The 2014 NBA draft is expected to be unusually strong, so naturally there’s been much discussion in the blogosphere about whether various teams (let’s say the Celtics) will (or should) tank this season. In turn, there’s been a handful of posts about how to reduce tanking. I really don’t care that much about tanking, as long as my teams aren’t the ones tanking. But if you want to reduce tanking– regardless of league– I hereby offer the following suggestions.
It is important to remember the key purpose of professional sports drafts: to help the weakest teams the most by giving the weakest teams the highest draft picks. So, the team with the worst record gets the first pick, second-worst gets the second pick, and so on. The NBA’s draft has a slight variation in that they give the weakest teams the best chances at getting the highest draft picks. Got it? Good.
I’m going to reduce tanking by (A) ignoring the aforementioned key purpose, and (B) making the whole process needlessly complicated– which is why my proposal will never be adopted. I’m going to substitute a new, different key purpose, which is to encourage teams to win every single game they possibly can.
You want teams to fight to win every single game? You want teams not to tank? Then give the highest draft picks to the best teams, not the worst teams.
That’s right, I’m going to give the top draft pick to the best team in the league. A playoff team. And the worst team in the league won’t draft until the end of the first round. Think about it: each additional win improves your chances of getting the higher pick, so you’re going to fight for that win instead of quitting, right? Tanking problem solved.
But the parity problem– the problem of trying to give the weaker teams a better chance of becoming competitive– isn’t solved. So now I’m going to make the draft even more complicated.
If any playoff team uses a draft pick before any non-playoff team does, then every other member of that playoff team’s roster is now available to be drafted by the rest of the league, and will be until one its players is taken. The playoff teams can pass and go to the back of the line for that round. Once all the non-playoff teams have made a pick, then the playoff teams can start drafting without restriction.
For instance, if the Miami Heat win the NBA Finals again, they’d get the #1 overall pick. But if they use it, then every other player on their roster is now eligible for the draft… until LeBron gets drafted by the very next team. You think the Heat would draft #1 if it meant making LeBron James available to the rest of the league, no strings attached? They’d pass the top pick to whoever finished second, and drop back to the last pick in the first round– just where they would’ve been under the old system. And second would probably pass to third. And so on, and so on…
…until you started getting to the weakest playoff teams. Then you’d start seeing some real intrigue. Should that sixth- or seventh-seeded team with lots of heart, a hardscrabble offense, and a rough-and-tumble defense risk losing a solid player or an occasional All-Star journeyman in order to use the first pick and take a possible superstar?
If nothing else, it’d make draft day much more interesting. The weakest teams may take a while longer to get stronger, but… too bad. Start winning more games.
Or we could just throw out the draft altogether, stick with the salary cap, and let teams freely contract with willing new players. Who would want to tank then? “We lose on purpose; sign with us, please?”
There’s another tanking-like problem I’d like to address, that doesn’t occur as often. As playoff time approaches, you’ll occasionally hear talk about which playoff match-ups would be most favorable to any given team— and sometimes, the highest-seeded teams end up locked into match-ups that just aren’t favorable. If you’re the top seed in the NBA or NHL, you’re slated to go up against #8 first. But what if, for whatever reason, #7 is a more favorable matchup for you? Too bad, you’re stuck. Or what if the #2 team is missing its best player due to injury, and you’d rather play them now and bump them off while they’re weak instead of facing them in a few weeks after he’s recovered?
Instead of rewarding the best team by having them play the team with the worst record, why not reward the best team by letting them choose their playoff opponent? Wouldn’t that make the higher seeds even more valuable? Home-field advantage is nice, but I think I’d rather (or also) have the ability to pick my first opponent. The top seed picks first, the highest remaining seed picks next, and so on. You can even do it after each round (as long as that’s applicable; once you’re down to the final two teams in a conference, you’re stuck).
And think of the drama it might add. Teams aren’t simply assigned to a playoff slot anymore; now the top seeds have to call out their opponents. “Oh, [insert top seeded playoff team] wants to play us first? They think we’re weak? We’ll show them!” You can have the “playoff selection show” on the last night of the regular season, sell some ad time, and send me 17% of the revenues.
Seriously, if any league does this, I’d better get a cut.