NBA officials passed new rules governing Draft Lottery odds, but everyone knows this isn’t the answer. The problem is simple and well known. One great player can change a franchise (see James, LeBron), and if a team is in a smaller market their only hope of landing a great player is through the draft.
Latest changes mean well, but aren’t enough.
Beginning with the 2019 draft a new system will give the three teams with the worst record an equal 14% chance of getting the top pick. Adam Silver said this is an incremental step and more changes are being discussed.
Considering as many as eight teams tanked this past season when only one team got the best odds I find it hard to believe teams will suddenly try when three get the best chance. It’s still the best odds of getting a generational talent. Add on every team thinking they will be like the Cavs or Sixers (teams that tanked and used top picks to rebuild) then the Hornets, Magic, Suns, or Kings (teams consistently in the lottery with no wins to show for it) and it’s easy to see nothing changing.
Reinventing the wheel
Another idea that’s been kicked around the league for several years is the Wheel Concept. Full details here (include link). It’s an interesting idea, but comes with a ton of issues.
The biggest problem with this system is once instituted the league cannot change it until a full cycle of the wheel is complete. At this time the Wheel is more concept than proposal ready to be implemented. Until the league begins developing this further I see no reason to consider this a solution.
Best record not in the playoffs gets top pick?
The most popular idea amongst NBA reporters and talking heads is to give the top pick to the team with the best record NOT in the playoffs. I thought this was a great idea when I first heard it, but quickly changed my mind.
Consider this scenario: Last game of the season. Two teams are tied for the eighth playoff spot and best non-playoff record, a scenario Denver and Minnesota found themselves in a few weeks ago. The team that wins earns the right to loose in the first round while the losing team gets the first pick. The difference in draft position in this case is 16 spots. I can easily argue the short term benefit of playing two or three home playoffs games pales in comparison to adding the top pick to a borderline playoff team.
Imagine the uproar if one or two teams purposely tried to miss the playoffs to get the top pick?
Let the NBA dance, too!
Bill Simmons several years ago put forward the idea of an “Entertaining as Hell” year end tournament. Basically every team not in the playoffs is put into a bracket according to record and plays single elimination games, similar to the NCC Tournament. The team that wins gets the first pick, second place gets the second pick, and so on. Teams could still try to avoid the playoffs like in the scenario above, but they’d still have to survive to get the first pick.
This is an idea that is so much fun I’m absolutely certain the league won’t even consider it, so let’s move on.
A real solution to tanking is a nonstarter for the players
Changing the current luxury tax/salary cap system to one with a hard salary cap would go far in solving this problem. A hard cap would prevent teams from stacking their rosters and spread talent across the league, similar to what we’ve seen in the NFL. Small market teams would have more opportunities to compete as more good players would be available for them to sign. There are problems though, and not just because the player’s union will never willingly agree to this.
A hard cap would increase parity, but while that’s been great for the NFL it’s bad for the NBA.
LeBron James has dominated the East for a decade while San Antonio and Golden State have dominated the West. During those years the popularity of the NBA has done nothing but increase. Fans prefer a top-heavy league dominated by superstars playing together. Splitting up these super teams will increase competitiveness, but it will come at the expense of league revenues which we know owners will not accept.
What can be done?
Honestly, I’m not sure anything can be done to stop tanking without causing bigger problems. Shame has clearly not worked as teams obviously tanking still pretend they are doing everything to win. Fans have shown they will stop going to and watching games when teams tank, but when they’re good fans come back in droves. See the Cavs and Sixers.
The nature of the sport is such that having the best individual player gives you the best chance to win. Just as baseball will always have issues with pace of play, basketball will have issues with tanking. Nobody is happy about it, but since no one has a good answer we all better get used to it.