Fix tanking: The five-year lottery

It is universally acknowledged that there is something odd about teams being rewarded for playing badly, as discussed when HoopIdea first addressed tanking. But it's not a simple problem to solve. In that spirit, we present a number of different proposals.

TrueHoop reader David Lee (a corporate restructuring attorney who does not play power forward for the Warriors) says that he agrees with Jeff Van Gundy that a "flatter lottery" would be the way to go. His idea:

Instead of helping teams out who are really bad for a one-year period, the league should distribute lottery chances based on how many times a team has missed the playoffs, or failed to advance past the first round, during the last five years.

For example, lets give team two lottery balls for every year over the past five in which they failed to make the playoffs and one lottery ball for making the playoffs but failing to get past the first round.

This system will achieve a number of goals.

First, it arguably better helps the really needy teams: teams that are not just bad for the current year, sometimes due to injuries or intentional tank job (like when the Spurs lost David Robinson, got to draft Tim Duncan and have Robinson back the next year) but have been stuck outside of the playoff picture and contender status for a sustained period of time. To me, it seems like a team that flounders between, say, 25 and 40 wins for five years is more deserving of help than a team that suffered significant misfortune for one year.

HoopIdea on tanking

Second, it removes the incentive to be really really terrible because barely missing the playoffs for a year is going to give team is the same increase in lotto odds as winning only 13 out of 82 games.

Third, it makes strategic tanking much harder to pull off, for a couple of reasons:

  • A team will have to sign up for more years of pain to maximize its chances for a particular super prospect.

  • It will be tough to anticipate which players will be good (and declare for the draft) several years in advance in order to time its tanking efforts correctly (i.e. to have lottery balls in the LeBron James draft rather than the Kenyon Martin or Kwame Brown draft).

The example I gave above (two balls for missing playoffs, one for a first-round out) would be "flatter" than the current odds, but the flatness or the lack thereof can be tweaked.

The idea is that it will address both the disadvantages of the status quo and the concern (by Joel Litvin and others) to give help to teams that truly need it.