The Charlotte Hornets And How To Fix The NBA Draft

How would draft reform affect teams like the Charlotte Hornets?

The Charlotte Hornets are not in the playoffs. They finished the season well below .500, and yet still have only a very slim chance to grab the number one overall selection.

The current NBA draft lottery system has failed the Hornets and the NBA in general. Teams that finish close to .500 end up in an NBA wasteland where draft picks yield mediocre players, fans suffer from a general disinterest in their team, and the the franchise is forced to be a perennial 8th seed contender, hoping for a playoff pounding from an NBA heavyweight as the best case scenario.

Recently, there has been much talk about reform among the draft lottery. Zach Lowe, of Grantland.com, wrote about “the wheel” in December of 2013:

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide.

That proposal allegedly got serious traction in the league office, but ultimately was not even put up to a vote. However, a tweak to the current draft lottery system did make it to a vote, but the league’s owners decided not to implement the system.

That tweak would have given teams at the back end of the lottery, like this year’s Hornets, a better chance of landing a top pick:

The reform proposal presented by the league’s competition committee would have drastically reduced the worst team’s odds of winning the lottery while also increasing the chances that the teams with the best record in the lottery field would jump up to the top of the board.

Another element of the proposal, the defeat of which was first reported by Yahoo! Sports, would have made it possible for the worst team to plummet all the way to seventh in the order.

While that might have been a step in the right direction, it still did not solve the fundamental problem: Tanking. Teams like the Hornets are often faced with the difficult decision to either sign mediocre veterans, often at inflated prices, to make a run at a bottom seed in the playoffs, or jettison every vestige of talent on the roster in the hope of landing the next superstar.

Some current Charlotte fans have called for the team to tear down their roster yet again in the hope of landing a guy who can be the true franchise star this city needs. Whether you agree with the value of tanking or not, it is certain that some teams in the NBA are losing on purpose.

FiveThirtyEight.com held a competition over the last several months, where readers submitted their plans to fix the tanking problem. There were some interesting proposals, but eventually the list was whittled down to a group of finalists and a winner. You can see the finalists here.

The winner was sent in by a couple of guys from New York and was definitely the most interesting idea:

“In a nutshell: Teams tank because they own their own picks. We could eliminate tanking by creating a world in which nobody owned their own pick, but instead owned stock market-style futures on other teams’. Teams get to pick other teams’ finishing positions in the following year as their own. The worst team gets to pick the team whose draft position they would like to have next year (not their own), next the second worst team would pick whose draft position they want, etc.”

That is a very cool idea. Imagine the Philadelphia 76ers deciding to take the Hornets as their draft team in 2016. That would give the Hornets every incentive to win, while also diverging their performance from their draft pick. They could win 60 games and pick number one, in theory.

Also imagine a trade goes down mid-season, where suddenly the Hornets are no longer hoping for a team, say the Sacramento Kings, to lose, but now they have their draft pick based on the record of the Indiana Pacers.

Those Hornets-Pacers games in March would suddenly have even more riding on them. Every victory means a win and a better draft pick. Now, this idea, as great as it is, has virtually no chance of being put into action.

Still, there is plenty of momentum for draft reform, and sooner or later NBA commissioner Adam Silver is going to get the support he needs to put a real solution into place and put an end to teams like the Hornets being punished for trying to win games.