Please end the NBA Draft Lottery and create a Draft tournament.
The NBA Draft Lottery has been bad for the Detroit Pistons. Despite having the worst record in the league, the Pistons fell to fifth, their lowest possible position in the draft and the largest fall by a team with the league’s worst record since the NBA adopted the weighted lottery in 1990. The Pistons have, simply put, the worst lottery luck of any NBA team.
Why not take the ball out of the ping-pong machine and put it in the Pistons’ hands?
I hate tanking, and I agree with my colleague, who first suggested a similar idea, that the NBA Draft Lottery is a middle finger to fans.
In professional sports, there should never be an incentive to lose games. Anyone playing for an NBA team can play basketball, and teams should be incentivized in every possible way to win games.
Unfortunately, no team wants to be in the no-man’s land of not good enough to make the playoffs but not bad enough to have good lottery odds. The NBA tried to limit tanking by limiting the odds for the three worst teams, and by adding the play-in tournament, the NBA extended the incentive to win from the top eight teams to the top ten, providing some leeway for teams that suffer injuries or make adjustments/trades during the season.
This year, for the first time, a play-in team made the finals.
The NBA should never reward a team for losing on purpose, and should stop making small-market teams developmental programs for large-market teams. They need to maintain the integrity of the season, and keep teams jockeying for draft position from playing G-leaguers and impacting playoff standings.
Instead, have an end-of-season tournament where the winner gets the number one pick.
To discourage tanking and improve the competitive drive in the NBA, the NBA should end the draft and develop a draft tournament. Here’s my theory for how this might work. The first step would be for the league to expand by four teams, allowing for a sixteen-team tournament.
According to Commissioner Silver, the NBA will look to expand after the new media deal in 2025. I expect the NBA to add teams in Las Vegas and Seattle. They could also add teams in Mexico City and Vancouver. The NBA has a G-League team in Mexico City to test the logistics, and any team based there would be celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
With four new teams in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans could shift to the East, giving each conference seventeen teams. Eight teams make the playoffs, and the ninth seed makes the second play-in game.
The ninth seed loses out on both the playoffs and the draft lottery, giving the team even more incentive to win.
At the end of the season but before the play-in tournament, there’s a lottery for a single elimination tournament to be played between the end of the season and the beginning of the finals, which would give playoff teams a little over a week of rest before the playoffs begin. The bottom eight teams from both conferences would be randomly paired in a sixteen-team bracket, with placeholders used for whomever loses the 10th/9th seed play-in matchups.
After the first round of play-in games, the Draft tournament begins, and the sixteen teams no longer in playoff contention play for their draft seeding.
The first round would be one busy night or weekend day. Then the final play-in round would be played. The second round would be another busy night followed by a day off, the penultimate round of two games, a night off, and a final game to determine who earns the first and second overall draft pick.
By my count, that’s nine days between the end of the regular season and the playoffs, three of those filled with play-in games and only two nights without meaningful basketball for someone.
Every team in the league could get a taste of playoff atmosphere, and every fan would have something to watch.
The teams knocked out in each round earn their draft seeding in reverse order of their regular season win total. In other words, if four teams are knocked out in the second round with records of 17/65, 23/49, 32/50, and 40/42, that would be their order in the draft.
This would help maintain a bit of parity, allowing teams with worse records to get slightly better picks without incentivizing losing.
No team should ever purposefully lose in the world of professional sports. A draft tournament that pushes teams to compete while creating opportunities for teams to improve seems like a win for everyone.