As long as the current draft lottery system remains in place, tanking will be a viable (albeit unsightly) business strategy for the NBA's have nots.
This is a superstars' league not only in marketing, but also in practice.
Those same players driving TV ratings are also the ones raising championship banners. In fact, if a superstar can't deliver a title, we often wonder what's wrong with that player.
It takes a team to win a championship, but a superstar presence makes that pursuit so much easier.
Under this lottery plan, tanking gives hope to the otherwise hopeless members of the basketball world. The Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz aren't inspiring anyone with their on-court performances (combined 14-45 record), but their outlook changes immensely should either land a difference maker from the vaunted 2014 draft class.
It's the way of the NBA world, but does it really have to be like this? Should fans really be forced out onto this delicate high-wire act of cautiously embracing the loss column?
Of course not. It goes against our most basic principles at sports fans.
So how can the league fix this problem? Well, there are a few different options to consider.
The System: According to Grantland.com's Zach Lowe, there's a proposal gaining moderate traction through NBA circles built around a draft wheel:
[This system] 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 are guaranteed one top-six pick every five seasons and one (or more) top-12 pick(s) every four years.
There are different ways to determine where each team starts on the wheel, as well as built-in adjustments should the league expand or contract. It's a pretty fascinating concept—and well worth your reading time—but there are certain costs and benefits to it.
Pros: The tanking problem is completely put to rest. Removing the draft of any attachments to the wins and losses columns leaves franchises solely focused on putting the best product out on the floor.
With each team already knowing the draft order, suddenly draft spots—not just protected picks—can be moved on the trade market. Just imagine how that could reshape the NBA trade deadline.
Teams could even use this information in their approaches toward or pitches in free agency. Knowing that a No. 1 pick is coming could dramatically shift the way a franchise shapes its roster.
Cons: There's a very good chance that the rich get richer and the poor lose all semblance of hope.
If a bad team chooses wrong during its turn at the top of the wheel—or worse, there are no right choices available—then that team could stay bad for a long time. Similarly, already stacked rosters could become even more dangerous just because the wheel grants them a top pick.
This could even impact how top prospects decide their futures. If the No. 1 player sees a team like Milwaukee at the top of the draft board and Miami sitting in that same spot a year later, they could decide that another year of seasoning is worth the wait.
The System: Remove the league's worst teams from the lottery process.
A bit harsh, perhaps, but here the NBA could preclude a certain number of cellar dwellers (bottom three, bottom five even) from having any chance in the draft lottery. The remaining teams (11 or nine, depending on where the NBA makes that break) are then weighted on a reverse order of the standings.
Pros: Tanking isn't just no longer an option, it's actually harmful to a franchise.
Fans of basement teams actually have a reason to tune into all 82 games on the schedule—and it doesn't involve cheering for the opposition. If there's a small gap separating the low end of the league standings, suddenly previously unwatchable April games actually become compelling contests.
Winning is rewarded. Teams will have earned their shots at top picks, not stumbled into them after months of proving just how bad they can be.
Cons: Relief is even harder to come by for the league's afterthoughts.
It's not as if the bottom of the standings is typically occupied by free-agent destinations. These are often organizations that struggle to recruit talent, and now their one true shot at landing a star is lost.
Not every bad team is tanking. Some of them are just simply bad.
With nothing better than a No. 4 pick (or worse) to reverse their fortunes, these teams can be trapped in decades of misery.
The System: It's as simple as it sounds and perhaps capable of producing even more scenes like the one pictured above.
Right now, lottery odds are weighted toward the teams with the worst records. The team with the worst overall record (assuming there are no ties) holds a 25 percent chance of landing the top pick. The 14th ranked team (the best of the worst) has just a 0.05 percent chance of taking home the biggest prize.
Some teams have beaten those odds, like Derrick Rose's Chicago Bulls in 2008, but this would give decent teams a better shot at landing the top talent.
This system would remove those weights. Each of the 14 non-playoff teams would have 1-in-14 odds for all 14 lottery picks. A "bottom-floor" rule could still be in place—a cutoff point where records, not lottery pulls determine the remaining order—but moved down to the sixth overall pick, instead of its current position at the No. 4 slot.
Pros: Again, rewards for losing are (largely) removed. Teams that battle but fall just short of a playoff berth aren't punished for remaining competitive. The temptation to tank, while not fully removed, is greatly diminished.
The draft lottery becomes even more exciting as 14 fanbases enter the night with an equal opportunity to secure the top pick. The two additional lottery-determined picks gives decent teams a better chance of leaving the event with something sweet and forces the worst of the worst into some sleepless nights.
Cons: There's an even more frightening prospect than tanking—sacrificing a postseason berth.
As it is, landing one of the last playoff berths isn't exactly a gift. This is a top-heavy league where low playoff seeds have often struggled to advance.
Rather than compete for the right to be one of the first teams sent packing, some franchises may opt for a late-season plummet. With increased odds of securing a top-five selection, there is actually an incentive to finishing just outside the playoff picture.
NBA.com's Steve Kerr offered one solution to that problem, writing that "The league could incentivize each of the eight teams that LOSE in the first round of the playoffs by giving them the top eight picks in the second round in descending order by record."
That's one possibility...and a good indication of just how complicated this problem is.
The System: Not unlike the one currently in place, only lottery odds are weighted by five-year samples.
Rather than figuring out which team is the worst in a one-season lens, a team's five-year history determines its chances. Perennially poor teams are rewarded more than a perennial power that's bitten particularly hard by the injury bug in a single season.
Pros: If a team is willing to suffer through five years of incompetence to chase a top prospect, they'll be facing more than just the wrath of the basketball gods. Gate receipts and merchandise sales will be a far worse fate than simply bad karma.
This really separates the bad from the unfortunate. Looking through a five-year lens spotlights which teams truly need assistance and which ones are just the victims of a down year.
For those franchises that just haven't enjoyed any lottery luck, this increases their odds of shaking that curse.
Cons: This makes it extremely difficult to end an era.
Take the San Antonio Spurs for instance. Let's say Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich all walk away in the near future, and the players left behind can't capture that same magic. It will be a while before their lottery odds reflect this unfamiliar franchise calling the Alamo City home.
I'm not sure forcing teams to keep championship windows open that don't really exist is really an ideal scenario.
The System: Imagine for a moment that these freshmen phenoms dominating the college basketball landscape weren't destined to join a team replete of NBA talent. Rather, they'd have their services available to the highest bidder, not unlike what happens when their college peers join the real world.
College stars aren't draft prospects, they're free agents. When they declare their intentions to join basketball's biggest stage, they're free to align with whichever franchise they desire.
There would have to be some logistical aspects to be worked out first—a cap on rookie spending would almost certainly have to be put in place—but it would give these prodigies more control over their futures than they have ever had.
Pros: The NBA embraces the idea of being a member of the business sect. Rising stars have the opportunity to choose their basketball homes, and the methods behind those decisions could change by the player.
Maybe one finds a situation that best fits his skills. Maybe one is searching for a chance at the spotlight, while another is after a winning program that allows him time to grow. Some might opt to stay at home, while others would just as soon move thousands of miles away from it.
The point is that it would be decided by the individual. That is how the rest of the working world operates, after all.
Cons: The talent gap could grow to uncontrollable measures.
Maybe I'm in the minority, but if I'm entering my 20s and staring at millions, I'm not looking at starting my career in Charlotte. Or Milwaukee. Or Minnesota.
I could easily have this all wrong. No one knows exactly what drives these players.
But this seems like a system that would cater to big-market franchises...even more then this league already does.