The conspiracy behind the NBA draft lottery

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I dislike conspiracy theories.

I’m not some tinfoil-hat wearing lunatic raving about the Kennedy assassination, moon landing and Elvis’ true whereabouts. These are delusions, poor excuses for paranoid people to attack the establishment.

That’s not me.

But as much as I dislike conspiracy theories, I absolutely detest those in power preying on the powerless.

And, I’m sad to say, that’s what David Stern did for years and Adam Silver continues to do with the NBA draft lottery.

The lottery is fixed. I’m 100% certain. No doubt. Absolutely positive.

I won’t attempt to prove this with anonymous sources or innuendo. I’m a stick-to-the-facts kind of guy.

  • Fact: The actual lottery occurs in secret for no good reason. The NBA could end all the fixing accusations by simply showing the actual drawing in front of the cameras.
  • Fact: In the last three years, the New Orleans Hornets Hornets (14.8%), Cavaliers (1.7%),Cavaliers (15.6%) andhave gotten the No. 1 pick. The odds of that happening? Just 0 .4%. Are you really falling for something that has just a 0.4% chance of happening?
  • Fact: I have predicted the winner before each of those lotteries. The NBA always fixes it for the most obvious team.

Three years ago – before the lottery – I wrote:

The NBA no longer owns the Hornets, but is still committed to keeping them in New Orleans. With their arena improvements needing approval of the state legislature in July, the Hornets could ride the Anthony Davis buzz and ensure there are no hitches. The league spent a year-and-a-half trying to sell the team without finding a buyer, so maybe Tom Benson needed a No. 1 pick thrown in the deal. David Stern has also meddled in the Hornets’ business before, in the Chris Paul trade. Davis would help Eric Gordon, and therefore Stern’s reputation, because Stern was the one who handpicked Gordon for the Hornets rather than taking the Lakers’ offer.

Of course, New Orleans got the No. 1 pick and Davis.

Last year, again before the lottery:

Stern desperately wants to create a Cavaliers-Heat rivalry to boost rankings, and to do so, he must make the Cavaliers better. Dan Gilbert remained loyal during the lockout, and especially after LeBron became the worst example of players seizing control from teams, Stern will reward Gilbert with a second No. 1 pick.

Yup, Cleveland got the No. 1 pick and Anthony Bennett. (The NBA can lead a team to a the top pick but can’t make the team pick someone worthwhile.)

Last year, I wrote before the lottery:

I don’t know what Dan Gilbert is blackmailing the NBA with, but it sure works. Two No. 1 picks in three years is unprecedented in the current weight setup. Gilbert tried showing restraint on his golden goose, exercising his ability to get a top pick only every other year. But now, the Cavaliers owner is getting desperate. He traded for Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes and still couldn’t make the playoffs, and Anthony Bennett sure deserves a mulligan. Gilbert will cash in again.

Obviously, Cleveland got the No. 1 pick and Andrew Wiggins.

I’m no Ivy League genius. I can’t just magically predict something that has a 0.4% percent of happening. The only reason I knew how the lottery would unfold is because the NBA always gives the top pick to the most obvious team.

Every. Single. Year.

The lottery winner is always the team that the NBA has incentive to give the No. 1 pick.

So, who will get it this year? It’s painfully clear.

Here – regardless of the what the NBA will tell you – are the true lottery odds:

Minnesota Timberwolves

Odds of winning the lottery: 25.0% 100%

The NBA wants to tap deeper into the Canadian market. See the league’s flirtation with Montreal. Marketing the Raptors would have been the easy route, but they’re fizzling. The next-best option: Selling Andrew Wiggins, a native Canadian and budding superstar. That gets easier when the Timberwolves get better. (That they also have Canadian Anthony Bennett and Vince Carter’s closest dunking heir apparent, Zach LaVine, only helps.) The NBA will give Minnesota the No. 1 pick and gain a huge following across an entire country.

New York Knicks

Odds of winning the lottery: 19.9% 100%

The NBA literally invented the lottery to give the Knicks the No. 1 pick, Patrick Ewing in 1985. The league likes to claim it’s financially viable without a strong team in New York – which is true. But methinks the NBA protests a bit too much. This isn’t complicated. Better team plus larger market = more profits. The NBA isn’t interested in merely being viable. The league wants to maximize profits, and that’s why the Knicks will get the No. 1 pick.

