Yesterday, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported a not-too-surprising whisper that the Philadelphia 76ers were upset the NBA is pushing to even out the draft lottery odds next year. There are a number of proposed changes on the table, but there’s no doubt the flattening of the odds from the first pick through the 14th is directly to stop the Sixers, who have been more than obvious about tanking to earn themselves high draft picks.
Other teams, including the Suns, have “tanked” to a degree.
Last year, they never were purposely trying to lose. The Suns acquired young players and shipped out veterans to give those players a chance to grow. Getting younger might have appeared to be another step toward losing, but building around an identity was a lot further than the Sixers have gotten. The Orlando Magic have also dealt veterans like Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo when they could, but they haven’t completely leveled their roster to the same degree as Philadelphia, either. Philly has been filling out its roster with players that might never sniff the NBA again.
Any lottery changes most obviously would hurt the 76ers, who by drafting the injured Joel Embiid and draft-and-stash prospect Dario Saric are not hiding their positioning for the 2015 draft.
Yet, this could come back to bite teams like Phoenix, ones that didn’t so blatantly abuse the current lottery system. The worst team has a 25 percent shot of getting the first overall pick, and those outside of the top-7 have little hope for even moving into the top-3.
As you probably know, the Suns own the Lakers’ 2015 first-round pick, which is top-5 protected. Los Angeles’ chances of being in the top-5 of worst records by the end of the year are probably relatively slim if Kobe Bryant plays a good deal of the year. If the Lakers are a middle-of-the-pack or even a late lottery team, Grantland’s Zach Lowe points out that evening the odds could put the Suns at greater risk of losing their pick.
If the Lakers finish with, say, the eighth-worst record in the league next season, the chances of that pick leaping into the top five might be very different if the lottery determines the first six picks instead of the first three.
There is something like universal agreement that switching rules on a dime is not ideal. That is why Zarren’s Wheel proposal would kick in only after all traded draft picks have changed hands.
The same goes for Phoenix’s top-12 protected pick from Minnesota.
In any case, it’s hard to say if it helps or hurts until a proposal is locked down. The T-Wolves’ pick acquired a year ago looked like a good idea until Minnesota flopped this year and missed the playoffs. If Kevin Love is dealt to the Cavaliers and Flip Saunders is left rebuilding, the T-Wolves’ pick owed to the Suns likely dissolves into two second-round picks in 2015 and 2016 — Phoenix barely missed on Minnesota’s pick this year, which was top-13 protected.
The good news for the Suns is that a lot of their asset-hunting was always based on a bit of luck, and it has also included acquisitions of known entities (as in, real players). The lottery is just another bit of luck that has changing odds either in 2015 or 2016. Philadelphia was dictating its own picks, which is a little more egregious than what teams like Phoenix, Orlando and Boston are doing. The Suns can’t change how many games the Lakers or T-Wolves win, and the Celtics can’t affect how many games the Cavs, Nets or Sixers — Boston owns first-rounders from those teams in the next few years — win outside of their own matchups.