Tanking. It's a word that has made NBA fans cringe for two full decades now, as teams across the league have purposefully blown seasons for a chance to pick up an elite, cost-controlled star in the NBA draft. It's also the best, and for some teams the only way to acquire the type of player that could alter a franchise's direction.

It's clear that the current system, which favors the worst teams in basketball, is not ideal for the competitive balance of the league. After all, why wouldn't a shrewd GM rather position his team to win 20 games and get a top-3 pick, rather than win 35 games and pick 12th?

Now it seems the NBA is serious about making a change to the the lottery. According to Grantland.com, the league is seriously considering a proposal that would give each franchise each specific draft slot (1-30) once every 30 seasons. So once every 30 years you'd pick 1st, once you'd pick 30th, and once everywhere in between. Here is Zach Lowe explaining in more detail, the proposal.

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide.

The system is simpler to understand in pictorial form. Below is the wheel that outlines the order in which each team would cycle through the draft slots; the graphic highlights the top six slots in red to show that every team would be guaranteed one top-six pick every five seasons, and at least one top-12 pick in every four-year span:

Put another way: The team that gets the no. 1 pick in the very first year of this proposed system would draft in the following slots over the system's first six seasons: 1st, 30th, 19th, 18th, 7th, 6th. Just follow the wheel around clockwise to see the entire 30-year pick cycle of each team, depending on their starting spoke in Year 1.

The system is designed to eliminate the link between being very bad and getting a high draft pick. There is no benefit at all to being bad under a wheel system like this. If you believe tanking is morally wrong, or that it hurts business by alienating fans and cutting into attendance, this is a system you could get behind.
Lowe goes on to list all of the positives and negatives of the new proposal. But here's the gist of it:

- This new system would absolutely, positively, eliminate tanking. It would never be in your best interest to lose. GM's would never sell off players simply to enhance their draft position, because draft position would already be known. Making a run at the 8-seed still wouldn't result in a title, but it would give your players valuable experience and make your owner happy with a few more sellouts. And it wouldn't harm the long term future of your team.

- It could make it even harder on the "have nots". Imagine being the Bucks or Jazz and knowing that you were about to pick 28th in the upcoming draft, while the Heat picked 1st and the Thunder 2nd. What hope do you have for the future of your franchise? For many cities, bringing in elite talent via the draft is the only real way to land a star. This new system would be evening the playing field in the draft, while teams like the Heat and Lakers would still have the field slanted in the favor (dramatically) when it comes to free agency.

- There also is a tricky matter in that NBA talent coming up through college would know who would own their rights before their Freshmen (or Sophomore/Junior/Senior) season began. That means if Andrew Wiggins was finishing up his Freshman season in 2021 and saw that the Bucks owned his rights, but knew that the Lakers owned them in 2022 - he could suck it up and play one more season at Kansas. This could be a messy scenario for the league. And it could slant things even more (if that's possible) towards the "haves".

- Lowe also points out that the "wheel" as it's called would not take shape until after all draft related trades are finalized. That would mean 2020 at the earliest. So this isn't something that's going to impact any of the Celtics, or any other teams acquired picks.

- As for which team will start out at #1 (and #2, and #3 and so on), there would be one, final lottery. Here's Lowe breaking down the somewhat complicated "last lottery":

There is the thorny matter of deciding the starting point on the wheel for all 30 teams. The current proposal solves this by holding one last lottery, using the same weighting math the league uses now, to determine which teams pick in each of the first 14 draft slots in Year 1 of the system. In other words: The winner of that lottery would get the no. 1 pick in the first wheel draft, and then cycle to no. 30, no. 19, no. 18, and so on. The team that finishes second in that lottery would begin with the no. 2 pick, and then move to no. 29, no. 20, etc. The team that ends up last in the lottery would pick at no. 14, and go around the wheel from there.

That still leaves picks nos. 15-30, each a starting point on the wheel. How to divvy those up among the teams who make the playoffs — the non-lottery teams — ahead of the first wheel year? This is where things get kind of fun: Playoff teams would get to pick their starting points from those still available. The worst playoff team would get first dibs, allowing it to select among 16 starting points along the wheel. With that bundle of picks off the board, the next playoff team in line would select from the remaining bundles, until the team with the very best record came up with just one bundle left.

So the final lottery is a bit confusing, but the wheel itself is about as straightforward as it comes. It neutralizes the draft, eliminating any advantage that bad teams have. It would also make GM's even more valuable, as an ability to maximize your draft position would be amplified by the fact that your team would not be picking in the top 10 on a regular basis. When you get that top pick, you better nail it. Or else..see ya in 30 years.

I'm a bit torn on this proposal - but I think it does more good than it does bad. Having a league where all 30 teams try and win every season would be worth the fact that the really good teams could extend their runs by picking in the top 5 a year after winning it all. It would also force GM's of bad teams to be more creative. Sorry pal, your five year run of awfulness is no longer going to result in five top-five picks. Nail your pick at #16, dip into the international player pool, spend to the cap and do it wisely.

It's not perfect, but it's better than the current system that forced a bunch of GM's to enter 2013-14 with only one goal - to lose as many games as possible. Of course the NBA still needs to vote on the proposal, and then we have at least six and a half years to wait for it to come to fruition. But at least the league is talking about one of it's biggest problems.

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Michael Dyer 12/23/2013 02:09:00 PM Edit
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