NBA owners pass lottery reform, new rules on resting players

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver got what he wanted.

How much good it will do, and what will the unintended consequences will be, will hang over this like a cloud. But Silver got the PR wins he wanted.

Wednesday the NBA’s Board of Governors — made up of the 30 team owners — passed new rules on resting of healthy players, particularly for nationally televised games, plus passed NBA Draft Lottery reform that starts in 2019. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been a strident proponent of both legislative agendas, pushing owners and team executives on his belief that passage was important for elements of the league’s economy, competitive balance and public perception…

In the new resting legislation, Silver will have the discretionary ability to fine teams for resting players in several instances, including sitting multiple players outside of unusual circumstances in a single game, and healthy players in nationally televised ESPN, ABC and TNT games…

The NBA needed a three-fourths majority to pass draft lottery reform, which is designed to discourage teams from tanking to pursue the best possible odds to select highest in the draft order.

The vote on lottery reform was 28-1-1, with Oklahoma City voting no and Dallas abstaining, according to Wojnarowski.

Let’s talk resting first — this is about perceptions and public relations. It’s a bad look for the league when they tout a Golden State vs. San Antonio Saturday night game and Steve Kerr sits Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (the Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard in that game due to injury). Every study shows that rested players (meaning at least one day off between games, but the more the better) both perform better and are less likely to get injured, and it makes sense if the Cavaliers want LeBron James at his peak in May and June they give him nights off in January to keep him fresh. To the NBA’s credit, it started the season a couple of weeks earlier this season and reduced the number of back-to-backs, mostly eliminated four-games-in-five-nights, and now makes sure teams get rest before nationally televised games.

But make no mistake, guys will still get nights off. Coaches will just not do it on the highest profile nights, nor will they rest multiple stars on the same night (at least until the final couple weeks of the season, when all bets should be off). Also, coaches will go to the old trick of saying a guy is injured if they want to rest him (by a month into the season every player has enough bumps and bruises to say he needs a night off if they want).

Lottery reform is more complicated. That’s not a surprise to the league office, which has said this is just one step in what could be a much longer process.

This move creates the perception that teams don’t benefit as much tanking, which is true only if a team is going for the worst record in the league. However, these new rules don’t change the underlying issue: For 25 NBA teams, the only way they can land and keep a superstar (at least for eight years or so to start their career) is through the draft, and the best way to do that is to get a high draft pick. What this does do is take away some incentive to be ultra-terrible to get the best odds, but teams will still aim for the bottom three if they are in that kind of rebuild.

The three worst teams each will have a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, and the odds go down from there (but not as steeply as they did before). Here is a handy chart — via Wojnarowski and ESPN — that explains the new lottery odds.

So if you have the worst record in the NBA, rather than most likely having the No. 2 or 3 pick, your “expected pick” is the three or four. Is that really going to keep teams from tanking? Kristaps Porzingis went fourth. Teams may not go as deep a dive, but they will go, and it will still be a topic.

More importantly, it just moves the tanking line. Last season, the 42-win Pacers got the 7 seed in the East and thumped by the Cavaliers in the first round. However, if they were five games worse, they would have been the 12th seed going into the lottery, with a 7 percent chance at a top-five pick. You can bet some owners/GMs will look at that calculus and say they are willing to forgo the $5 million to $8 million in gate revenue from a couple playoff games to have a shot at a high pick (some owners will want the cash). More importantly for the league, you can bet some segments of the fanbase will call for it.

What this vote does gives the league is a PR win — “we have taken steps to reduce player rest and tanking,” issues Silver was sick of talking about at his press conferences and in interviews. There is some good stuff here — the spaced out schedule is needed — but whether either proposal gets at the real issues (like too long a regular season) is still up for debate.