Change is on the horizon for the NBA draft lottery, and we have the Philadelphia 76ers to thank.
Actually, we owe our gratitude (or rancor, depending on your perspective) not so much to what the Sixers have done over the past two seasons, but to their honesty about how they've done it.
Philly has maximized the current incentive structure in the NBA—you know, the one that rewards winners of a race to the bottom with a great shot at the No. 1 overall selection.
If the organization hadn't been so forthright about tanking as part of its long-term rebuilding plan, it's hard to imagine lottery reform becoming such a hot topic.
Per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, the Sixers aren't happy about what's coming:
The rough draft of this plan was met with opposition by 76ers management, which is in the midst of a multiseason rebuilding project that is dependent on a high pick next year. The 76ers, sources said, are hoping to get the NBA to delay the plan's implementation for at least a year because it would act as a de facto punishment while just playing by the rules that have been in place.
The NBA is sending a couple of messages here, the first of which is that it no longer wants teams to aggressively pursue the absolute worst record in the league. The second is that it prefers the old-school brand of duplicitous tanking—disguised and described as rebuilding—to the Sixers' unabashed, "we're gunning for the top pick, and we're cool with it" approach.
Per Grantland's Zach Lowe, the league's latest proposal would "squeeze the lottery odds at either extreme toward a more balanced system in which all 14 teams have a relatively similar chance at the No. 1 pick."
The upshot is that the team with the worst overall record would go from having a 25 percent chance at the top selection to an 11 percent chance, odds shared by the teams finishing with the second-, third- and fourth-worst records.
This isn't a perfect fix, and it could incentivize other, more troubling forms of tanking. In addition, it would punish the Sixers for playing by the rules. In legal terms, Philly has detrimentally relied on the system in place.
The league is dead set on eliminating tanking, though, particularly the kind Philly has engaged in recently. But maybe there are other ways to achieve that end.