On The NBA's Tank-Stopping 'Wheel Of Fortune'

The NBA calls it a 'draft wheel.' It's somebody's proposed solution to tanking, and, yep, that's the idea I've been offering for a couple years here at DallasBasketball.com whenever the topic of 'How to fix NBA tanking' gets raised. Here's how it might work ... and here's the problems it might raise:

So how might this NBA "Wheel of Fortune'' work?

The NBA calls it a "draft wheel." It's their proposed solution to tanking, and yep that's the idea I've been offering for a couple years whenever the topic of "how to fix NBA tanking" gets raised. A long article about the NBA considering the possibility is here. And in a nutshell, it's fairly simple:

At its core, it's fairly simple: each team gets a pre-designated draft slot that changes from year to year, and over 30 years every team gets every possible pick from 1-30. In its simplest form, the cycle would go from picking 1st to 2nd to 3rd to 4th and all the way down to 30th. To allow teams to always get a good pick every so often, our suggestion said the sequence should go in 6-slot leaps, and then jump back up to the top again, essentially cycling a team from the top of the draft to the bottom each 5 years. To illustrate, if a team begins with pick 1, in the first 11 years their picks would be 1, 7, 13, 19, 25, then it jumps back to the top again to 2, 8, 14, 20, 26, then 3, etc.

An alternate setup would have the same type of system, except the picks would sequence upward – that is, if starting with 30,the first 11 years would be picks at 30, 24, 18, 12, 6, 29, 23, 17, 11, 5, 28, etc.
In their proposal, the NBA has added a layer of complexity to the sequencing of the pick order. Rather than simply sequencing the picks in a series of runs from top-to-bottom (or bottom-to-top) of the draft, they have attempted to make the sequence provide each team with the same pick value over its next 5 draft 5 years, no matter where they are in the cycle.

You'd begin the process by setting up the chart that specifies which pick in which year for each starting draft slot. In total, every team would go through the same sequence of picks, but each team would start at a different point on the draft cycle.Each team, regardless of where they start, would move six slots on the draft "wheel" each year.

The NBA has proposed that the starting point, in year one of the new system, would be determined by a mix of lottery (for non-playoff teams) and selection (for playoff teams). We think it makes more sense to simply let every team pick their starting point, starting with the worst team (or the highest seed, as determined by a final draft lottery) and ending with the best

Give every team the same set of picks over time, regardless of how they perform on the court, and it eliminates all incentive to tank. Before trades, every team knows that once every 30 years they will get an overall #1 pick (and every other pick). If they make a trade that includes a pick, everyone knows exactly what draft pick will change hands.

An impediment to switching to such a system would be the fact that some teams already have future picks that have been traded, but their proposed solution is to announce the new system, and then set it to begin on a future date that will allow all already-traded picks to change hands. A lesser issue – but one sure to be a concern to smaller markets - would be a possibility that a premium talent could time his entry into the draft (or not) according to which team is likely to have the pick to get him.

I've regularly mentioned this idea when asked for my "solution to tanking." Of course, it's only a true solution if one considers tanking to be an actual problem. I do not. (In my estimation, if an owner of a team thinks that tanking is the most viable way to make their business successful, let ‘em tank.) But this is the fairest and surest way to eliminate tanking, if that's what gets your panties in a wad.

That having been said, I've never thought the NBA would ever consider such a solution. Why? Because in some ways, tanking is more of a solution for the NBA, rather than a problem – and by making it go away, it creates the potential to make things worse in another important area.
The league has a problem, one that they don't want fans to notice. In a league of 30 teams, if everything is equal, each team will win one title every 30 years – and they will lose for 29. That's a harsh, cruel truth that no one really likes. So, more than titles, the league has to sell "hope" to the fans of 29 teams out of 30, each and every season.

However, a wheel system for the draft eliminates the drama of the lottery. It also erases the resultant irrational hope for the No. 1 pick (and the promise of titles that flow from getting the best) that fans in half of the league have been getting every year.

Now, if you are a fan of the dregs of the league and know your team will have a lousy pick no matter what, why continue to follow your team? The potential to create a huge "tune out" in a sizable portion of the NBA fanbase by eliminating the lottery hope is significant.
There's one more thing that needs to be said: I find the timing of this desire to change draft systems a bit curious.

Is it a coincidence that neither NY franchise has a decent team right now, nor assets, nor cap room, nor any decent draft picks for a while under the current setup? The NBA has always been sensitive to the New York market, and there's a sense they've tried to belay the ineptness of those front offices when it gets bad. Right now, it's reeeeaaaaalllllly bad for NY fans, since hope has vanished and their route to a title looks like it will take forever or longer.

Is the NY situation so bad that they'd change the rules? Is the NBA's situation so bad that they'd do so?

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