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NBA to consider changes to draft lottery system

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver makes strongest push yet to end tanking

NBA: Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is recommending changes be made to the NBA Draft Lottery rules that would, in theory at least, work to curb the most egregious tanking practices in today’s NBA, according to an article by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The proposed changes Silver would like to see include giving more teams a chance to move up in the lottery and an evening of the odds at the top of the lottery.

The NBA’s current system weights lottery odds according to a non-playoff team’s final regular season record, with the worst team possessing a 25-percent chance at earning the No. 1 overall pick, the second-worst team possessing a 19.6-percent chance at the No. 1 pick, and so on. During the lottery, only three teams are selected from the pool of 14 eligible teams, with the remaining teams slotted 4-14 based on record.

Silver and the Competition Committee’s proposal would give four teams an opportunity to move up in the lottery instead of the current three (meaning the team with the worst record could fall as far as fifth now instead of fourth) and give the odds for lottery teams with better win-loss records a bump. It would also merge the odds of the three worst teams record-wise, giving each an equal chance at the No. 1 overall selection and in theory eliminating any incentive for a race to the bottom.

Using the recently completed 2017 Draft as an example, the Brooklyn Nets (Boston Celtics), Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Lakers would have each possessed equal odds of earning the No. 1 pick instead of 25 percent, 19.6 percent, and 15.6 percent respectively. Furthermore, a fourth team would have been selected in the lottery after Brooklyn (Boston), Los Angeles, and Philadelphia 76ers were off the board, potentially dropping the Suns to fifth if another team leapfrogged them.

Another interesting idea floated by the committee itself is preventing any team from selecting in the top 3 in consecutive drafts. Again using 2017 as an example, that would mean Boston, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Philadelphia could pick no higher than fourth in 2018. (Since it is still an idea, it is unclear how this rule would apply to traded picks.)

The NBA has been defensive about its tanking problem since the 76ers blatant #TrustTheProcess campaign saw former general manager Sam Hinkie field barely competitive teams for years in an effort to accumulate high draft picks for his rebuild, acquiring Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz for the trouble.

Since Philly began its efforts (is effort the right word?), other teams have followed suit by remaining quiet during free agency and resting healthy players despite having nothing to play for. Phoenix was a blatant offender last season, sitting veterans Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler immediately after the All-Star break and resting Eric Bledsoe for the remainder of the season beginning on Mar. 15.

Silver has been reluctant over the years to speak on tanking specifically, usually defaulting to a claim that no team is actively trying to lose. He may be correct that teams aren’t actively throwing games like the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, but it is undeniable that winning has come second to an increasing number of teams, which ultimately hurts the product and NBA brand.

Silver’s recent actions, however, are in stark contrast to his see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil strategy of years past and may finally push the league’s ownership to make meaningful changes to a broken system. That will be no small feat in a climate where small market teams continue to struggle with attracting marquee players via free agency or keeping them once they hit free agency. For many of these teams, their stance is that the draft represents their best opportunity to acquire and retain a franchise player and will be resistant to any changes to that system.

Wojnarowski reports that the NBA’s Competition Committee is scheduled to vote on a formal recommendation next week that could include some, all, or none of the league’s proposed changes to the current lottery system. The full Board of Governors would vote on final approval of the legislation, which could be enacted as early as 2019.