The NBA Draft Lottery is Broken, and Needs Fixing

“Tanks” for nothing Adam Silver.

The 17-65 New York Knicks finished with the second worst record in the NBA, but will receive the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft due to the NBA’s lottery system. Much to the dismay of Knicks fans, the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers leapfrogged the Knickerbockers to grab the second and third selections in the upcoming draft, despite having superior records.

The current lottery system has been in place since 1990, and has been agitating, as well as exciting certain fans, ever since its first year. Just four times over the 25 years has the worst team actually gotten the number one selection. Teams have seen their franchises take a turn for the worse repeatedly due to the lottery. The glaring issue with the lottery is more than that though. It is completely ineffective and useless.

One of the apparent purposes of the draft lottery is to prevent tanking. Clearly, that has not happened. Just ask Sam Hinkie what he’s been doing the past three seasons, or look at what the Knicks did at the trade deadline this season. Tanking still is a major problem in the league, and the lottery has done absolutely nothing to fix that. If anything, it encourages tanking.

With a traditional draft setup, a borderline playoff team would know they are locked in with a mid range, 10-14 selection. With that in mind, they could continue to fight for a playoff spot as it would not impact their draft spot much. Instead, with a lottery, these teams can fall back in the standings to at least give themselves a shot at a high pick.

A scenario like that actually has played out before too. In 1993, the Orlando Magic went 41-41, the same record as the 8 seed Indiana Pacers. They just missed the playoffs due to a tie breaker, clearly being a borderline playoff team. They already had franchise cornerstones such as rookie of the year Shaquille O’Neal, Scott Skiles, and Nick Anderson on the roster, and really could have solidified themselves as a playoff team with the continued growth of O’Neal the next season.

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Instead, they jumped ten spots to the number one pick, adding future Rookie of the Year and five time All Star Chris Webber. They then traded him for Penny Hardaway and made the NBA Finals the next season.

So, the 41-41 Orlando Magic jumped the historically bad 11-71 Dallas Mavericks who had missed the playoffs for five straight years and desperately could have used Webber to turn their franchise around. The lottery decided to not be so kind, and screw the Mavs over.

Even more recently, the Cleveland Cavaliers made two similar giant leaps to the top. In 2011, they had the 8th best odds at 32-50, but still rose 7 spots to pass up the 17-65 T-Wolves, eventually drafting Kyrie Irving. If Minnesota had gotten Irving, they could be a completely different team right now. Adding Irving could have convinced superstar Kevin Love to remain a Timberwolf, and create a young, exciting duo in the Western Conference with Irving and Love.

Cleveland struck gold again in last years lottery, having a 33-49 record (9th worst), jumping the 15-67 Milwaukee Bucks for the top pick. They already had All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Luol Deng, as well as rising stars such as Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. They also were fully aware that LeBron James, the best player in the NBA, would consider rejoining this Cavaliers team.

On the other hand, The Milwaukee Bucks were devoid of any talent, had low attendance, and were threatened with having to move out of Milwaukee. Andrew Wiggins was tracked as a future NBA great since High School, and the Bucks missed their chance to fix many problems despite being by far the worst team in the league.

One last instance of a clearly more deserving team missing out is the 2012 draft. The Charlotte Hornets were an atrocious 7-59, the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Anthony Davis was expected to be a franchise changer and go number one. The clearly depleted Hornets though completely missed the mark due to the lottery, screwing them over completely. 

History can not be rewritten, but in both those instances, the clearly inferior team who could have completely changed their franchises outlook was screwed. We can go on and on with instances like this, such as the historically bad and desperate Kings losing out on Blake Griffin or the awful Miami Heat missing out on Derrick Rose.

No sport is impacted more by one player than the NBA is. A team could go from rags to riches with just one star player overnight. With the worst teams in the league continually being swindled out of the top pick, it is just encouraging more and more tanking to try and finally win the lottery.

Chicago Now
A lot of the reason why the lottery is still around also has to do with greed. The NBA is in the headlines basically all year. The season stretches from late October to mid June. Right after the season ends, we have the NBA draft, then free agency throughout July. After free agency, the Orlando and Las Vegas summer league’s start and finish in late July, before training camp and the preseason take us back to the beginning of the yearly cycle. The NBA makes enough money being a multi-billion dollar corporation, and the dragged out, elaborate lottery show is completely unnecessary.

This is not about a Knicks fan being bitter (well, maybe a little). This is a flawed system that must change now. Adam Silver has already ushered in major changes, such as expanding the All-Star Break, adding extra rest days throughout the season, and banning Donald Sterling for life. He has shown a willingness to be an innovator to improve the game, and fixing the lottery is the next logical step.

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