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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Latest idea on fixing the lottery good for debate, bad for game


Posted Dec 31, 2013 12:04 PM

The latest idea, which thankfully became public with April Fool's Day far in the distance to avoid confusion, is to put the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft on a schedule, ensuring every team would have the pick at some point in the future regardless of record. So maybe a franchise wins the title and a few days later the front office, still stinking of a champagne shower, goes first in the draft.

It gets better. Not only would management and fans be raging over the current problem of veterans arranging rosters via free-agent scheming, but under the new plan, prospects in college would have the potential to choose their pro destination by just waiting a year or so to enter the draft. That would be a very realistic manipulation of the system, if the latest idea ever came to life. Not that a 19 year old receiving (cough, cough) unofficial advice from an agent would ever dream of it.

Some NBA people searching for a solution to the lottery predicament have devised a revolutionary plan -- as revealed by former Suns executive Steve Kerr in a piece on NBA.com and recently flushed out by Zach Lowe of Grantland.com -- that would create more problems than it would solve. Worse, the proposal, while admirable for at least trying to counter the possibility that teams lose on purpose to get good draft picks, has initial support from "some high-level NBA officials," according to Lowe, and may be presented to owners in 2014. We have the first bad idea of 2014, in other words.

In the proposed new system, teams will be slotted into a different spot every June regardless of the finish the previous season, establishing who gets the No. 1 choice (and every other selection in the first round) for the next 30 years.

Protecting picks would be a thing of the past because the order would be pre-determined. If the Suns had a youth movement going in summer 2023, for example, and traded a veteran power forward to the Pacers for the long-term payback of players and a first-rounder in 2024, no provision would be necessary to state Indiana keeps the selection another year if it lands in the top 15. The Indy draft real estate would be established long in advance with no alterations based on the just-completed season.

It would remove even the perception of tanking, which would be a win for the league.And it would potentially impact all the way to hiring coaches and general managers. A top candidate, for example, may not be as anxious to take on a major renovation project if he knows the team has picks 25, 23 and 14 the next three drafts, one of the back-to-back-to-backs in the idea detailed by Grantland.com. The impact will be so dramatic that the effects go far beyond the order.

"I still want to learn more about it, but I see a lot of good in it," one scout told NBA.com. "It has possibilities."

What problems, though.

Locked into a plan for 30 years? Good luck trying to get out of that one after six or eight years if it is proven to be a bad idea. The teams that mostly rode the back of the train will just be so thrilled to find out they had been waiting for nothing. And even if the idea works and continues: 30 years! There could be possible dramatic changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, world shifts in the economy, maybe even a work stoppage that could mess up the plan. Expansion or contraction would be easy adjustments compared to some issues over the horizon. Too much can change in 30 years to not have the flexibility to eject.

Also, you'll want to be somewhere else the first time a very good team, whether the NBA champion or even a consistent favorite for a conference crown, moves to the front of the draft line. Ug-ly. One bit of bad timing, however much of a fluke, is a big problem when the plan is decades long.

College stars, and maybe high school superstars again at some point, would be among the biggest winners. A player with a clear path to No. 1 might not like the destination that year and wait for a team that he sees coming 12 months later. It could obviously work in reverse when a prospect declares because he prefers several organizations choosing in the top five over the potential landing spots with a wait. Either way, it's manipulating the system and could be another blow to cities that lack the appeal of other locations.

"People of influence around the player could really impact the outcome of the draft," said a general manager, echoing a concern shared by many. "It's really going to hurt small-market teams."

There is always the other way to discourage teams from considering tanking: Show them it doesn't work. Since the lottery changed to the current format in 1992, the club that finished with the worst record (or tied for the worst) has drawn No. 1 only three times. And, remember, even landing a top pick, or a top three pick, is no guarantee. Very rarely will a club risk flushing an entire season for the right to, say, the equivalent of a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Derek Williams, Evan Turner or Hasheem Thabeet.

This whole debate has been renewed partly because the class of 2014 is one of rare depth. The building excitement of a crowded field topped by Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid and Marcus Smart is a great thing. But perspective still matters. Many times in the past, even after teams beat long odds to win, front offices did not propose so much as a single change to the process.

In the end, one GM, asked if the proposal has any real shot at becoming law, said, "I don't think so. More people I have talked to have not been in support of it." So it could fade into little more than talk.

There's always that hope, that it stays in the debate and out of the rulebook.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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