House of (Lottery) Cards – The Thunder and the NBA Draft Reform

frank underwood house of cards

On Wednesday, the NBA Board of Governors will be voting on whether to change the format of the NBA Draft Lottery process. In the reform, the 14 non-playoff teams will still vie for lottery positioning in a lottery style system. What does change are the percentages to vie for the top 3 picks. In the current system, the team with the worst record has the highest chance (25%) of getting the number 1 pick, while the lottery team with the best record has the lowest chance (0.5%) of getting the number 1 pick. The basic gist of the current system is, the worser your record, the better your chances of obtaining a top 3 pick. In the proposed new system, the 4 teams with the worst records each have a 12% chance of getting the first pick, with the 5th worst team garnering an 11.5% chance, and the 6th worst team garnering a 10% chance, and on down the line. Even worse, in the new system, teams aren’t as protected as they are in the current system from free falling to a lower spot in the draft. Under the current system, the team with the worst record can not fall lower than the 4th pick. In the new proposed system, the team with the worst record has the possibility of falling all the way down to the 7th pick.

Free agency is to big market teams as the draft is to small market teams. Big market teams are at an advantage because they can not only build during free agency, but also in the draft if they are lucky enough. Unfortunately, small market teams can usually only build through the draft. For as great as Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, New Orleans, and Milwaukee are as metropolises, they pale in comparison to the global cultural centers that are New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles.

The Thunder experienced this with Pau Gasol this offseason. While not necessarily a top 10 player, Gasol would have instantly made the Thunder the favorites to win the title in 2014-15. But when push came to shove, Gasol, having just completed a 7-year run with the Los Angeles Lakers, decided to go with the Chicago Bulls. One of the factors in his decision was the lack of cultural diversity in OKC. Whatever that is, when you compare OKC to Chicago, you kind of see what he is talking about. I don’t know when was the last time a small market team signed a marquee free agent (and by marquee, I mean a Top-20 player at the time of his free agency). The last one was probably when Peja Stojakovic signed with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets in the 2006 offseason. At the time, Stojakovic was a fringe top 20-30 player in the league, but was beginning to show the signs of being injury-prone. The Hornets, of course, overpaid, and injuries were a major theme of Stojakovic’s term with the Hornets.

With this new draft reform, the NBA is essentially decreasing the life blood of talent to small market teams. The cycle of success to rebuild and back to success occurs a lot more regularly for small market teams than it does for big market teams. Small market teams have to rebuild when times get rough, and hope that they don’t make a big mistake. Big market teams can simply reload when the well runs dry. Is it always successful? No. But if the same mismanagement of funds that occurred with the New York Knicks from 2005-2012 would’ve happened to occur in Milwaukee, you can rest assured that Milwaukee would either be under new ownership or would be playing in a different city. The draft is the harbinger of hope for small market teams. And this new draft reform would lessen the opportunity for small market teams to nab a franchise talent like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or Anthony Davis.

mcgary presti thunder

The ironic part of all this is that the team at the center of this change is a big market team. The visual tank job that has been the Philadelphia 76ers in the past season and a half is at the root of all the draft reform discussion. In the past 18 months, the 76ers have sent away any veteran asset they had for draft picks and cap space. And in the last two drafts, the Sixers have taken 3 players in the lottery that were either injured (Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid) or not intending to come to the NBA for at least two season (Dario Saric). Strategic tanking has always been a part of the rebuilding process. A rebuilding team wants to shed salary and obtain assets, while at the same time putting a “competitive” product on the floor. But Philadelphia has completely eschewed the competitive part of the equation, and has blatantly put a subpar product on the floor in order to build for the future. It is no different than other tank jobs, with the exception of the blatantness of it all.

With all this on the table, it would almost seem to be a given that at least 8 teams would be against this draft reform. Philadelphia, for sure, would be at the forefront. But stepping up to the podium has been Thunder GM Sam Presti. Surprisingly, Presti, of the championship contending Thunder, has been leading the charge against draft reform. You see, Presti knows what’s at stake. Under the current system, a couple seasons of drought can lead to gold if you draft well and spend your money wisely. But under the proposed system, those couple of seasons of drought can lead to gold or they can lead to iron pyrite. And while draft position is never an exact science, a lot more superstars are drafted in the top 5 picks than anywhere else in the draft. Presti is always looking ahead and knows that there will come a time when Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka will no longer be donning Thunder uniforms. It could be in the next 2-3 seasons, just like it could be in the next 10 seasons. But when that day comes, the Thunder will likely look to the draft to rebuild.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports, Presti is struggling to come up with the six extra votes to block the 3/4 majority needed to pass the draft reform. Which is absolutely asinine to me. If those small market teams would realize how much more difficult it will be for them to land franchise talent with this change, it would seem like an easy decision for them to make. If anything, this is an opportunity for small market teams to flex a little muscle. Like Frank Underwood of House of Cards says, “There is no solace above or below. Only us – small, solitary, striving, battling one another. I pray to myself, for myself.” I can definitely see Presti working the back channels tonight like Underwood in trying to get those necessary 6 votes. And after he gets the votes, I can see Presti going to his hotel, opening up his balcony window, and cooly smoking one lonely cigarette while staring into the night.

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Never been a writer. Probably will never be a writer. But always a fan.

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Posted in Draft, NBA
One comment on “House of (Lottery) Cards – The Thunder and the NBA Draft Reform
  1. […] Alex Roig on lottery reform: “You see, Presti knows what’s at stake. Under the current system, a couple seasons of drought can lead to gold if you draft well and spend your money wisely. But under the proposed system, those couple of seasons of drought can lead to gold or they can lead to iron pyrite. And while draft position is never an exact science, a lot more superstars are drafted in the top 5 picks than anywhere else in the draft. Presti is always looking ahead and knows that there will come a time when Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka will no longer be donning Thunder uniforms. It could be in the next 2-3 seasons, just like it could be in the next 10 seasons. But when that day comes, the Thunder will likely look to the draft to rebuild.” […]

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