There have been two dirty words that the NBA has dealt with over the past few years. Tanking, as certain teams have been accused of resting their best players, or purposely losing games at the end of the season to have a better chance at getting the highest draft pick possible. The other is resting, as over the past couple of season, marquee players on the title contending teams like the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and San Antonio Spurs have sat out games, even nationally televised games to make sure they are ready for the postseason. Two weeks ago, the league tweaked their lottery system, and the rest situation in a vote at their Board of Governor’s meeting.
The new proposition to discourage teams from “tanking,” where the vote of 28-1-1 by all 30 NBA teams, according to ESPN.com, that the three teams with the worst records each will have a 14 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick.
When the NBA Draft Lottery started in 1985, it was a procedure used so that the team with the worst record in each conference participate in a coin flip for the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks.
It also came about in the wake of accusations that the Houston Rockets were losing games to get that 50 percent chance of landing one of the top two slots. The Rockets did wind up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1984 draft, and selected Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. That same draft also included the G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan, who was picked by the Chicago Bulls at No. 3.
Envelopes that represented all the non-playoff teams were randomly drawn from a spinning drum, which provided each team with an equal shot at every pick. The winner of the inaugural Draft Lottery was the New York Knicks, who used that No. 1 overall pick to draft future Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing out of Georgetown University.
The format changed two years later, where only the Top Three spots were determined by chance, while the other teams were positioned in inverse order of their win-loss records that season.
In 1990, the NBA started to weight the lottery to improve the odds that the team with the worst record would end up with the No. 1 pick. The league tweaked the weighting in 1993, and it was reworked again in 1995 as the Toronto Raptors, and then Vancouver, now Memphis Grizzlies were added to the NBA, and the then Charlotte got its replacement franchise, now called the Hornets 13 years ago, which divided the odds among 14 lottery teams to select at No. 1.
Under the current format, you had a 25 percent chance at that top if you the league’s worst team. If you had the second or third worst record in the league that season, you had a 19.9, and 15.6 percent chance respectably of landing that top pick.
“There was a perception in many of our communities that the best path to rebuilding their teams was to race to the bottom,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on Thursday. “It became currency in this league.”
Silver also said that it got to the point that some teams felt pressure from their fan bases to embrace the strategy of the bad-leads-to-good, or as the Philadelphia 76ers coined over the past four seasons, “Trust the Process.”
It created a bad perception that fans went from rooting for their team to succeed on the court from October to April, to failing miserable to that organization’s chances of getting more ping-pong balls in May increased with each loss.
As mentioned earlier, the Sixers have the team at the forefront of this, and they made to pretense of trying to go from the NBA basement to a team that competes to at least get the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. From 2013-2016, they were just 47-199, but they positioned themselves to draft Joel Embiid (No. 3 overall in 2014), Jahlil Okafor (No. 3 overall in 2015) and Ben Simmons (No. 1 overall in 2016).
While this way of thinking netted the Sixers some A+ talent to become a perennial playoff participant hopefully this upcoming season, and beyone, one of the NBA’s flagship franchises in NBA history ranked 29th, 30th, and 28th in attendance at their home games during this stretch.
So, beginning with the 2018-19 NBA campaign, teams that try to lose will lose ping-pong balls. A team with the third-worst record that year will have a better chance at garnering the No. 1 overall pick. The Top Four slots for that June’s draft will be determined by the lottery, instead of the current system of three.
Teams with the worst record will have the worst odds at getting that No. 1 overall pick, dropping to as low as fifth in the draft order. The fourth-worst team could select as low as No. 8.
The odds of getting that high draft pick will be higher for the No. 5-13 teams, as they will scale from 10.5 percent to one percent. Now, those teams had ranges from 8.8 percent down to 0.6.
What will go unchanged is the odds for those teams that just missed on making the playoffs, as their odds for garnering that No. 1 overall pick will be at 0.5 percent.
In that 28-1-1 vote, only the Oklahoma City Thunder voted against the new draft format. For them you might say it is a little bit personal.
A small-market team like them not getting rewarded after a difficult season, which then results in the departure, or the threat of such action of a star player via free agency might be the reason. Perennial All-Star, and 2014 league MVP Kevin Durant vaulted in free agency two summers back to join the Warriors, where he led them to their second title in three seasons in June. Luckily for them, the still had All-Star lead guard Russell Westbrook still in toe, and his great season led them to the postseason again in 2016-17.
Other NBA cities that are not considered places marquee free agents would want to sign like Detroit, Milwaukee, and Indiana also might end up losing out on staying.
The other matter of business that was handled at the NBA’s annual autumn meetings was resting players healthy players.
A formal policy was approved at those meetings in New York City, where beginning with the 2017-18 campaign, teams will be prohibited from giving players the night off on “high profile, nationally televised” games. Teams that violate this policy will be subjected to a fine of at least $100,000.
The policy also advises all 30 NBA teams not to rest multiple healthy players from road games, and when players are given the night off, said player should be visible, and available to interact with fans in the arena.
While each infraction of this new policy is subject to discipline, Silver said he wishes to avoid having to dole out punishment as much as possible.
“I recognize that there are legitimate reasons for sitting down players at certain periods of time,” the commissioner said. “It comes down to a sense of obligation our teams have toward the league that they’re a part of.”
This also comes down to the hard-earned money that fans pay to come to a game and see their favorite player, or players perform on the hardwood.
Beyond season ticket holders that come to see the majority of that team play in person during the year, the average fan that has a family may only get one shot per year if they are lucky to see one game, and they deserve to see the best the NBA has to offer.
Looking at it from the team’s point of view, the San Antonio Spurs for instance, the last few years for them has been about being in position to contend for a championship, and their head coach Gregg Popovich does everything in his power to make sure his team is in position to do that.
What has happened is that other teams have caught on, and they started resting players, whether games were nationally televised or not.
At the end of the day, this is about the NBA is as visible as it has ever been. This summer alone, basketball was the hot topic on a lot of sports shows on radio, television, and social media. The league felt that it had two glaring issues that needed to be handled. The league handled both with new policies. Whether those policies will change the way teams take the challenge of playing the regular season with a sense of urgency, whether they are in the playoff chase or not, and have their top tier players out there doing it is a wait, and see.
Information, and quotations are courtesy of 9/28/17 NBA.com article, “NBA Board of Governors Tweak League Draft Lottery System,” by Steve Aschburner.