Philadelphia 76ers

Odds of winning the lottery: 15.6% 100%

The 76ers have won. They’re a black eye on the league, their tanking an annual embarrassment. The NBA tried to alter the lottery format, but Philadelphia successfully scared off enough teams from changing the rules. So, the league has no choice but to give the 76ers the No. 1 pick and end their “rebuilding” process as quickly as possible. Plus – and it’s easy to forget now that the team has put itself in the pits – Philadelphia is a major market.

Los Angeles Lakers

Odds of winning the lottery: 11.9% 100%

The Lakers are the NBA’s best brand, and the league must protect it. Even in these last two dismal years, the Lakers have gotten many nationally televised games. The NBA needs that to continue, but for it to be viable, the Lakers must be better. A good Lakers team essentially has license to print money. That’s why the NBA is sending the No. 1 pick to Los Angeles.

Orlando Magic

Odds of winning the lottery: 8.8% 100%

LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are the only players in the last decade to make the All-NBA first team and then leave their team that offseason. The Cavaliers got three No. 1 picks after LeBron left, and New Orleans got one after Paul. Now, the NBA  will get around to compensating the Magic for losing Dwight Howard. This is the NBA’s most important – and most secret – strategy for achieving competitive balance.

Sacramento Kings

Odds of winning the lottery: 6.3% 100%

Nearly a year ago, Sacramento approved funding for a new arena – for a Kings team that has now missed the playoffs nine straight seasons. Why? Because city officials knew the Kings would be rewarded with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft.

Denver Nuggets

Odds of winning the lottery: 4.3% 100%

The Nuggets’ attendance dropped from last season to this season by 2,199 fans per game – a bigger fall than every other declining team combined. Denver needs the jolt of a No. 1 pick, and increased revenues will follow. The NBA is well aware how this works. The biggest attendance jump from last season to this season? The Cavs, who won the last two and three of the last four lotteries.

Detroit Pistons

Odds of winning the lottery: 2.8% 100%

Not long ago, the Pistons led the NBA in attendance. Now, they rank near the bottom of the league. A suburban arena makes it easy for Detroit fans to ignore the Pistons when the team is struggling. The Knicks and Lakers play in bigger markets, but they’re cash cows regardless. Giving the Pistons the No. 1 pick will maximize the NBA’s overall revenue.

Charlotte Hornets

Odds of winning the lottery: 1.7% 100%

The NBA desperately wants to market Michael Jordan as an owner, but lowly Charlotte had to take steps before that was viable. The team rebranded to the Hornets and secured funding for arena upgrades. Now, the league will uphold its end of the bargain – the No. 1 pick. As long as Jordan doesn’t mess this up like Kwame Brown, Charlotte will become one of the league’s trendiest teams. That’ll move shoes.

Miami Heat

Odds of winning the lottery: 1.1% 100%

The Big Three era is over in Miami, but the Heat’s success the previous four years drew incredible attention. Some of Miami’s new fans followed LeBron to Cleveland, but many still cheer for the Heat – for now. These are not people with deep-rooted ties to basketball. If the Heat continue to struggle, these fans will move onto other forms of entertainment. So, the NBA will give the Heat the No. 1 pick and retain a huge number of fans who might be lost otherwise.

Indiana Pacers

Odds of winning the lottery: 0.8% 100%

Paul George’s comeback is such a feel-good story. A star player seriously injured himself while selflessly representing the Red, White and Blue. Then, he worked his way back quicker than anyone expected. The perfect next chapter would be a playoff berth – which gets easier if the Pacers get the No. 1 pick. The NBA knows people would rally around that narrative. Patriotism and perseverance sell. Wrap both into one narrative, and this has amazing potential.

Utah Jazz

Odds of winning the lottery: 0.7% 100%

There is no reason for the NBA to fix the lottery for the Jazz… which is exactly why they’ll win. The league wants to fool those who are catching onto the the lottery being a charade. What better way to do that than give a team like Utah the No. 1 pick? This is year the to do it, because there’s no historically elite prospect (not even Karl-Anthony Towns), and the next tier of players (Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay) is relatively close. The NBA will give the Jazz the No. 1 pick, allowing its premier franchises to still draft good players and throwing gullible fans off the scent.

