NBA Reportedly Submits Proposal to Change Draft Lottery Format

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

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For the third time in its 30-year history, the NBA draft lottery looks as if it is set to undergo formative changes that could reshape how teams look to reload through the draft.

Citing sources who were at the league's competition committee meeting this week, Grantland's Zach Lowe reported Wednesday that the NBA has submitted draft lottery alterations designed to eliminate tanking concerns while still keeping a similar general structure.

An NBA spokesman offered no comment when contacted by Bleacher Report.

Under the reported proposal, the teams with the league's four worst regular-season records would all have an 11 percent chance of winning the lottery. In the current system, the team with the worst record is given a 25 percent chance and the percentages de-escalate from there. In this scenario, each of the bottom four teams is taking a hit of at least 0.9 percent. (The team with the fourth-worst record has an 11.9 percent chance under the current system.)

The structure after the first four picks would largely remain the same, though the odds will be much closer together than the current system. The league proposed that the No. 14 team would have a 2 percent chance of landing the top pick—quadruple its odds in the current system. Although the chance is minuscule, a team on the cusp of an elite young core—say, the Phoenix Suns—might have had a realistic shot at Andrew Wiggins.

As Lowe illustrates, the league's proposal is rooted in the tanking "epidemic" that strikes in years with highly touted draft classes:

The goal of this initial proposal is obvious: to prevent out-and-out tanking among the league’s very worst teams for the no. 1 pick. Equalizing the odds for the five worst teams, and giving the next few clubs odds very close to that 11 percent chance, goes a long way toward removing the incentive to race toward the bottom. 

During the 2013-14 season, the Philadelphia 76ers traded away nearly every viable NBA player on their roster for future assets in what seemed to be an attempt to increase their lottery odds. It's long been a practice of teams in danger of losing a partially protected lottery pick to punt a few games in hopes of avoiding the selection conveying.

“[Tanking] has always been there,” Celtics president Danny Ainge told Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe in April. “Maybe it was talked about more this year and more people caught on to the principle of it.”

The league's proposal tries to kill two birds with one moderate stone. Lowe's report states the league is hoping to expand the number of picks determined by the lottery system to six. Under the current system, only the top three selections are actually the result of the lottery; the last 11 are inversely ordered according to the teams' regular-season records. This is a league rule that's been in place since 1987.

Doubling the number of picks determined by the lottery makes it more likely that a team moves up or down. Teams like last year's Detroit Pistons, whose selection was top-eight protected, might be less inclined to tank down the stretch because of the heightened uncertainty. 

NEW YORK - MAY 20: Jeff Cohen, Vice Chairman of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a photo after the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery on May 20, 2014 at the ABC News' 'Good Morning America' Times Square Studio in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
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The NBA is also banking on these minor tweaks being more digestible for owners who might favor the current system. Lowe previously detailed the so-called Wheel system, which uses a formula to predetermine a team's picks each season years in advance. It discourages teams to tank by literally taking away any reason to do so.

While the idea is worth consideration, it's also convoluted in its own way and could in theory force a new regime to unfairly pay for the sins of the past. The NBA's proposal is less radical, but in many ways more practical.

Lowe's report also makes an important note regarding the proposal: "The discussion is still in its early stages, and there are more proposals floating around from team officials. Those ideas could get more air time, and the league could always tweak its own proposal or put forth another."

Commissioner Adam Silver knows something has to be done to fix the lottery system. Preferably within the next couple of seasons. Lowe notes that it's possible the league will push this proposal for the 2014-15 season if it garners enough support, but it's also possible that another potential plan emerges.

Convincing the necessary contingent of owners to support a Wheel-esque system would take longer and involve a thorough explanation to common fans. This, on the other hand, looks and sounds like the system already in place—only better. That should be good enough to satiate fans calling for reform while creating a more competitive on-court environment.


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