NBA Lottery Alternatives

There's something about tweaking the rules of sports leagues that really appeals to me. It's probably because I'm a control freak, but there could be other factors.

No one seems all that happy about the NBA's lottery process. If I understand correctly, it used to be evenly weighted amongst non-playoff teams, which would reduce the incentive for tanking at the end of the season. Under that system, some didn't feel the worst teams were getting enough help. Fair enough. Now there's a weighted lottery, but some teams clearly play to lose "improve their draft position" at the end of the season. The system opens itself up to conspiracy theories, and it doesn't seem to be all that fair to fans of some of the most terrible teams in the league. Is there a better way?

I'm not really sure that there's an absolute better way, but I like exploring alternatives.

I came up with more complicated options below, but I realized that there is a seemingly easy solution to this problem. Whether it is fair or not, I'm not sure. The easiest part is teams 15-30. Whatever the system is now, no one seems to have an issue with how those teams are ranked. (I think it's just be regular season record?)

Next, look at the teams who missed the playoffs after making the playoffs in 2010: Charlotte, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Utah. Order by 2010 season record.
#14 - Cleveland
#13 - Phoenix
#12 - Utah
#11 - Milwaukee
#10 - Charlotte

Next, teams which have missed the last two post-seasons, ordered by 2009 season record.
#9 - Houston
#8 - Detroit

Next, teams which have missed the last three post-seasons, ordered by 2008 season record.
#7 - Washington
#6 - Toronto

Next, teams which have missed the last four post-seasons, ordered by 2007 season record.
#5 - Golden State
#4 - New Jersey

Next, teams which have missed the last five post-seasons, ordered by 2006 season record.
#3 - LA Clippers
#2 - Sacramento

And that leaves:
#1 - Wolves (missed 7 straight post-seasons)

I like this idea an awful lot right now. The whole idea is to help fans of crappy teams, so that they can have at least a .500 team and a shot in the playoffs, maybe something better. The only time winning percentage matters is in years when you make the playoffs, in which case you're not really going to tank at the end of the season. (Or are you?) Missing the playoffs by a lot or a little doesn't make a difference, so teams should always feel plenty motivated to win.

The system is a little bit hard to explain, but not really complicated. I like it. I might even like it enough that I think it should be adopted in other sports. (Might be tough to do in MLB since you can go a really long time without making the playoffs. Then again, maybe it's more important in a league where you can go a really long time without making the playoffs.)

I've decided the rest of these alternatives aren't very good, but they remain because I typed them up in the first place:

1) Silent auction for draft position. If you are under the cap, you are allowed to submit a bid, up to the difference between your payroll and the salary cap, in order to move up the draft. The money raised through the auction would be re-distributed in such a way that the teams moving down would get paid according to how far they moved down. This could be thought of as a more liquid method of trading draft picks. When you try to trade a pick with a team above you, there might not always be the right players to strike a deal, especially with the tiny NBA roster sizes and no real minor league system from which to trade prospects. But if some team really wants a pick more than another team, they'll probably be more willing to put down some cash. This also provides another incentive for teams to stay under the cap, which could be to their own benefit. (Haven't thought that part all the way through.)

2) The May Badness tournament. Lottery teams play each other in an elimination tournament, seeded randomly. The winner gets the top pick, runner-up second pick, etc. I like this idea because teams are going to want to be at their best going into the end of the season, which could lead to fewer Mark Madsen 3-point attempts.

3) Take turns. The '11-'12 season will probably be shortened due to disputes over the CBA anyway, so I propose this: Have a round-robin home-and-home 58-game regular season. It's a wacky year, so hell, everyone makes the playoffs! Invert the standings and there is your 2012 draft order. In 2013, whoever picked #1 in '21 moves to the back of the line, everyone moves up one slot. Okay, this is kind of crazy because once you got to drafting 8th or so, you should be well on your way to creating a dynasty over the next few years. Which leads me to:

4) Take turns, modified. Find some 2012 draft order. Take that order, move the #1 picker to #30, and move everyone else up. Now, take every team that made the playoffs and move them below every team that didn't make the playoffs, otherwise maintaining the order. This way, if you get a #1 pick and he brings you to the playoffs, you're stuck at #30 the next year. If you get a #1 pick and still miss the playoffs, you'll pick 13th. As long as you continue to miss the playoffs, you continue to get closer and closer to a #1 pick. The more consecutive years that you make the playoffs, the lower your pick drops (as teams which don't make the playoffs leap over you in the order.)

12 thoughts on “NBA Lottery Alternatives”

  1. I'm down with the "years missing the playoffs" idea, although since it benefits the Wolves, and David Stern clearly hates the Wolves, that jerk-face would never go for it.

  2. Speaking of conspiracy theories, David Kahn is going with that route:

    “This league has a habit, and I am just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines,” Kahn said. “Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow and this year it was a 14-year-old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed. We were done. I told Kevin: ‘We’re toast.’ This is not happening for us and I was right.”

    1. The Timberwolves and every other team had a representative in the room when the lottery balls were drawn. There were four members of the national media in the room. David Stern should fine him heavily for suggesting that it was rigged.

      1. Knowing how much Stern likes to over-punish the Wolves, I'm thinking they'll lose another four years of first round draft picks.

        I do have to say, though, I'm glad Kahn said it. The entertainment possibilities are high.

        1. Maybe he can suggest that somehow the ping-pong balls are weighted in such a way that certain ones are likely to get sucked up.

          1. if you look closely, you can see that the corner of the ping pong ball was folded a little bit.

      2. I think he's suggesting Karma or Grace or something like that.
        Or at least that's what he can tell Stern.

        Punishment should be that the team's first round pick next year is not part of the lottery.

  3. Your system isn't all that hard to explain, if you start at the top instead of the bottom. Just give the last playoff appearance year and record for each team, and then sort in reverse order, more or less

  4. I applaud your creative efforts to achieve what most fans desire - a fair system that gives hope to teams that need it most.

  5. I'd say that there is a slight adverse incentive there.
    If a team holds the longest drought going into a season, yet has good chance at the 7 or 8 seed (in the NBA), but no realistic opportunities to advance, it may be in their advantage to stay out of the playoffs for that year, and get that #1 pick.

    1. It could be in their advantage, but I think you'd have a difficult time constructing a team that was almost good enough to make the playoffs and then didn't compete hard enough to make the playoffs. The ill will you'd generate from missing the playoffs would be worse than the ill will you generate from tanking when you are clearly out of contention. (Even though I think both strategies tend to be bad for the long-term health of the team.)

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