Detroit Pistons: It’s time for the NBA to get rid of the Draft Lottery

People look at the draft lottery order after the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
People look at the draft lottery order after the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Pistons landed the 5th pick in the NBA Draft Lottery this season after winning it a year ago and getting the #1 pick.

Pistons’ fans aren’t happy about it, but the thing that was statistically likely to happen happened (Pistons had the highest odds for the 5th or 6th pick), so we can’t really complain too much, as this is how the system is designed to work.

This probably seems like sour grapes, but I absolutely hate it.

You might say, “you weren’t complaining last year when the Detroit Pistons won,” and yes, I was happy the Pistons won the lottery and got Cade Cunningham, but I still absolutely hate the lottery.

If you’ve read this site enough, you know I am fully anti-tanking, as it usually leads to exactly what just happened, a team throwing away a season for a pick they could have had anyway. Only one team can win the lottery, which means 13 other fanbases are going to have some degree of disappointment.

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But what’s really disappointing is that the NBA continues to allow this to be the way.

Detroit Pistons: The NBA Draft Lottery is a middle finger to fans

The top two teams in the draft this season, the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, both tanked egregiously down the stretch to get where they are, particularly the Thunder, who put a team on the floor that barely had any real NBA players on it.

The Detroit Pistons did the same last season, winning just 20 games while sitting most of their top players down the stretch. They backed it up again this season, messing up some nice chemistry they were building in order to sit Jerami Grant with a fake injury in an effort to lose games instead of building on their positives.

There were at least eight teams doing it this season by my count, so eight fanbases had to pay money to watch their teams intentionally lose games. One of those teams (the Magic) got the #1 pick. Does this ratio of losers to lottery winners seem worth it?

It’s an insult to fans who actually pay money to watch these games, especially season ticket holders, who have no idea when they buy tickets if the team they want to watch will even be on the floor.

In the cases of teams like the Detroit Pistons or Oklahoma City Thunder, fans want to see their young players, but they didn’t even get that, as both teams were sitting their top guys down the stretch.

The NBA is one of the only businesses that gets away with this legal “bait and switch,” as they sell their season ticket holders on hope, and then can’t even let them have that. The Pistons even sat Cade Cunningham in the final game of the season even though he was in the middle of the Rookie of the Year race.

This shouldn’t even be legal. If I were to sell you a hotdog then hand you an empty bun, I couldn’t then say, “don’t worry, you’ll get a much better hot dog five years from now!” The league is getting away with cheating the customers.

The NBA tried to fix this somewhat by adding the Play-In Tournament, which did stop teams like the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs from tanking outright, but they still had nearly a third of the league losing on purpose this season for the minuscule chance of getting the top pick in a draft where no one can even tell you who the top guy is.

Does that seem like a good business model? It probably does for the NBA, as lottery fever and draft content now drives the league through the offseason, keeping the NBA relevant for the entire year.

Do they even have motivation to fix this mess? Do they care that fans are paying money to watch garbage in the hope their franchise is saved by a teenager? How do we fix this? Easy.

The NBA has to take away the motivation to tank

The way to fix this issue is by getting rid of the current model for the NBA Draft Lottery. Rewarding teams for losing is terrible for fans and sucks the integrity out of the game in my opinion, as it affects the playoff teams too, some of which are watching their competition play G-League teams in games that matter in the standings.

The solution to this is to not give the top picks away based on record, but to have a end-of-season tournament where the winner gets the number one pick.

They could put all of the non-playoff teams (and those eliminated from the play-in) in a single-elimination tournament where the winner gets the top pick and the runner up gets number two.

This removes the motivation to tank, as you’d much rather get one of the top seeds in this tournament. Right now, the worst thing a team can be in the NBA is just good. You don’t want to be the 9th seed or 10th seed, as it shows you are not a contender, but not bad enough to get a top pick.

This leads teams to not even try to get better in the offseason, as they’d rather be terrible than just “good.”

But what if getting that 9th or 10th seed got you a bye in the first round of the lottery tournament?

It wouldn’t eliminate tanking completely, but it would at least reward teams that were trying to win, put together a decent team and were playing well at the end of the season.

Let me ask, would you rather have seen the Detroit Pistons tank down the stretch for a slight chance at the number one pick, or continue to build on what was going well, get hot and have a chance to win a tournament for the number one pick?

Chances are they wouldn’t have won either way but at least we would have gotten some entertainment out of it and not had to see top young players benched in an effort to lose. They’d also get their young guys reps in games that mattered right away, instead of having to wait until their 3rd or 4th season.

There is no perfect solution, but the NBA has to do something, as fans like me are tired of going through this nonsense every season. We just spent a year talking about the NBA Draft Lottery (precisely what the league really wants) and watching nearly a third of league intentionally trying to lose, and for what? The 5th pick? Whoopeeee!

The worst part is that it is going to be even worse next year, as there actually is a consensus number one guy and a draft that is projected to be even deeper.

Expect more teams to suck on purpose next year, as this is the model the NBA has constructed. Expect more empty arenas late in the season and fans that care more about lottery odds and draft picks than the actual games.

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