Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supports the NBA’s lottery-reform proposal:
But that doesn’t mean Morey believes the proposal is a silver bullet.
Morey, via Bleacher Report:
Let’s be clear. This reform is not doing a whole lot, right?
And I keep saying: If it was already in place, no one would talk about it. If it wasn’t in place – all these people are talking about it because it’s coming up for probably a vote here in a minutes. Otherwise, no one would be talking about it. Everyone would be like, “Oh, yeah. Of course the bottom three lottery odds are flat. That’s how it’s always been.” It’s a very minor change, and it fixes some pretty important problems in terms of how the incentives work at the bottom of the draft, and I don’t think it changes much in any other way.
And then the best argument is the people who are frustrated the league is unbalanced between destination and non-destination cities, they say, “Because that whole system might be broken, I’m going to be against this minor, logical, simple reform.” I don’t really buy that. Let’s fix the other issues in another way, but you can still be for this reform and say we need larger reform that attacks those issues in a more fundamental way. But it doesn’t change that this is a good, logical step we’re taking.
Morey is aggressively logical, and you can see that at work here. If the new rule is better than the old rule, owners should vote for it. It shouldn’t matter which was already in place. For similar reasons, I argued against shelving lottery reform just because new national TV contracts would increase the salary cap.
Morey is also right that this is a minor reform. There’s still value in tanking, even if not quite as much. Finishing with the league’s worst record still guarantees a top-five pick with team control for five years and the inside track on keeping the player for far longer.
There’s even still value in jockeying among the league’s three worst teams, which will have identical lottery odds if this proposal passes. If a team isn’t drawn for the top four, it will be slotted in reverse order of record. The No. 1 seed in the lottery has a 20% greater chance than the No. 2 seed of picking higher between the two, and the No. 2 seed has a 20% greater chance than the No. 3 seed of picking higher between the two, according to fantastic Ryan Bernardoni of Celtics Hub.
So, this lottery reform might only minimally change behavior.
Another thing to consider: NBA owners are far more risk-averse than Morey. If this reform passes, owners will take years to evaluate it before making more meaningful changes to address the problem (if you believe there’s a problem at all). So, a step in the right direction (again, if you believe this is the right direction) is effectively a small step and a pause that could delay bigger steps.