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The NBA Takes Another Shot at Lottery Reform

Adam Silver and league owners will take a long look at a new solution to tanking

The 2017 NBA draft Getty Images

Second time’s the charm? That’s what the NBA is hoping for when it brings lottery reform back to the owners’ table in the coming weeks.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA’s competition committee will vote next week on whether to send the league’s Board of Governors a proposal to reform the lottery — possibly as soon as next season — by lowering the odds of landing the top picks in the draft for the teams that finish with the worst records.

Which would mean: Stop. Tanking.

This isn’t the first time such a proposal has been introduced. In 2014, the NBA tried to pass a series of adjustments that would have given all 14 lottery teams a similar shot at winning the top pick in the draft. The vote was first expected to pass, but Oklahoma City general manager — and noted worker in silence — Sam Presti turned the tide, lobbying teams to vote against it because of what it would do to small-market teams who must turn to the draft to acquire superstar talent. (Which is now slightly ironic, given OKC’s recent trade for Paul George.) The vote still fell in favor of reform, 17–13, but it didn’t receive the required 23 votes needed to pass.

Now the league is taking another shot at fixing one of its most pressing existential questions: How can it disincentivize losing?

The latest reported proposal could, in theory, do just that. The current system rewards the team with the worst record with a league-high 25 percent chance of attaining the top pick. The percentages then decrease as the records get better. In the proposal, headed by “strong advocate” Silver, the odds for the three worst teams would be lowered, thus giving teams with better records better shots at leaping into the top three in the draft order.

The repercussions of the change would be large. Take the Hawks, for example, who officially tore down the team that won 60 games in 2014–15 and went for a full reboot this offseason. All of a sudden, that path could get trickier.

Or perhaps the proposed changes, which are less extreme than some of the past suggestions, like The Wheel, won’t be enough to deter some teams from prioritizing top picks above a winning team.

A few years removed from its first attempt at lottery reform, it will be fascinating to see whether a league (read: owners) now featuring additional millions in TV money, a new CBA, and the Death Star Warriors at the helm will vote on a measure that would stymie the concept of losing to win.