Each year as it grows closer to the playoffs, many teams who no longer have any chance at making the postseason begin shutting down their key players while they jockey for draft positioning. This season is no different and most likely even worse given the talent level in this year's draft.
The Warriors are perhaps the prime example this year as they have more on the line. If they finish outside the top seven their pick goes to the Utah Jazz. Right now they are have the eighth worst record in the league and are only a game ahead of both the Nets and Raptors. If either of those teams passes the Warriors then Golden State's pick should remain safe unless someone behind them jumps into the top 3.
In order to help themselves drop into the bottom seven, they have shut down or traded their best players for the year. Monta Ellis was traded for Andre Bogut, who was already done for the season. Steph Curry was shut down a couple of weeks ago and now David Lee is done for the year. They are now left with a bunch of mediocre talent to compete, which they have not done in a few weeks, and have thus put themselves in a position to keep their pick.
I understand why teams do this as a higher pick should mean drafting a better player, but in reality it is the fans and the game that suffers. I myself am a Jazz fan, which is why the Warriors' example stands out to me so much, but on the other side of things the Jazz may have to give up their pick to the Timberwolves.
Because of the Al Jefferson deal a couple years ago, the Timberwolves hold a lottery-protected first-round pick of the Jazz. I find myself wanting the Jazz to make the playoffs, yet I also find myself wanting them to lose in order to keep their pick. No fan of any team should ever want their team to fail, and something needs to be done to prevent this mentality late in the season.
This topic was brought up on Mike and Mike in the morning today (4/19), in which Mike Greenberg offered a suggestion to fix the problem. He suggested doing away with the lottery and giving the top pick to the best team that missed the playoffs and going down from there according to better records. As a result, the team with the worst record would get the 14th pick.
His reasoning behind the deal is that bad teams would be fighting harder than ever to win games in order to move up in the draft. He is correct in the sense that teams would have something to play for for the entire season, but it also takes away the opportunity bad teams have to get those top picks and improve their teams.
Greenberg's response to this was those bad teams have remained bad for years despite having top picks every year and he's right to an extent. The Clippers before this season had been bad for many years, but they were finally able to take advantage of their top picks by drafting Blake Griffin and then trading for Chris Paul, thus making them a dangerous team. The Cavs were bad for years before drafting LeBron James and the Hawks were bad for years before a few picks made them a playoff team.
While thinking about what could be done to solve the problem of teams trying to lose, I came up with a plan:
The first thing that needs to be done away with is protected picks. If a team trades away their first-round draft pick they should trade their first round draft pick. Not trade it with stipulations that if it is a higher pick they get to keep it. That is the risk you take for trading away your pick. If a team trades their pick and it ends up being a top pick, they have to deal with the consequences of it.
The second thing I would do is give every team that does not make the playoffs one ball in the lottery, thus initially giving them an equal chance to win. I would then take the last six weeks of the regular season and give every team that ends up outside of the playoffs a chance to increase the number of lottery balls.
This would happen by handing out one extra ball for every win acquired during that period, giving non-playoff teams an incentive to play hard throughout the entire regular season. As a result, the lottery would give these teams a reason to stay competitive throughout the season.
Fans who attend late-season games will then be able to cheer for their team to win rather than hoping for a loss and a better chance at a top player.