The NBA as the real world
Can you imagine how the restrictive parameters of the NBA draft would play out in any other business? Would we tell the a once-in-a-lifetime engineering grad who wants to negotiate a position and salary at the top tech firm in the Silicon Valley, "No, actually, you're required to work for the sector's laughingstock, a company managed by incompetents with no clear vision of the future -- at a fixed salary that's set by a third party." Yet this is the governing philosophy every spring when the NBA distributes members of the incoming draft class to the league's 30 teams.
Right now, most experts have Kentucky big man Anthony Davis slated as the best prospect in the upcoming draft. He is a transcendent presence on the floor with extrasensory defensive instincts. Davis will have almost no right to negotiate his salary. He won't be allowed to choose the city he lives in, his bosses, his co-workers, the facilities where he plies his craft, the team training staff who will take care of his body or the corporate culture of the place. Barring a dramatic trade, Davis will likely be rewarded to a franchise that's failed miserably this past season -- and possibly one that's failed strategically in an effort to secure his services.
The privilege of choice
We have no idea where Davis would like to work if given a voice in the matter. Is the Chicago kid someone who wants to stay close to family, even if it means taking less money or playing in a small market like Milwaukee? Would he and his representatives approach the Heat, the big dogs in the East who could use a center, even though Miami couldn't offer the money or touches Houston could? Maybe there's an NBA coach who dazzles him with the power of persuasion, or a team that could pair him with a dynamic point guard, like Cleveland. Then again, maybe Davis just wants to go where he can make the most money -- playing time, viability, co-workers and geography be damned.
On the other side of the equation, teams like the Rockets or Suns won't even have the opportunity to make a pitch to Davis. Neither Houston nor Phoenix can be fairly characterized as a serious contender this year but, rather than tanking, both teams decided to put a competitive product on the floor every night for their fans. Even though Houston and Phoenix could each use a frontcourt presence like Davis, by outperforming expectations and generally trying to win basketball games, neither can bid for his services.
This is Houston's reward for finding diamonds in the rough like Chandler Parsons and identifying, acquiring, then locking up a previously obscure player like Kyle Lowry. Observers have chided Phoenix for hanging onto a franchise legend like Steve Nash (who still ranks as one of the league's most efficient point guards). Why? Because Nash makes the Suns too competitive, thereby sullying their chances to sink to the bottom of the standings where they could vie for a top pick this June.
Instead, chances are Davis will land with Charlotte, New Orleans or one of the other teams racing to the bottom of the standings. These doormats know the best way to secure elite talent at below market value is to lose as many games as possible to increase their odds in the NBA lottery.
What can be done?
These disincentives and inefficiencies have been well-documented, so what's the remedy? How can we create an NBA that better approximates life in the real world, where the most competently run companies can tout their reputations to attract the most skilled prospects, and where those prospects get to consider the factors that are most important to them as they mull over where they'd like to work?
The league could institute their own "National Match," where teams and players were wed based on mutual interest. The NBA could have teams bid on draft slots. Some have proposed an auction system used by many fantasy sports leagues, in which a prospect is assigned to the highest bidder.