The flaw in the idea of embracing the ‘competitive market’ in the NBA

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ESPN.com reports what has been rumored for ages, that part of the union’s proposals to the league in the current CBA negotiations includes a provision to provide struggling teams with more draft picks. The idea is that the worst teams would receive more picks in the first round while some of the better teams would have none. In doing so, it would allow for teams that struggle to compete with their big-market competitors. The union’s goal here is to spin the idea that they’ll give the owners “out-of-the-box” ideas that will give the small-market, non-elite teams more of a leg-up as a trade-off for them not constantly standing with the league and ownership group on trying to bust the union’s goals into tiny pieces and then stomp on them, all during what would be a seven or eight month lockout to get to that point.

Abbott at ESPN examines the idea and finds it repugnant. From TrueHoop:

It’s one of those issues that makes clear there are at least three parties with a ton on the line at these talks, and only two are represented. Let’s pretend it becomes reality.

You know who’d get the short end of that stick? The third party known as the fans, specifically the fans of teams that just simply don’t know how to build a winner. More good draft picks would be a way for the worst GMs and owners to compete without getting any better at their jobs. This is like performance-enhancing drugs for the worst front offices in the league.

via Bribing bad teams with more picks – TrueHoop Blog – ESPN.

Which is kind of a weird premise, right? The system would allow for teams who don’t win because their owners are idiots to win, so the fans would be screwed over because their team wins despite its terrible owner. Wait, what? The idea of course is that without management and ownership that knows what it’s doing, the teams will never win the title. Which is probably true. But would fans care? Wouldn’t fans rather just have their team competitive rather than swallowed up by the cap-heavy big market teams 9 out of 10 times? Wouldn’t they rather have a shot at a complete rebuild, and hope the owner doesn’t completely screw it up rather than hoping their owner randomly decides to sell a property he’s getting considerable value every single day from? Donald Sterling is not walking out that door. You can make the market system as libertarian as you desire, remove all regulation or competitive balance mechanisms, and Donald Sterling will still turn a profit because of his market, and when he does spend, he’ll still have a much better chance at winning a title randomly than Herb Kohl.

And as much as its clear there are a handful of idiots that occupy seats at the Board of Governors meetings and who sit in GM chairs, aren’t most of these definitions largely liquid? What had the Wyc Grousbeck and the rest of the Boston Basketball Partners ownership group really done until 2008 when the trades happened? Hadn’t they been as poor as anyone else in running their business? Wasn’t Danny Ainge considered on the hot seat? Now they look like one of the most stable franchises in sports. Jerry Buss and Mitch Kupchak looked like out-of-touch lunatics in 2005. Clay Bennett is reviled while his team’s management is applauded before they’ve actually won a title yet.

But we’re getting away from a  more central point. Show me a team that has truly built a championship caliber squad and I’ll show you a team that drafted a Hall of Famer. Paul Pierce. Dwyane Wade. Kobe Bryant. Tim Duncan. Even Kevin Durant if you want to prematurely throw in the Thunder. With the draft being as much of a crapshoot as it is, couldn’t some of these terrible owners and front offices wind up looking much smarter if they were just gifted an all-world player instead of swinging wrong. Sometimes they draft horribly, there’s no question. *Cough*Hasheem Thabeet!*Cough.* But sometimes they just guess wrong. And it sets back a franchise a decade.

I’m not saying we should reward bad ownership. I’m saying this wouldn’t especially reward bad ownership. It does not create a draft balloon “too big to fail.” It simply allows for rebuilding teams to rebuild faster, to facilitate more trades with multiple picks to deal, to get teams in the middle unstuck, and cuts down on the number of “pick X traded for cash” used at the end of the first round anyway. If the NBA wants to get more aggressive with getting rid of bad ownership, by all means, it should. But let’s not duck something which might help fans stuck with bad ownership just because we don’t want to sink to rewarding ownership groups who we may think well of in five years anyway.