When the NBA Draft lottery was held in New York City May 20, the Sixers were on the clock.
Coming into the night, the team had about a 20 percent chance of obtaining the No. 1 overall pick. Only the Milwaukee Bucks had a better shot at 25 percent. The feeling was that anything less than the second pick would have made the tanking effort an abject failure.
As the deputy commissioner was displaying the teams, Sixers fans around Philadelphia hoped that picks No. 4 through 14, the first set that ESPN was announcing, didn’t turn up the team logo. They lucked out, and the only Sixers pick that showed up in that range came from the pick acquired in last year’s Jrue Holliday trade with the Pelicans at No. 10.
But there was something unsettling going on.
It’s almost natural for Philadelphia to be pessimistic about its sports teams and in this case that pessimism came via Cleveland falling into the top three. After ESPN came back from the break, fans anxiously awaited the top three. Unfortunately, the pessimism was warranted —fans’ worst fears were confirmed when the Sixers were stuck with the No. 3 pick. And then the confusion was confirmed when the Cleveland Cavaliers were granted the No. 1 pick for the third time in the past four years.
The bright side for fans is that the Sixers are guaranteed a shot at Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins or Kansas’ Joel Embiid with their pick, depending on who the Milwaukee Bucks and Cavaliers select.
The downside is that they can’t control their own destiny now. They could try and bait Cleveland into trading their pick for the Sixers’two top-10 picks, but this draft is very deep, and one can argue that picking two solid players at No. 3 and No. 10 will help the Sixers more than picking Wiggins at No. 1. The two they could pick will likely start and be paired up with rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, who is coming back from a torn ACL, to form a super-young, super-talented starting five.
Whoever the team selects, the player will have tons of pressure to deliver because of the awful season the fans endured for this pick.
In terms of the league-wide scope of the lottery, the Sixers getting the No. 3 pick is the second biggest outrage in this writer’s opinion.
The biggest outrage is the Cavaliers winning the first pick. It would be the equivalent of the Buffalo Bills getting the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. The Cavaliers are one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NBA as it currently stands.
In the past four years, since LeBron James’ departure, they have cycled through two head coaches, two No. 1 overall picks in Kyrie Irving and Anthony Bennett, and 215 losses. For comparison’s sake, the San Antonio Spurs have lost just 210 games total since the 2005-2006 season.
And, despite their best efforts to prove incompetency beyond a shadow of a doubt, they are rewarded with the first pick in the draft.
The lottery is not rigged. But how can a franchise whiff in every facet of the game —including so many lottery picks—and just continue to luck out in the lottery order? Even Kyrie Irving isn’t a sure thing, with his injury problems. It’s almost as if the NBA isn’t sorry enough to the Cavaliers that LeBron left. They need to continue to win the lottery until they finally hit a winner, and it’s coming at the expense of other teams in the league.
The biggest outrage by far is the lottery system itself. The league has teams seemingly tanking left and right for a chance at the No. 1 pick—not a guarantee like in the NFL, but a chance. And in many cases, like last night, the worst team doesn’t get the No. 1 pick.
So, here are two insane ideas, which will never be implemented but could fix the lottery problem:
The league could award the NBA champion the No. 1 pick and have the order descend from there based on end-of-season standings. The catch would be that the salary of the pick is the average of the top three players already on the team. So if the Miami Heat win, get the No. 1 pick and select Andrew Wiggins, his salary is $18 million. Because of salary cap limitations and tax implications, the team would end up either trading away the pick or dump another player to accommodate Wiggins, either of which stands to improve competition and equality throughout the league.
The league could also hold a single-elimination tournament for non-playoff teams. The top two teams with the best record would get a bye whilst the remaining twelve battle. The championship game would determine the first and second picks, the third place game would determine the third and fourth picks, and picks five through 14 would be through a lottery.
Whatever the new system would theoretically be, it shouldn’t constantly give teams like Cleveland top picks in the draft when the team’s management proves it doesn’t deserve it.