Phoenix Suns

Odds of winning the lottery: 0.6% 100%

The Suns repeatedly playing well and missing the playoffs is a bad look for the NBA. Goran Dragic’s unhappiness and forced trade could bring this issue to the forefront, and the league hopes to avoid that. The NBA wants to keep its current postseason format, which creates an easier road to the playoffs for larger East Coast markets, without disruption. So, a small token to Phoenix – the No. 1 pick – is worth it. That will keep people from asking too many questions about why the Suns keep outplaying Eastern Conference teams and missing the playoffs.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Odds of winning the lottery: 0.5% 100%

The Thunder are the NBA’s model small-market franchise. Whenever someone brings up the advantages held the biggest markets, the league can point to Oklahoma City. The team is excellent, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are marketing giants. That all unravels if Durant leaves in free agency in 2016. So, the NBA will give Thunder the No. 1 pick in an attempt to convince Durant to stay with them.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Odds of winning the lottery: 0.0% 100%

These guys always win.

So, there you have it. In case you can’t remember after the lottery winner is revealed, check back here to see why it was fixed for that team. Then, tell everyone you know why the NBA just had to have that team win the No. 1 pick.

Adam Silver hopes lottery changes, recent results will slow down tanking

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The NBA league office HATES tanking.

The league hates that teams see it as a strategy, and they hate the idea that there are fan bases actively rooting for their team to lose. The league sees that as a destructive force. What the fans see is a shot at Zion Williamson (or, the next great player). So the league changed around the lottery odds this season, and the Pelicans (with just a six percent chance at it) jumped up to the No. 1 spot, while the teams with the three worst records will pick third, fifth, and sixth.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told Rachel Nichols of ESPN he hopes the lottery changes, and the most recent results, end the worst of tanking (via Royce Young at ESPN).

“Where I think it’s the greatest success is, hopefully it’ll stop fans in those markets from rooting for their teams to perform poorly,” Silver said prior to Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. “Because that race to the bottom is just destructive, I think, for everyone. Corrosive for players and franchises, and I think, in some cases, even some executives who knew better felt they couldn’t withstand the pressure from the communities, from the media in some cases, saying, ‘Why are you operating at this level when you should either get much better or much worse?’…

“I think in this case now with the change in the lottery, people are going to realize that there’s only one way to build a franchise,” Silver said. “Of course, you need to get great players, but at the same time you need to build culture, you need strong management, you need strong coaching. And players incrementally get better year after year. I mean, look at these two great franchises. It’s wonderful from a league standpoint to see the Warriors and the Raptors, two incredibly well-run franchises from top to bottom, here representing the league.”

The Warriors and Raptors are certainly well run, but lottery luck is still going to shape franchises as long as there is an NBA Draft. It’s the nature of a sport where you need at least one and probably two of the top 15-20 players in the world to win a title, for a lot of cities getting that player will only happen via the Draft.

What the change in lottery rules does is just move the inflection point. There may be reduced value in having the very worst record, but for a team that looks like it is on the playoff bubble at Christmas, the calculus changes: Tank the rest of the way, get maybe a six percent chance a the No. 1 pick and look what can happen. Some teams will still chase the playoff berth (and the gate revenue that comes with it), but not all. Teams will make different choices in the middle of the pack now because their lottery odds are better with this system.

It will be a few years before we fully see and understand the impact of the new lottery odds, but tanking on some level will be part of the NBA so long as there is a draft. And some fans will want their team to do it.

Report: If Brooklyn signs Kyrie Irving then D’Angelo Russell will leave

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Rumors have been flying around for weeks that Kyrie Irving is leaning towards signing in Brooklyn as a free agent. Things can still change, the Irving/Kevin Durant pairing with the Knicks is not off the table (or with the Nets), but there is, at the very least, strong mutual interest between Irving and the Nets.

Last season, Brooklyn extended Spencer Dinwiddie, giving them a quality reserve point guard at a reasonable price.

Where does that leave All-Star D'Angelo Russell? Out the door if Irving signs, reports Ian Bagley at SNY.com.

If Irving signs with the Nets, SNY sources familiar with the matter say it is highly unlikely that Russell remains with the Nets. Members of the Nets organization have communicated that idea in recent days, per sources.

Russell will have no shortage of suitors, including good teams looking for another shot creator in Indiana and Utah.

Russell is a restricted free agent and if Irving does not sign the Nets likely want Russell back. One interesting thing to watch, if the Nets rescind their rights to Russell, it would mean they are about to sign two max guys (they would need to get Russell’s cap hold off the books to get that done).

Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7 assists a game last season, shooting 36.9 percent from three. His shots started falling at a higher rate, he improved as a floor general, and his game took a leap forward to All-Star level last season.

How much did five Finals runs, fatigue factor into Durant, Thompson injuries?

