The NBA Draft and General Manager Class Struggle
That's why it's troubling when you get economists, cultural provocateurs, and just general smart-alecks suggesting we reform the draft -- specifically, the lottery -- on a macro level to reflect a more rational view of sports. There's the down-and-dirty "make the worst teams play a single-elimination tournament to win the top picks" plan; behind the other door, the more theoretical "throw every team in there," which dispatches altogether with the loss-based distinctions.
This second model presumes that bad teams lose their (imagined) incentive to lose, and if the rich get richer, well, the overall quality of play has been higher throughout the season. It's worth noting that this is total opposite of the NFL draft system, where players' innate refusal to lose means that a straight record-based draft supposedly makes tanking unthinkable.
In practical terms, this is a farce. For all of ours sakes, bad teams need reinforcements; bad teams playing harder makes less of an impact on the league than bad teams made better with magic. But there's another aspect to consider in this debate, and that's the gulf between lottery GMs and those who stay sheltered by their playoff success. As far as tough jobs go, there's no contest.
Maybe there is a lesson to be learned if, say, the Lakers were to end up with John Wall? Life is random, and sometimes, it really sucks. We could just flip the standings and get the draft order from that, which would hammer home the message that either 1) life is suffering or 2) you get what you deserve. Never have Buddhism and the Protestant Ethic been such bosom buddies.
But for the NBA to reach great heights, the lousy must flourish. There simply must be a redistribution of wealth. Taking it a step further, good teams should even be forced to take on some bad players. Let see how divine Phil Jackson really is (that, my friends, would be Communistic). Or, we could force theses teams to make tough picks and earn some respect. The talent upgrade, far from a given, would be the devil's bargain they enter into.
Plain and simple, the NBA draft is a minefield. Throwing someone out there year after year, especially without the luxury of picking top three, is going to make for some high-profile mess-ups.
Very often, it's impossible to tell whether it's the GM, player, or coach who is at fault. But the GM bears the brunt; he's the face of the front office, and is the guy who has to drag himself back into the war room a a year later with blood on his hands. Someone like Elgin Baylor built up a reputation as failure, a loser, based on the Clippers picks. The Kevin Pritchard Effect cuts both ways -- a guy like former Bucks GM Larry Harris picked Andrew Bogut (took a while, could have had Chris Paul or Deron Williams) and Yi Jianlian (could have at least gone with Joakim Noah) in an attempt to rebuild, and was out before the 2008 draft.
Contrast these two faces of same with the all-but invisible GM's of perennial playoff teams. How often is Mitch Kupchak judged? There's been a glut of big moves over the last couple of seasons, so Danny Ferry, Steve Kerr, Otis Smith, and Donnie Nelson, to name a few, have all been thrust out into the spotlight. Still, Danny Ainge stays riding high off of the Big Three, the Denver front office gets kudos just for having secured Chauncey Billups, and Joe Dumars is a genius despite not having made a decent move in years.
All these things are relative, and the truly dorky are all over these executives for the tweaks they make to gain an edge. The point, though, is that a couple strong moves can put a team in the playoffs, and the GM out of the public eye, for years. The lottery is a like being marched in front of the jury of public opinion, year after year.
Shouldn't everyone have to face that horror? Or, Q McCall put it, "isn't it on them to keep themselves out of this position?" Now that's another form of motivation, if only for one small cog in the organizational equation. Rather than making bad teams be good to prove they want to get better, these GMs should do their jobs better -- not for higher picks, but for the luxury of not having to make high-pressure picks.
That's also when they graduate to pursuing famous free agents and climbing the ladder in the playoffs. Which, presumably, is why they signed on in the first place.