The NBA has been under scrutiny the last few years in terms of the process of the draft lottery. More specifically, the integrity of teams have been brought into question with a draft lottery that is geared towards rewarding teams who sit in the cellar of the league’s standings. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver understands that the draft lottery system could use some tweaking, which is why the process may be headed towards an alternative in order to combat teams from tanking.
A lottery system in its purest form makes sense for any league. It allows, in this case the NBA, to keep its teams competitive by giving struggling teams the benefit of higher draft picks, while avoiding making strong teams more powerful. The problem with a system such as this is that, due to lower teams being given the right of a higher draft pick, is that it could produce an environment where teams tank in order to strengthen their chances of landing a quality draft pick. This is not to say that a coach and his players will physically attempt to drop games. What can happen is for a franchise to construct a team of less than stellar talent, i.e. trading away potential All-Stars for a plethora of developing players.
This past season showcased a bizarre season, with what appeared to many to be an Eastern Conference full of sub .500 teams. One of these teams included the Philadelphia 76ers, who ended the season with the second worst record in the league at 19-63. If their record was not bad enough of a warning of tanking, they also took part in an embarrassing 26-game losing streak. It is not beyond the realm of possibility for a team to be that bad. However, between their record, losing streak and the front office decisions over the last several years, it brings their motives into question.
A few seasons ago, the 76ers got burnt in a terrible fashion by trading away their All-Star Andre Iguodala for Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers, who picked up Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. As bad luck would have it, Bynum was injured and, after a bowling accident furthered his injury, he never played a game for Philadelphia. After such a disastrous scenario, one would think that Philadelphia would want nothing to do with an injured player. Instead, Philadelphia would draft Nerlens Noel in the 2013 draft, a player who was too injured to play last season. In the interim, Philadelphia also traded a core that had potential, including Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen during the 2013 off-season and well into the regular season. As such, it appeared the 2013-2014 76ers were a team aimed towards the cellar, in order to pick up a high draft pick.
As one would expect, they received a good pick, but instead of utilizing it to better the team for next year, they picked up Joel Embiid, who had injured his foot days prior to the NBA draft. As a result, the 76ers are now headed to the same place they have been the last couple of seasons, the bottom of the NBA standings. It is these suspicious strategies that have caught the eye of Silver. While the Commissioner has not come out to indict Philadelphia of such tanking, he is in the process of revamping the lottery system to balance the odds in such a way that the worst team is not given the greatest chance at a top pick.
The way in which the current system is set up is that the team with the lowest record has the most number combinations (250, a 25 percent chance) to match up with a four-ball drawing. Following the last placed team, the second-to-last, receives 199 combinations (19.9 percent), followed by 156 combinations (15.6 percent) for the third-to-last team and so on and so forth. With the current process, the system, arguably, entices franchises to tank in order to get the best chance at a top pick.
No one knows what Silver and company’s plans are to limit the worst-placed team’s percentage in winning a top pick. However, with news being reported that a change is on the horizon, the Philadelphia 76ers have taken exception to potential alterations. With the team being on a multi-year rebuilding process, they currently are trying to get the NBA’s proposed lottery change delayed at least a season. If delayed, the 76ers would take advantage of the lottery system again for next year’s draft, after drafting the injured Embiid.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, there is not much they can do about a change. Changing the lottery process was brought up earlier this month, when the league met in Las Vegas. As a result of the meeting, the NBA Board of Governors will meet again in October, where they could take a vote on the change. If the vote goes through, the new stipulations on the draft lottery could be placed into effect starting next summer.
Between the questionable tactics of Philadelphia over the last few years, in conjunction with their executives taking issue with an alteration to the draft lottery, it appears the franchise’s appearance of tanking the team may no longer work. Additionally, Adam Silver does not want there to be a perception of the league that teams are tanking simply to obtain a high draft pick. In order to combat this tanking, potentially, Silver knows that the NBA needs to be headed towards a new draft system. As a response to a new draft lottery, franchises such as Philadelphia will have no motivation to tank a team. Instead, they will have to improve their team the old fashion way — through hard work.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey