NBA Draft

Mr. Stern, Tear Down This Weighted NBA Lottery!

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 25:  Anthony Davis #23 of the Kentucky Wildcats dunks against the Baylor Bears during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball South Regional Final at the Georgia Dome on March 25, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterMarch 26, 2012

Okay, I've damn well had it. The tanking has got to stop, or at least be addressed. Unweight the NBA lottery already and give all non-playoff teams an equal shot. 

Team owners: Why let this moral hazard compromise the integrity of your league? 

This was an awful weekend of basketball if you had an eye keyed on Golden State. Is that redundant? Anyways, Warriors-Kings on Saturday and Warriors-Blazers on Sunday were two poorly played games where rational fans were probably mostly rooting for their respective teams to lose. I would not be surprised if the teams were comporting themselves in a similar fashion. 

Steve Berman describes Warriors-Kings: 

"Before the Warriors finally 'won,' there was some definite tomfoolery going on. Both teams kept turning the ball over in an attempt to tank, but the Kings were just a little better. So even though David Lee had a 5-second violation (which probably gave Smart a feeling of pride since they can’t run inbounds plays without him anymore), the Kings committed 6 turnovers in the final 3:30 to the Warriors’ 2. Sacramento just wanted it more."

We will never know if both teams were attempting self-sabotage, but this is a system that lavishly rewards failure, and it certainly appeared as such. Even if these squads were trying their spleens out, there is a credibility issue.

We're in the midst of a statistics revolution, and the rise of a new, coldly rational NBA owner class. It is impossible to measure, but this theoretically should be a golden era of intentional failure. So it must not be surprising that multiple teams are playing notional basketball, at least in terms of strategy. 

Rich Cho, a smart man by all accounts, built a horrid Bobcats roster, probably with the express intent of tanking for picks. 

David Stern himself vetoed a trade toward playoff contention, possibly to ensure that New Orleans would hit lotto gold

Portland gutted their roster at the deadline in an obvious tank, er, "rebuilding" effort. 

The Warriors did about the same, and they have even more incentive to lose on account of getting a first round pick only if it's top-seven.  

A connected, compounding problem is that if this is a golden era of tanking, this is an increasingly bad advertisement for the sport. If there is literal or figurative foul play, then it cannot simply slough off into the night, unnoticed like so many obscure 1992 Mavericks games.

The league is more-widely watched than ever before, and many League Pass customers must wonder why they're paying hard money to see half the NBA's teams simply not try. 

So why continue on with this league-legislated Tim Donaghy situation? I believe that the simple, elegant solution is to make it a true lottery, the aforementioned system where all non-playoff squads get an equal shot. The best lotto team is usually far from great, and could use the help. Also, no sane GM would miss the playoffs for a 1/14 chance at a superstar.

In the beginning, the lottery was designed to prevent dive-taking. Weighting the sucker simply erased that goal. So let us return every playoff-misser to the purity of chance, and free them to compete hard for their fans.

End the embarrassment. Unweight the lottery. 

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