We interrupt the incredibly lame attempts of the Philadelphia 76ers and other alleged NBA teams to embarrass the game of basketball and rip off its fans with a horrid, pathetic, dog-breath, F-League product designed to improve their draft lottery status to bring you an important message.
There is a way to stop the consumer fraud that fans have been made to witness this season in a way that it won’t happen like this again. Ever.
Commissioner Adam Silver may not want to refer to the 76ers’ record streak of 26 consecutive losses (and counting) as tanking – “rebuilding,” he sugar-coats it — but whatever you call it, it just plain stinks for the league and the people who are expected to spend valuable time and hard-earned money to support it. At least the new commish acknowledges something needs be done about it. He says the brains that be will consider several ideas in the months ahead.
Call off the search. The solution is so easy that even a cavemen can figure it out. Or even a Kaman, for that matter.
When the then Basketball Association of American originated the draft in 1947, it did so to boost the less talented teams. (Tell your friends that the Pittsburgh Ironmen had the first pick ever, and you can win some bar bets.) While the draft could be beneficial at times, it was not a quick fix because many of the best athletes played other pro sports and the black ones were limited in number. Pro hoops were in their infancy, far down the sports food chain. Franchises counted almost exclusively on gate revenues to stay afloat, and general managers and team owners demanded full efforts from the players and themselves to promote the sport and put fannies in the seats.
But the times, they have been a-changin’ since then. Boy, have they ever.
Through the wonders of guaranteed contracts and monstrous television deals, it’s no longer necessary to bring it every night, as they say. Regardless whether Kent Bazemore or Kobe Bryant is on the court, the Los Angeles Lakers will rake in a cool $3.6 billion (repeat: billion) as part of their 20-year agreement with Time Warner Cable, which ensures them a hefty profit even in the most dreadful of times. While no other team in the league boasts that kind of financial security, even bottom-enders can afford to dump assets, play mostly career back-ups and college-aged kids and lose as many games as necessary to enhance their place in the draft order.
So why not flip the script?
I say it’s time to think outside the box and reward the non-playoff qualifiers who try the hardest and perform the best in the regular season. That’s right, give the best chance to secure the No. 1 pick in the draft to the team that actually wins the most games. In other words, rank the also-rans from 1 to 14 based on win percentage, highest to lowest, not the other away around as has been done for more than a half century.
(Slap forehead here.)
In reverse order of record, each non-playoff team would receive one ping-pong ball for each spot in the standings, i.e., the one with the best record would have 14 chances out of a possible 105, the next in line would have 13 and so forth. That would leave the top seed with a 13.3 percent chance to secure the No. 1 pick, while the lowest one would have slightly less than a 1.0 percent chance. The 16 playoff teams would be slotted at Nos. 15 to 30 in reverse order of record as they are now.
The system offers two major advantages. Because it no longer pays to lose, tankers become all but obsolete. And it allows for two races in one season, which is no small consideration from a sales and marketing standpoint. While the playoff teams compete for the league championship, the others play for their own prize – the No. 1 pick in the draft. That increases the number of meaningful games after the All-Star break, which in turn boosts attendance in the dog days of spring. Now fans of the non-playoff teams have a reason to follow them from start to finish, even root for them to win every game.
According to the odds, there’s how the draft lottery order would have stacked up at the All-Star break this season (record in parentheses): 1. Memphis Grizzlies (29-23); 2. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-28); 3. Denver Nuggets (24-27); 4. New Orleans Pelicans (23-29); 5. Detroit Pistons (22-30); 6. New York Knicks (20-32); 7. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-33); 8. Utah Jazz (19-33); 9. Boston Celtics (19-35); 10. Lakers (18-34); 11. Sacramento Kings (18-35) 12. Orlando Magic (16-38); 13. 76ers (15-39); 14. Milwaukee Bucks (9-43).
Relax, Brew Town. Your counterfeit Bucks wouldn’t leave empty-handed for all the lousy basketball that it has played this season, as the team with the worst record could draft no lower than 14th overall. (Hey, that’s where Yinka Dare was taken, I’ll have you know!) I bet they’d get a move on if they knew 60-plus losses would probably get them no better than a mid-first round draft pick. Think the die-hards who paid $19.70 to sit in the Bob Uecker seats at the Bradley Center would have appreciated that this season?
No system can be perfect, and I’m not naïve enough to believe this one is, either. Some would contend that this format defeats the purpose of the draft, that the Grizzlies aren’t bad enough to have the inside track on the top pick. But would you rather reward hard-earned mediocrity or abject failure, premeditated in many cases? The Grizz have tried to do it the right way. It’s not their fault that they’re stuck in a conference that’s tougher than a two-headed bull pit. Besides, the lottery favorite (or co-favorite) wound up with the top pick only twice in the last 23 drafts, so Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins might not be their parting gift, anyway. If they did come away with either one, then bully for them. That’s what hard work can get you.
While drastically fewer in number, tankers wouldn’t be eliminated all together. Every so often, a bubble team might want to slide into the lottery race one rather than face almost certain elimination in round one of the playoffs.
For instance, this season the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks would have decisions to make down the stretch. Should they shoot for the final playoff berth and face either the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat out of the gate? Or would they rather have the roughly 1-in-8 chance to secure the top pick in the draft? Yet if they chose to lay down, it would come at a price – the loss of at least two home playoff dates and the revenue that went with them. Personally, I’d take my lumps along with the playoff experience and a draft pick that was no worse than 14th overall.
I like this scenario better . . .
It’s April 16, the final night of the regular season. A handful of playoff teams are in position to move up or down in the draft order. In years past, they would FedEx the final game to the league office in front of sitting room-only crowd of families, friends and mistresses. But now, even at this late date, they play their regulars in an attempt to win the game. Because it doesn’t pay to lose accidentally on purpose any more.
Reward effort, punish apathy. Imagine that.