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.