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Klay Thompson ran more than 60 miles on the court during these NBA playoffs, that coming off a season where he ran nearly 198 miles during games.

Kevin Durant, even after missing a month with a calf injury, ran 29.5 playoff miles during these playoffs.

And that was just this season. In the past five seasons, the Golden State Warriors have played 105 playoff games. That means they essentially packed six seasons — including a playoff run — into five seasons of time.

The sports science on this is clear: Catastrophic injuries — such as a ruptured Achilles or ACL tear — are far more likely to happen when the player is fatigued.

With many trying to assign blame for the Warriors two devastating injuries in their final two games, part of that needs to fall on the Warriors’ own success. “Blame” may be the wrong word here because it’s not like the Warriors would give back a title, but becoming the first team since the Bill Russell Celtics to make it to five straight finals added to the fatigue for the team and likely played a role in what happened.

“I don’t know if it’s related to five straight seasons of playing a hundred plus games and just all the wear and tear, but it’s devastating,” an emotional Steve Kerr said after Game 6 discussing Durant’s ruptured Achilles and Thompson’s torn ACL.

Kerr is not alone. Twitter doctors and Charles Barkley aside, nobody knows how significant a role the extra games played in the injuries because there is seldom a straight line to draw between cause and effect on major injuries. Human nature is to want simple, clean answers, but life rarely presents those. It’s a complex stew of factors. LeBron James can go to eight straight Finals and not have this issue (although he is a physical outlier in the NBA in many ways).

Fatigue, however, appears to play a role.

In Durant’s case, his exertion may correlate with his injuries. His initial calf strain — and the Warriors insist that is all it ever was — happened against the Rockets, a series where Durant saw a jump in playing time of about five minutes a night because Kerr leaned heavily on his core in a series where the Warriors realized the threat. Studies have shown that injuries are more likely to occur when a player sees a sudden jump in minutes played and load carried, in part because that players’ body becomes more fatigued.

When Durant returned to the court for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the plan was to play him in “short bursts,” meaning four- or five-minute stints. After the first five minute stint (there was a timeout at 7:11 in the first quarter), Durant said he felt good and asked to stay in, so he remained on the court until 5:50. He rested for about two and a half minutes, then was back on the court — and playing well. Durant had 11 points and the Warriors offense flowed far more smoothly again. Kerr left Durant in to start the second quarter, and at the 9:46 mark we all know what happened.

After missing 32 days of basketball, Durant played 12 of the first 14 minutes in Game 5. How much did that play a role in his torn Achilles?

Thompson missed Game 3 of the NBA Finals with a strained hamstring and was not 100 percent the remainder of the way. If that hamstring was healthier would he have landed differently or been able to withstand it better, not tearing his ACL after being fouled on a dunk attempt? We will never know, but it’s possible.

Meanwhile, across the way, the Toronto Raptors took heat in some quarters for the “load management” of Kawhi Leonard, having him miss 22 regular season games to rest his body and keep his quad tendon healthy. Leonard played through a sore right knee — suffered compensating for that left quad tendon — but was out there for every game and was Finals MVP.

Players, agents, and teams all took note of that. The next time a player is coming back from injury, Durant in particular (but also Thompson) will be seen as a cautionary tale. Expect guys to make sure they are 100 percent (or close to it) before getting back on the court, not wanting to risk a greater injury. Most guys are not still going to get the same contract offers after a catastrophic injury. Also, “load management” will become even more of a thing.

The NBA is a recovery league where fatigue is a constant issue. Maybe this is all another baby step toward shortening the NBA regular season schedule, but we all know the financial complexities of that make it a long way off. At best.

But for those that need to assign blame for the injuries to Durant and Thompson, starting with the Warriors own success is a good idea.

NBC Sports/Rotoworld NBA Draft preview show and mock draft

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With the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans’ select…

Zion Williamson. That’s just obvious. Then the Grizzlies will take Ja Morant second, and the Knicks — or whoever has the pick by draft night — will take R.J. Barrett.

Then things get interesting.

I joined Rotoworld’s Tommy Beer and Steve Alexander to do a mock draft of the first round, from Zion through… you’ll just have to watch. The full video is above, and we also talk a little about potential trades and fantasy impact.

If you can’t get enough mock drafts, CollegeBasketballTalk’s Rob Dauster and I did a mock draft podcast of the first round a couple of weeks ago. You can check out the list and listen to picks 1-10 here, and then the rest of the first round at this link.