This week, the NBA voted down the draft reform proposed to shut down Titanic-like schemes from teams like the Philadelphia 76ers. You can get where the commissioner is coming from. After all, if you’re a fan you don’t really want to see your team go through years of mediocrity. That’s also given the fact that Sixers weren’t bad. This is kind of like Will Smith going from the later seasons of Fresh Prince to After Earth, just a sad imitation. But would the league suggested fix actually work? Or would it be just as bad?
The Problem: Thanking is horrible for business. Your main product sucks when you tank, it’s not entertaining and I would rather watch paint dry than the current Sixers roster play in an NBA game. It’s absolutely horrible, and there is very little evidence that it works. Philly has been bad for 3 years now, and yet there is not one first overall pick to show for it.
The current draft is just as much about luck as it is about throwing everything you have into the toilet and flushing. Consider this, for Cleveland to get LeBron again, a few things needed to happen:
- LeBron had to be born in Ohio
- Cleveland had to get the 1st overall pick to draft LeBron
- Cleveland had to get the 1st overall pick to draft Kyrie
- Cleveland had to get the 1st overall pick to draft Anthony Bennett to flip for Kevin Love
- Cleveland had to get the 1st overall pick to draft Andrew Wiggins to flip for Kevin Love
In a number of those instances (especially towards the back end) they weren’t even THAT BAD and even made legitimate runs for the playoffs. Last year’s Cleveland roster had playoffs potential (in the East). They never outwardly tanked in the last two years (they were just really awful).
In the years that the Sixers made efforts to tank, we don’t even know if it worked. I mean, they got MCW, who’s stats may have been inflated due to playing on a legitimately awful team. They got Nerlens Noel, who has the potential to be a good big in the NBA and gets flow points just for having the best flattop, and they got Joel Embiid, who despite all of the potential is still not a sure thing (albeit he is intriguing).
Overall, the tanking problem is two-fold. One is a loss of revenue. Fans will refuse to watch and thus both the team and the league will loose revenue. The second is that there is simply no appeal for players to be on a tankfest team, short of just getting some career inflated numbers on a contract year. Besides, their position is volatile the whole time.
So what now?
The proposal that got voted down yesterday wasn’t really the perfect solution. Sure, it would partially discourage the very bad teams from bottoming out completely if their chances aren’t as good (it would also be more difficult to explain to the fans with worse odds). But then again, it could create the problem on the other side of the “unreasonably bad” spectrum which could be even worse.
Let’s say you’re in playoffs position battling for the bottom two spots. Your first round is looking to be the Spurs or the Cavs. You know that there is zero chance of you getting past the first round. Wouldn’t you rather bottom out and miss the playoffs for a shot at a better pick? I would, because why would you face Popovich in the first round and lose when you can get a good pick and have an early vacation?
Any shuffle to the proportions of the lottery really doesn’t fix the immediate problem, which is teams trying to believe they can beat the odds and win at a crapshoot, before a guy named Fat Eddy shows up at their door with a baseball bat to collect the debts.
The legitimate solution to prevent tanking would also be to radicalize the lottery completely, where it’s a system that goes not with the odds but with some other algorithm that gives the better team an equal chance to make the number one pick. Maybe put the bottom 2 teams from each conference playoff standings into the lottery. It’s hard to see teams not bottoming out even then, but it would at least increase the competition on the back end of the season as teams fight for the playoffs stops that come not only with added revenue, but with an increased chance to do better in the draft.
It is also not an ideal solution as the teams in the middle of that log jam would be the ones slighted and possibly beeline for the tank brigade. All I’m getting it as any system that involves the lottery will have an element to exploit when it comes to being bad on purpose in order to luck out in the lottery, despite statistical evidence that such a tactic is rarely successful.
Then there is the team perspective. The better teams would obviously vote for a more equal distribution of picks. The bottom teams would want to keep their advantage, and you can see why. Throughout the history of the league, small market teams struggle. They can’t attract enough good players to be successful so they have to lean on the draft to get a LeBron, or a KD, or an Anthony Davis.
A systemized draft gives to the rich and takes from the poor so to speak. Yes, it encourages teams to better, but some of these teams are already playing against the grain. The league is not ready for a change, neither are the players or the teams, but there needs to be a solution to the tank initiative.
What this shows is that the league is painfully aware of the problem itself, and they’re thinking. The draft reform is just not radical or different enough from what we have to move forward.