I’ve had the idea for how the NBA should handle the lottery for a little while now, but have waited to write it up because I’m busy (law school finals) and because this blog does not have enough visibility right now for it to get the penetration it deserves. But I realized that things are moving too fast and I want to make sure it’s out there before someone else writes it up. Keep in mind, I’m someone obsessive enough about this stuff that I run a fantasy sports league where the higher seeds can choose their opponents (and a great deal more innovations that are being saved for a much longer piece).
The NBA has 16 teams that make the playoffs and 14 that do not. At present, those 14 teams go into the lottery, which is weighted by record for the first three picks, then it simply goes in order of regular season record from worst to best.
What I want to see happen is a 14 team single elimination tournament at the end of the regular season. It would behave exactly like a 16 team tourney, except that the top 2 seeds get byes. It would be seeded completely by record, with ties being broken by head to head if just 2 teams, or by record in the last 20 games if more than 2 teams. Naturally, all games would be hosted by the home teams until we get to the “Final Four” which would be held at a neutral site, and that’s a neutral site that is desirable (Vegas, pretty much).
At the end, the two teams that advance to the final game are facing off for the #1 pick. Winning team gets #1 and losing team gets #2, though I could be persuaded by arguments that the losing team gets #3 and #2 is determined by the process below.
The other change is that the day after the final game is the NBA Draft Lottery. We have 12 teams left at this point. The other thing that changes in this lottery is that each of the 14 slots is selected by a lottery. It is easy enough to set odds for each level (3rd pick through 13th) and then just plug in the teams accordingly.
One inevitable criticism is that teams that have traded their #1 would not have an incentive to play their best guys and players would not want to try hard to get a good draft pick and a player that could replace them. How you solve this is the same way the dunk contest is fixable: Add money to it. Each player on the “winning” team gets a decently sized bonus (considering his team just got the #1 pick, I think even the owner/GM of that team would be happy enough to do it), with escalating bonuses each round after the first one. The other tweak is that there is an underlying exception that what becomes the #1 pick cannot be traded under any circumstances. So a pick can be top-10 or lottery protected, but that protection does not mean that the pick is moved if win the tournament- then it works like all other protection and their obligations slide back another year.