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Why the NBA Should Consider Replacing the Draft Lottery with a Tournament

FILE - In this May 21, 2013 file photo, NBA basketball team representatives sit onstage at the start of the NBA draft lottery in New York. The draft lottery is Tuesday, May 20, 2014, a night some teams appeared to be aiming toward for months during a season featuring plenty of talking about tanking. The winner gets the No. 1 pick in next month's draft, when an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker might make all of this season's misery worth it. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)
Associated Press
Randolph CharlotinAnalyst IIJanuary 8, 2017

Change is coming to the NBA lottery. There’s speculation as to what kind of change is coming, but we know the NBA filed an official proposal to reform the lottery.

According to a Grantland report, the changes will adjust the odds for winning a lottery selection as well as increasing the number of lottery selections from the top three to the top six.

Credit commissioner Adam Silver for being open-minded about making changes. He says advertising on game uniforms is "inevitable," and he even floated the idea of a midseason tournament.

Adjusting the lottery odds is a step in the right direction. But when compared to the two ideas above, it’s an incremental change, at best. If Silver really wants to shake up the lottery, he could apply the tournament idea to the lottery.

Instead of rewarding teams for tanking to improve their odds for a top-three selection, teams would have to earn it. Many of the ills that infect franchises gunning for better lottery odds (tanking and one-sided trades) won’t be cured, but it creates new perspectives to remedy an old problem.

With 14 teams out of the playoffs, a double-elimination tournament format would accommodate the non-playoff teams. This is preferred over a best-of series between teams since two teams have byes. A double-elimination tournament would also promote more variety while giving losing teams a second chance to advance.

The worst two teams earn first-round byes. That’s the only way their odds for a top pick are improved.

A complete tournament could be played between 14-21 days. If the tournament was held simultaneously with the NBA playoffs, it would overlap with the first round and part of the second round, at worst.

The National Basketball Players Association likely would oppose this proposal because it adds additional games to the season. The tournament champion could play as many as nine games to win either the first or second overall pick.

If Silver and the NBA reduce the regular season to accommodate a midseason tournament, then those games saved provide the opportunity for this draft tournament. Neither tournament has a chance without a reduced regular season.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Forced to compete for the top selection, there’s little benefit to tanking for a non-playoff team, except a first-round bye.

Teams would also think carefully at the trade deadline. One-sided trades like the Philadelphia 76ers-Indiana Pacers trade this past February would be rare. It’s even possible a team completes a trade to improve its chances in the draft tournament.

A draft tournament doesn’t prevent tanking, though. Teams will still be able to bench key players to ensure their place in the draft tournament. A bigger concern would be borderline playoff teams intentionally missing the playoffs in favor of the draft tournament.

A seventh or eighth seed could tank for the draft tournament instead of a first-round playoff exit. The opportunity to add a potential franchise player is more appealing than a four-game sweep, as the right addition improves the team in subsequent years. While a team still has to earn the top draft selection, some stipulations are needed to discourage such actions.

The draft tournament is just an idea, like the draft wheel and the countless other ideas to improve or replace the draft lottery. It isn’t perfect and will never be, like the numerous suggestions made over the years.

But for anyone who didn’t enjoy the shameless, competitive tanking by several teams last season, any alternative is worth considering.


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