Raptors & NBA draft: time to stop rewarding failure?

There’s been a lot of discussion about how to improve the NBA Draft. Here’s a suggestion intended to slow down teams which blatantly tank.

Sometimes idea come from strange places. I stumbled across an article in the Sacramento Bee about how bad the Kings have been in the past decade. Are you surprised to receive confirmation of your suspicion that the NBA’s worst team is in central California? Neither am I.

Elsewhere I’ve been perusing some of the boatload of suggestions about how to improve the NBA Draft process. For years, the draft has functioned in two parts:

  • 14 non-playoff teams are in the Lottery, with the worst team having the best chance at winning the #1 selection, the second-worst the second-best, etc.
  • 16 playoff teams ranked in reverse order of their regular-season record

OK, that seems to be a reasonable concept…bad teams have the best chance to turn around their fortunes by selecting the top amateurs, while strong teams pick over the remainders.

There’s only one problem: the gap between theory and practice is huge, and we need look no further than the Kings. Since 2007, they have had eleven picks in the lottery, plus one more (Omri Casspi) in the first round. Yet they are still stuck in the mud.

Contrast that with the Toronto Raptors. In the same period, the Raptors have had five lottery picks, three of whom (D. DeRozan, J. Valanciunas, J. Poeltl) are still on the roster of a team sitting first in the Eastern Conference.

Why should the NBA continue to reward incompetence?

Here’s a tweak I’d like to see. If a team finishes outside the playoffs in five of their last seven seasons, they are ineligible for the lottery. Instead they are compelled to flip their pick after its position been determined using the ping-pong balls. The prized selection would be conveyed to a team which has not “earned” (i.e., not traded for) a lottery pick in five of their last seven seasons, in other words, a consistent playoff-grade squad. If there’s more than one team in each category, cool – have a televised coin flip, or something similar.

TORONTO, ON – December 17: DeMar DeRozan & Willy Cauley-Stein

I’m not going to fuss over the inevitable and probably countless “what if…?” scenarios that could be constructed. I’m more concerned with the principle I’m trying to push, which is that poorly managed teams shouldn’t forever be granted another reprieve. Penalize them!

One benefit would be less tanking. It’s damaging to the credibility of the league when too many teams have given up. If that puts me at odds with the Trust The Process folks in Philadelphia, too bad. The flip side of this tweak (N.B.: it’s a tweak, folks – I don’t want to burn down the house, just move some furniture around) is a potential major reward for well-run teams like the Raptors, Spurs, Rockets and Warriors.

What’s the timing?

My suggestion is impossible to implement for the upcoming Draft in June, and there would probably need to be another grace-period season before it could go into force. But that’s OK, because the counting can start immediately. Returning to the Kings, they would be stripped of their pick in 2020 (the first year of my tweak) should they continue their futility in 2018-19. Sadly for their long-suffering fans, that’s almost certain to be the case.

The Raptors would likely be one of several teams eligible for the enforced swap, which would certainly lend an air of excitement to the Lottery.

What do you think, Rapture Nation?