Bad news hit the wire Thursday for the half of the league seeking lottery reform. In an interview with the Boston Globe, commissioner Adam Silver stated the league would ‘retain the NBA’s draft lottery system indefinitely’. Silver cited the uncertainties surrounding the upcoming huge salary cap jumps and how that might affect team-building as the reasoning for tabling the issue until a later date.
When asked how long it’ll be before the lottery system is revisited, Silver said:
“It will be a couple of years. We will have this very significant increase in the cap next year and I think we’ll have a sense then of how our teams react and what sort player movement we see.”
It’s no secret that a large impetus behind the recent push for reform was opposing owners’ anger over Philadelphia’s ultra-aggressive rebuilding process. The Globe article specifically mentions complaints about the 76ers ‘tanking games to improve their chances of a higher lottery pick’ (a mischaracterization of the team, which had a roster built with bottoming out in mind, but never gave less than 100 percent on the court). For their efforts, the Sixers have finished with the second-worst overall record each of the last two years, but still fell to third in both draft lotteries.
However, despite vexation over tanking running rampant, a significant portion of the league has still repeatedly chosen to stick with the status quo. Just last October, the league voted down an amended lottery proposal which would’ve flattened out the lottery odds, only receiving 17 of the needed 23 ‘yes’ votes (the Sixers were on the ‘no’ side). Another similar proposal was rumored in league circles back in April, but didn’t even get so far as an official vote. In it, the league would’ve drawn the top six picks (instead of the current top three), while again flattening the odds, as listed below (per lotterybucket.com).
Now, I know what you’re thinking. No lottery reform for at least a few more years is great for the Sixers, right? Maybe not.
As you can see above, sticking with the current system is only beneficial for the worst three teams. Having added Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas to promising pieces like All-Rookie First Team member Nerlens Noel and Rising Stars participant Robert Covington, it’s entirely possible the Sixers don’t fall in the bottom three this season. Next year, with as many as four first-round picks arriving, in addition to the possible additions of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, it’d be downright surprising if the team wasn’t at least in the back half of the lottery. The higher the Sixers finish, the more they’ll wish the lottery system had flattened out from the current top-heavy [bottom-heavy?] structure.
Moreover, an even bigger reason reform might have helped the Sixers concerns the pick swaps the team acquired from the Kings as part of the Stauskas deal. Philadelphia has the right to exchange spots with Sacramento in both 2016 (assuming Sacramento’s pick is top 10 and doesn’t convey to Chicago) and 2017. With the Kings expected to be bad, but not quite among the absolute dregs of the league, the reformed system would’ve benefited the Sixers by providing a much higher chance of the Kings’ pick moving up to one of the top spots.
For instance, let’s say the Sixers finish the season with the fourth-worst record and the Kings with the eight. Under the reformed system, the Sixers would’ve possessed a 19.0% chance at the first overall pick. Now, under those same circumstances, they would have just 14.7% odds. Obviously, the closer to rock bottom the Sixers fall, the more this argument falls apart, but you get the picture.
When it comes down to it, there’s really no perfect system for how to organize a draft lottery that won’t upset at least some portion of the league. Different structures create different inflection points around where teams can gain additional value, and it’s up to individual organizations to work around them as best as they can. It’s simply ironic that after teams railed for reform because of Philadelphia’s rebuilding methods, the Sixers themselves might have benefited from a change.