How does the NBA deal with the issue of tanking? Shameful, often agonizing tanking - much like what we saw last season from several teams racing to the bottom to secure more pingpong balls in anticipation of a loaded draft class. A strategy that can force even the most devoted fan bases to openly root against their own team as they cling to a sliver of hope that it will brighten the team's future.
The league tried to find a solution with the latest proposal for lottery reform, but the plan was voted down. 17 teams voted in favor of the new plan, while 13 voted against it. The league required 23 votes in favor in order to pass the lottery reform plan.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports explains the details of how the plan would have worked:
Gone will be a weighted system where the worst team has 25 percent of the pingpong balls for the No. 1 overall pick and a guarantee it'll drop no lower than fourth in the draft. Now, the worst four teams have a 12 percent change at the first pick, No. 5 has an 11.5 percent chance, No. 6, 10 percent, and on down. What's more, the worst team can drop as far as seventh in the draft order, the second worst can drop to No. 8, and so on.
The bottom four teams in the league would all have an equal 35 percent chance of getting a top-three pick, while the fifth worst team would be right behind with a 34 percent chance. As the gap between the odds of the worst teams in the league and the other lottery teams shrinks, so does the incentive to bottom out. The idea was that teams are only willing to put their fans through the misery of a tanking season if they believe it will lead to a drafting a franchise altering cornerstone, so if those odds are dramatically reduced then it would make teams less inclined to do it.
The concept is sound in theory. The league doesn't like when teams like the Philadelphia 76ers blatantly give up on a season before it even starts. With the league's new TV deal on the horizon, it's vital to the NBA and the networks shelling out billions of dollars to produce a compelling product, full of competitive teams. Tanking teams drag down the product, since most fans have no interest in watching those teams stumble their way through the season.
So why did so many teams vote against it? It's clear why a team like the Sixers would be against a change to the lottery odds, given how it complicates their current rebuilding strategy. They aren't the only ones against the idea though - but for other reasons.
One owner tells Yahoo: "Several teams started to wonder about unintended consequences and voted no to be able to do further study."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) October 22, 2014
Unintended consequences? While the proposal may have been initiated with good intentions, it's not without it's flaws.
Issues with lottery reform
The Oklahoma City Thunder were one of the teams that opposed the lottery reform, despite that they seem unlikely to wind up in the lottery anytime soon. Their concerns with this reform were in regards to it's impact on small-market teams that have difficulty drawing free agents. The draft is their most reasonable path to acquiring a superstar player, but the odds would have been lot more difficult for those teams under this new reform proposal. Big-market teams rarely find themselves in the league's basement for very long because they have the resources to climb their way back to at least a level of mediocrity. If the reform had passed, those large markets could have added improved lottery chances to their list of advantages.
The intention of evening out the lottery odds is to take away the incentive for teams to avoid winning games, but couldn't it have the opposite effect? Imagine you're a team in the mix for the 8th seed in a loaded Western Conference. Does it make more sense to go all in to try to earn that last playoff spot, only to be crushed in the first round by one of the juggernauts at the top of the Conference, or to fall back into the lottery? Under the current system, you would almost assuredly prefer a taste of the postseason, no matter how brief. But if those teams that barely miss the playoffs were given an increased chance at a top-three draft pick? Then they would have to at least thinks about it.
There's another way this plan could have backfired. Haven't we been here before? The NBA changed the weighting system for the lottery in 1994, after the Orlando Magic lucked into the top overall pick, despite having the worst odds of any of the lottery teams at 1.52 percent. The lottery was reformed so that the worst team would have a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery (up from 16.67 percent) and the lottery team with the best record would have their chances decreased all the way down to 0.50 percent, with everyone in between being adjusted accordingly. Under this new proposal, those teams that just missed out on the playoffs would have had drastically improved chances of landing a star in the draft. While it may actually be a good thing to reward teams that nearly made the playoffs, if a team like the Knicks or Lakers ended up beating the odds to become an unlikely winner the same way Orlando did two decades ago, you can be sure that several small-market teams would cry out for change.
How does this effect the Celtics?
Considering the Celtics aren't expected to make the postseason this year, they would have likely felt the effects of the lottery reform. Boston is in a unique situation in that they are one of the county's largest markets, with a rich history of success, yet historically they have had difficulty drawing free agents. Boston is a major city, but lacks the bright light appeal of New York. With its cold weather winters and high taxes, most star players that hit free agency give little consideration to joining the Celtics. While they do have a long history of convincing their stars to stay, they still need to get them here first. Picking near the top of the draft or trading high draft picks is their most likely path to finding a star player.
So in the short term this seems to be good news for Boston, as long as you're expecting the Celtics to be among the league's worst teams. Maybe not in the long run though. It should be noted that Boston voted in favor of the reform, despite facing a potentially long rebuilding period.
The Celtics are a young team that will struggle at times this season, but they also have the potential to be a fun team to watch. Fans would have been able to enjoy watching these players develop without being in the uneasy position of feeling like every victory takes the franchise a step further from landing their next franchise player. With the current system remaining in place, we are now faced with the inevitable question of if this team will join the group of tanking teams if they struggle out of the gate.
The current system is flawed and eventually reform will change the way it works. The latest proposal was voted down because there are too many holes in it, but eventually they will come up with another plan. Change can be a positive thing and the NBA deserves credit for their attempts to be innovative. They just need to be careful that their changes don't unintentionally make things worse.