No one likes the draft lottery, but what do you replace it with?

January 18, 2014 

David Stern just held his last major news conference as NBA commissioner, coinciding with the league holding a regular-season game between the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets in London.

Stern acknowledged, somewhat grudgingly it sounded, the draft-lottery system might need some “tinkering.”

That would fall on deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who will succeed Stern over the next few weeks. And almost any change the league made regarding the lottery would probably be a popular decision.

Every year someone feels ripped off; certainly Charlotte Bobcats fans felt that way in the spring of 2012 when a 7-59 season resulted not in the first pick, but in No. 2.

In fairness to Stern, there were legitimate reasons, unique to pro basketball, to institute the draft lottery. One great player – particularly a great center – can change the fortunes of a franchise in the NBA far more reliably than in football, baseball or hockey.

There was legitimate concern teams would throw away entire seasons for the opportunity to draft a Tim Duncan or a Shaquille O’Neal. The league felt the only way to protect its integrity was to make the order at the top of each draft random.

They tweaked this by turning it into a weighted process so the worst non-playoff teams would have the best chance at one of the top three picks.

But at the end of the day, the lottery satisfies no one. Teams desperate for help, like the Bobcats were, feel cheated. And the league’s integrity hasn’t really been safeguarded because of the widespread belief – legitimate or not – certain teams are tanking this season just to get into the lottery because the richness of the 2014 class.

Tanking, to me, has always been a weird subject. I don’t think it’s nearly as widespread, or as reliable, as the Internet implies.

Players don’t tank – it goes against their nature. Coaches don’t tank – it gets them fired. So the only possible culprit, if tanking really happens, is front offices. I guess if you don’t spend money on your roster’s depth and hold out injured players beyond what’s necessary, the front office can manipulate a bad record. But frankly that just ticks off a large portion of your fan base.

And the lottery – at least allegedly – makes tanking pointless.

Is there a better way? I don’t have any grand ideas. There’s reportedly a proposal floating around the league where the NBA would rotate the draft order every year regardless of the preceding season’s standings.

I don’t like that. I think you have to find some way to compensate teams for bad seasons. Going 20-62 the year a franchise is scheduled to draft 30th would really try fans’ patience.

Like I said, I don’t have a solution. I just know there are few things about the NBA that seem to annoy fans more than the draft lottery.

5 passing thoughts on the Bobcats and the NBA

•  I thought Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young got off kind of easy with a one-game suspension for throwing a punch in a game against the Phoenix Suns. He looked pretty out of control, and multiple games could easily have been justified.

•  This business between J.R. Smith and the New York Knicks is amusing. Untying opponents’ sneakers is right out of The Three Stooges. Then he acts up toward coach Mike Woodson, and Woodson sits him against the Bobcats. The Knicks should have known giving Smith a three-year guarantee was just enabling his chronic immaturity.

•  I sense from my email there’s an expectation among Bobcats fans the team make a significant trade in the next few weeks to improve the playoff chances. My question is: What can they afford to give up that another team might want? Other than Ben Gordon’s expiring contract (and those deals are complex to pull off), not much.

•  Speaking of trade value, I doubt reserve center Bismack Biyombo has much. Teams might not think he’s worth the $4 million the Bobcats are obligated to pay him next season. If I was a general manager with flickering interest in Biyombo, I’d just wait until he hits the open market.

•  The Bobcats better win at least two of four this week because that West Coast trip starting at the end of the month – Nuggets, Lakers, Suns and Warriors – looks rough.

Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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