Will the NBA need a remedy for tanking?
All five of those teams will have to play an 82-game season, and apart from the games when they’re playing each other or the next tier of bad NBA teams (Toronto, Milwaukee, and Sacramento) it’s doubtful they’ll be putting up much of a fight. And that’s not solely because they have about a tenth of the talent of the NBA’s top teams and less than half the talent of even a team like Cleveland or Washington, but because losing games is the best way to help your franchise if you don’t have a realistic shot at competing for the playoffs. The more losses, the better shot you have at landing a high pick in the draft.
And there’s a ton of discussion about tanking going into this season, because next year’s draft class features the most promising set of potential NBA superstars since the legendary LeBron draft of 2003. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle all have the tools necessary to become franchise players. Then there’s Marcus Smart and Wayne Selden, two players who could have been #1 overall picks in more normal drafts.
Should the NBA continue to function this way? Rewarding teams with the worst records at the end of the season? It makes sense of course to allow the league’s worst teams to have the best shot at each season’s top available rookies, but when it encourages tanking and bad basketball, are we better off looking for other solutions? If so, here are two:
Option 1 - Loser’s Bracket Tournament
While the top 16 teams in the NBA go into the playoffs at the end of the year, the remaining 14 teams could compete in their own tournament. The winner ends up with the first overall pick in the upcoming season’s draft and the team that places last will have the 14th pick.
If this were the case, the Celtics probably would have held on to their veterans and maybe suited up a respectable squad this season in order to either try and compete in the playoffs or at least in the consolation bracket.
Option 2 - Payroll-based Draft Order
Instead of basing the draft order around win-loss records, there could be a system based around payroll and spending. It wouldn’t just be total payroll, because that would still help teams out when they have less expensive (which usually means worse) players overall. There would need to be an element that takes into account recent long-term, big money deals as well. When a team invests big money in a player, they’re usually hoping that player can turn them into a playoff competitor. If that player can’t take them to the next level, then their poor decision will hurt their potential draft status whether they were able to trade that player away or not. They wouldn’t draft as high as a team with a similar payroll that hasn’t signed anyone to big money deals in recent years.
All in all, the system would have a negative impact on the players, with teams being stingier with their budgets. But with draft position independent of wins and losses, there would be absolutely no benefit at all in losing a game, and that could greatly increase the level of play around the league.