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Report: NBA submits lottery reform proposal

By James Herbert | NBA writer

The NBA is looking into changing the lottery system.
The NBA is looking into changing the lottery system. (USATSI)

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The NBA submitted a proposal to change the lottery system at its competition committee meetings in Las Vegas this week, according to Grantland's Zach Lowe.

The proposal, which dominated the lottery-reform discussion in league meetings this week, is essentially an attempt to squeeze the lottery odds at either extreme toward a more balanced system in which all 14 teams have a relatively similar chance at the no. 1 pick, per sources familiar with the proposal.

Under the current system, the team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of snagging the no. 1 pick, perhaps the most valuable asset in the entire NBA. The team with the second-worst record has a 19.9 percent chance of winning the no. 1 pick, and the third-worst team enters the lottery with a 15.6 percent chance of moving up to the top slot. The odds decline from there, with the final five teams in the lottery — the teams with the five best records — each having a 1.1 percent or worse chance of moving up to no. 1.

The league's proposal gives at least the four worst teams the same chance at winning the no. 1 pick: approximately an identical 11 percent shot for each club. The odds decline slowly from there, with the team in the next spot holding a 10 percent chance. The lottery team with the best record will have a 2 percent chance of leaping to the no. 1 pick, up from the the minuscule 0.5 percent chance it has under the current system.

The proposal also calls for the drawing of the first six picks via the Ping-Pong ball lottery, sources say. The current lottery system actually involves the drawing of only the top three selections. The rest of the lottery goes in order of record, from worst to best, after the top-three drawing is over.

This is a much less extreme reform than the lottery wheel concept being thrown around in the last few months, and it doesn't completely take away the incentive to be bad. It just takes away the incentive to be really, truly awful in hopes of landing the No. 1 pick. The league is reportedly considering implementing a new system as soon as this coming season.

Lowe brings up two potential problems:

1. The timing of implementation. Teams that have constructed short-term building plans under the current rules will likely oppose any attempt to change those rules midstream. The Wheel proposal, submitted to the league by Mike Zarren, the Celtics' assistant general manager, called for instituting the Wheel only after all draft picks that have already been traded actually move between the trading partners. Due to the protections on some future first-round picks that have been traded, implementation would have waited at least a half-dozen years. (The Wheel is detailed here.)

2. There are already burbling concerns that a restructured odds system will encourage some late-season tanking among teams all over the lottery. Teams clustered around the middle of the lottery may begin jockeying for a top-five position, or to move up from, say, no. 12 to no. 9.

The system isn't perfect, but nothing will be. This actually seems like a reasonable way to address tanking, even if there might be some funny business at the end of the season, just like there is now. While some would favor the wheel or something more radical -- say, eliminating the draft -- it makes sense that the league would push for something like this.

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