Ditch the lottery and the league's incentive structure would change. Perhaps the pits of hopelessness wouldn't be as deep, and games in the meantime would be more competitive. Remember: The NBA is the most predictable of the four major U.S. sports leagues in terms of single-game outcomes. —Grantland's Zach Lowe
To tank or not to tank, that is the question.
Or, at least, the question in the NBA is whether or not the league should change or replace the lottery with something that doesn't reward teams that intentionally sabotage their own seasons to pick up a top draft pick.
Zach Lowe at Grantland wrote about one proposal that would replace the lottery with a "wheel." This wheel is really a set order of draft picks that would go in a 30-year cycle. While each team would get the No. 1 pick only once every 30 years, it would also receive one top-six pick every five years and at least one top-12 pick every four years. This would take away any incentive for a team to tank its season to pick up a top draft pick.
Lowe pointed out that a criticism of this new "wheel" would be that struggling teams at bad points in the cycle would struggle to get out while the NBA's elite teams would occasionally get fantastic players despite already being successful. He counters by saying, "Ditch the lottery and the league's incentive structure would change. Perhaps the pits of hopelessness wouldn't be as deep, and games in the meantime would be more competitive. Remember: The NBA is the most predictable of the four major U.S. sports leagues in terms of single-game outcomes."
A counterpoint to this argument comes from USA Today's Sam Amick. Amick said that several teams, including the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns, are refusing to intentionally destroy their seasons, meaning that tanking may not be as big of a problem as it seemed earlier this season.
"We basically told (the Suns players), we said, 'Hey, five of the six coaches on the bench are ex-players,’ ” Suns head coach and former Utah Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek said, according to Amick's article. “The one guy that doesn't have the playing experience helped coach an NBA championship team in Boston (Mike Longabardi), and then we've got players. None of us want to lose. So we emphasized play hard, play together. We'll win our fair share of games, and there will be no laying down for any of us. We're too competitive."
In other words, tanking is not the game plan. Currently, the Suns sit at 17-10 and occupy the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference.
While Amick did point out that tanking to pick up Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and others isn't as rampant as some thought it might be, he also pointed out that there are some teams that are apparently sabotaging their own teams. He singled out the Toronto Raptors for trading away Rudy Gay to Sacramento. Amick quoted one unnamed front-office executive as saying, "Toronto wants to be bad."
So, should the lottery be abolished to prevent tanking, or is the problem not bad enough to be addressed in such a drastic fashion? It all depends on what the fans will support. So far, there's not enough fan blowback to force team owners to change the status quo, but who knows? Maybe one day fans will pay attention to the "wheel" instead of the lottery.
Lafe Peavler is a sportswriter intern at the Deseret News.