The NBA’s dirty little secret is out, and everyone knows that teams are intentionally losing games down the stretch. Franchises that have been eliminated from the playoffs and held on to their pick (sorry Knick fans) can reward themselves by losing games down the stretch. And I can’t say I blame them. Athletes are trained from day 1 that winning is the ultimate goal (right Herm?) and a lot of players will resort to just about any means that accomplishes that goal. I’m sure Knick fans aren’t outraged when Malik Rose gets a handful of jersey when he performs his “pull the chair out from under the guy” routine. While an illegal move, if he can get away with it, Rose would be foolish not to keep it in his repertoire. The same goes for the league’s franchises. Would Milwaukee or Memphis or Boston be doing their team a disservice by trying to win down the stretch, when they can put an inferior lineup on the floor? Yes, as long as they can get away with it.
There has been some discussion in the media about possible solutions. One idea, which I think Mike Wilbon of PTI fame has been touting, would be to give all non-playoff teams an equal chance at the lottery (or the “one team one envelope” rule). The downside to this solution is that teams that really need help may not get it, which is antithetical to the draft’s purpose. Imagine if the Clippers or Pacers landed that #1 overall pick this year, while Boston or Memphis sat at #14. A team could finish in last place for 3 straight seasons, and would only have a 51% of getting one top 3 pick (for those scoring with a calculator at home that equation is 1-[11/14]^3). Not only would this solution cause an imbalance in the league, but it would give conspiracy theorists something else to harp on. To this day there are people convinced that Patrick Ewing to the Knicks was an NBA orchestrated event.
Bill Simmons has proposed a tournament where the top 6 teams in each conference are guaranteed playoff spots, and everyone else plays for those last remaining playoffs spots. It’s an interesting concept, but it’s just as easy to circumvent. No one in their right mind would think that if Boston or Memphis won a mini-tournament, they could go on and take the Pistons or Mavs in 7. So this doesn’t really address the problem. Why would a team risk losing a franchise player like Durant or Oden in order to have the privilege of getting spanked by the first or second seed? Teams will be tanking games in the tournament just as they would if it were a regular season game. In fact they would only have to purposely lose one game with this method.
Other solutions include handing out fines to teams that tank, shortening the season, and eliminating the lottery altogether. David Stern’s office could fine teams that are throwing games, but this would be a hard rule to enforce. Often teams have players fake injuries, and disproving something like knee tendinitis would be impossible (right Steve?). And an eliminated team could say they’re trying to give extra playing time to their end of bench guys. Shortening the season would take revenue from both the players and owners, so that option is out the window. And removing the lottery would just exacerbate the problem. In fact that’s what the lottery was created for in the first place, so that teams wouldn’t tank down the stretch.
So what’s a league to do? Here is a fool proof solution: set the lottery order earlier in the season, like at the All Star Game. In other words take a snapshot of the standings at the the All Star break and use that as a basis for the lottery. Obviously only the teams that fail to make the playoffs will participate in the lottery. The only teams that this might give an advantage to are teams like the Sixers who have a good second half. But then again, that’s what we want bad teams to do, win games down the stretch (and Philly was trying to rebuild with the Iverson trade). No team is going to start the season losing, because attendance is linked to winning percentage. And also they might have a Cinderella team in the making (2005 Sonics, I’m looking at you), which would net them profit due to a playoff series (7 games series means that both teams get at least 2 home games).
Below is a chart with the lottery team’s All Star Game ranking (ASG), and their end of season ranking (EOS).
|ASG Rank||EOS Rank||Team|
|17||17||Los Angeles Clippers|
|18||18||New Orleans Hornets|
|21||22||New York Knicks|
|23||25||Portland Trail Blazers|