The Rotation is a weekly study on the NBA by one of our All-Star voices. In rotation this week is Brett Edwards.
The Draft Lottery is a convoluted system put in place so that the teams finishing with the worst records in the league don't automatically receive the top picks in the draft (see: the madness of the 2007 lottery). But the lottery is still weighted according to record, meaning it's still to a team's benefit to tank their remaining games once a playoff spot is out of the question. Bad, bad, and more bad.
Take the Miami Heat, for example -- the way they have treated the end of the regular season has been an absolute embarrassment. After compiling the league's worst record and trading away Shaquille O'Neal, the team only played Dwyane Wade 11 more times before shutting him down for the season. More recently, they have also shelved Shawn Marion, whose injuries would probably not have been season-ending if the Heat were still in contention for the playoffs.
Combine all of this with the fact that the team is gleefully auditioning players from the D-League while their head coach skips out to catch some NCAA Tournament action, and one can only come to this very obvious conclusion: the Heat have long ago stopped trying to compete.
And you know what? I can't blame them, because it's not their fault. They're simply working within a system that rewards teams with no playoff aspirations for losing as many games as possible. The system that the NBA uses to hand out draft picks is broken, people. Continue reading for some interesting ways that it can be fixed.
Less ping pong balls for losing. Change the lottery so it's weighted in reverse order, meaning the team with the worst record has the least chance of getting the top pick. You could do this just for say, the bottom three teams and leave the rest intact, or you could do it for all 14 teams in the lottery. Either way, there's no chance of teams going on huge losing streaks to end the season if it's only going to worsen their chances of improving through the draft.
As for the argument of the worst teams not being given a fair opportunity to get better with a top draft pick, please. Teams like the Clippers were perennial lottery winners for years, but through a series of poor decisions, they remained out of the playoffs. Teams like the Spurs have been championship contenders for going on nine years now, and keep the team strong by making smart personnel decisions. The team's General Manager has a lot more to do with whether or not they will improve than their draft position does.
Implement the European system of relegation, and send the four worst teams to the D-League. This one's a bit extreme, but hear me out. In most sports league around the world, teams are forced to compete through the use of a process of promotion and relegation. Basically, teams that finish at the bottom of the standings are demoted to play in a league where the competition isn't as strong, there isn't as much star power, and as a result, the financial rewards for the teams are much smaller. No team's ownership wants to take the extreme financial hit of being relegated to a lower division, so they do whatever they can to compete until the season's end. Seems like a no-brainer, so how could we do this in the NBA?
Send the four worst teams to the D-League. The NBA would benefit from this by having their developmental league infused with some real NBA competition. What better way for players to improve than by playing a portion of their 50-game schedule against rosters filled with NBA talent? It would also dramatically increase attendance numbers, as I'm sure people would turn out to see Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion whoop it up in places like Idaho or Bakersfield. Finally, the NBA teams that were dropped to the D-League would still get to play an 82-game schedule, and 32 of those games could be against teams from the NBA. That way they could still compete against NBA talent and receive some revenue for hosting the league's superstars ... just not nearly as much as they would if they didn't get sent down in the first place.
Are there still like, a million more details to be worked out for this to become a reality? Absolutely, and European expansion will probably happen before something like this does. But you can't tell me it wouldn't be awesome to see D. Wade and the crew chatting up the lovely ladies of Boise in a club the night before a game, so I'm all for it.
Have a postseason tournament for the 14 lottery teams, with the winner receiving the most ping pong balls. This idea was pitched by our own Matt Watson, and it's a fantastic one. Imagine if you will, an NIT-style tournament, where the teams that didn't make the playoffs went into a single elimination tournament, with extra ping pong balls as the grand prize. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? More games at the end of the year means more revenue for the league, and again, rewards winning instead of losing. The only downside I see is that the league may not want to take any focus away from its actual playoffs, but through some creative scheduling I think this could be worked out. And don't forget the added benefit of giving the fans of the tournament's winning team a chance to flash a "We're Number 17!" sign.
So the Heat are the ones blatantly tanking this year, and it was the Celtics and Bucks who were doing it a season ago. The reality is it's going to be someone different every year until the NBA stops rewarding teams for losing.
NBA Draft Lottery Flashback
The NBA Draft Lottery wasn't always so complicated. I'd like to take you back to the simpler days of 1985. A time where David Stern wasn't nearly as jaded, and a time where we had no idea of the craziness going on in the mind of Pat O'Brien.
Back then, the draft order was determined by a drawing, with the logos of the seven teams simply placed in sealed envelopes, to be "randomly" drawn by the commissioner. No ping pong balls, no weighted lottery, just a drawing. Seems like a fairly logical way to go, doesn't it? Except for one thing: many believe the drawing was fixed, in order for the Knicks to end up with the number one pick, who just happened to be Patrick Ewing.
There's the frozen envelope theory, the one that says that the envelope containing the Knicks' logo was frozen overnight, so Stern could easily locate the cold card in the tumbler. But it looks like even that was too complicated, and all that the league might have done was bend a corner of the correct envelope so it could be easily identified by the commissioner. You may have already seen this, but in case you missed it, check out the bent envelope at around the 5:31 mark of the clip. And just to give conspiracy theorists out there another round of ammo, notice how the camera cuts away from Stern at 5:27, so we can't see if he's looking before he reaches in to grab the ... frozen envelope with the bent corner.