By Scott Tibbs, October 29, 2014
Chris Mannix argues that the NBA made the right decision by voting against draft lottery reform, and he does have a good point. With any change as drastic as this one is, it is inevitable that there will be negative externalities and unintended consequences associated with that change.
The biggest potential problem is how changing the draft lottery to reduce the odds of the worst teams getting the top pick will impact small-market teams. While the Oklahoma City Thunder was the most vocal team in pointing this out, this is a particular item of concern for the Indiana Pacers. The big markets will always have an advantage in building through free agency, while the smaller markets are often forced to rely on the draft.
But while Mannix makes a good argument that the worst team rarely actually gets the #1 pick in the draft, the odds of getting that pick still present a strong incentive to intentionally lose games. When a team knows it has a one in four shot at getting a player that could transform the franchise by having the worst record in the game, it is difficult to pass that up - especially when that team already has a bad roster anyway.
The problem is that when a team is intentionally bad, it harms the integrity of the game and causes the fans to be cynical. Everyone knows that professional wrestling is "fake" in that the outcomes are predetermined. That should not be the case in a real sport with real competition. When a team like the Philadelphia 76ers are intentionally taking, the NBA looks a lot more like World Wrestling Entertainment than a legitimate sport.
Perhaps the proposal that was being considered by the owners was not the best solution, and a modified system can be put in place that will discourage tanking while not making things too difficult for small market teams to build a contender, or at least get into the playoffs. It is sensible to table this reform for the moment and try to build a better system, but the need for reform to preserve the integrity of the game is clear.
See previous articles here and here.