The last less likely to be first, under expected draft lottery reforms

NEW YORK – The NBA’s Board of Governors, expected to approve an overhaul of the league’s draft lottery Wednesday at their fall meetings in midtown Manhattan, might want to be careful what they vote for.

In thwarting the Philadelphia 76ers in what many consider their shameless plunge into, and loitering about, the lottery for consecutive seasons, they might in fact wind up aiding GM Sam Hinkie‘s team on the way up.

Lottery reform, as reported by multiple media outlets, is likely to pass with at least the 23 (of 30) votes needed. The changes essentially will broaden the lottery’s sweet spot, giving more teams a better shot at landing the No. 1 pick and therefore, presumably, discouraging teams that might be inclined to “tank” their way to a rebuilding strategy.

That’s what Philadelphia has done, trading last year for injured big man Nerlens Noel, sputtering through a 19-63 season, then using its two lottery picks in June for two more players – Kansas center Joel Embiid and Euro-obligated Dario Saric – who won’t help at all in 2014-15.

Flattening the odds among the teams with the four worst records, cutting the worst club’s chances (25 percent now) approximately in half and guaranteeing it no lower than the seventh pick (no longer the fourth) all reportedly are among the reforms considered by the owners this week to strip incentives from finishing dead last or nearly so.

But given the young talent already on board in Philadelphia, it’s possible the 76ers could be improve considerably in the next two or three years – and find itself with a Top 3 pick again, thanks to the rejiggered odds.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of the league’s worst team landing the best draft prospect would be lessened again. And that’s happened only three times in 21 years anyway since the lottery adopted its current weighting – a pattern that some believe argued against tanking in the first place. A 25 percent shot at No. 1 means a 75 percent shot at not getting the top pick.

Clearly, the league is a long way from its days of heads or tails, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Neal Walk and Magic Johnson vs. David Greenwood, dictated by coin flip. But the 76ers and others got good enough at gaming the system to grab the Governors’ attention, and a draft system intended to help the truly awful might wind up aiding the merely mediocre. That is of particular concern to the league’s smaller-revenue markets, which already feel disadvantaged in attracting free agents and retaining players acquired via trades.

Among other items believed to be on the Board of Governors agenda:

  • A report on the league’s new replay center in Secaucus, N.J., the clearing house for all reviewed calls this season.
  • Discussion of the flood of TV money from new rights extensions with Turner Broadcasting and ABC/ESPN and its expected impact on player compensation, the salary cap and revenue-sharing.
  • Update on the Atlanta Hawks ownership and front-office situation.
  • Conversations about the NBA’s code of conduct, particularly as it relates to domestic violence.


  1. BAP says:

    I wish that I had placed bets every year on Cleveland winning the lottery.
    The math is quite astounding 3 over the past 4 years and Lebron before that.

    This does not discourage conspiracy theorists.

    By the way, the Heat never got #1

  2. L. Raydell Mundo says:

    I have to say, I don’t get the need for lottery reform. Everyone talks about Philly as the case study for gaming the system, but there’s absolutely nothing that indicates their strategy will be successful. In fact, I personally think it will be a bust. Bad management, bad picks, and young unseasoned (although talented) players don’t make for a top team. Tanking in some form will be a fact of life, embrace that and focus on more important things.

  3. Stef says:

    Let bad teams play each other in a “play for your draft pick” tournament at the same time of the playoffs, you have to win to get the nr.1 pick, an 8 team tournament to determine the first 8 picks. Worst team in regular season has maybe less chance to grab pick nr. 1…but..are the worst teams really the worst teams?…would you have put your money on this seasons , as example, Pistons vs Bucks (1-8) or Kings vs Sixers (2-7) in a series?

  4. NBA FAN says:

    Only constant in this world is change. when someone abuses the rules, it changes. Thank you philly.
    Norris Cole future HOF.