one overall pick. Fourth time in the lottery since 2007. Trading the pick to leverage their assets was a brilliant Danny Ainge move.
14 teams. 83 times in the lottery. You do the math.
Is this a system that works?