If you have been paying attention to the NBA recently, you may notice a few teams that are aspiring to lose as many games as they can. The Philadelphia 76ers have just lost a franchise record 26th game in a row, and it is quite possible that they will lose the rest of their games this season. This would appear to be a disappointment for the franchise, but it is all part if a greater plan. This losing streak, and entire season, was orchestrated by the organization. Before the February 20th trade deadline, the team traded their two best and most experienced players. They have not won since the trade deadline, and their last win was on January 29th. These trades were put together by the 76ers as part of a long-term plan to rebuild their team over an extended period of time, which entails sacrificing wins in the current season for expected success in the future. This expected success is based on the hope that by obtaining enough high draft picks, eventually they will build a successful team. The 76ers feel that the expected success from this long-term plan is worth the sacrificed wins (and money) this season.
Why is this a problem?
Isn’t this is similar to a business implementing a long-term plan that results in a short-term dip in the bottom line, but is leading to an increase in profit in the long-term? We don’t scrutinize businesses when they are implementing these long-term strategies, but NBA franchises are ridiculed when they are losing as part of a strategy to improve performance in the future. The issue with this comparison is that the NBA derives its value from entertainment whereas traditional businesses are just selling a product or service. This makes it difficult for the NBA because it needs to find a way to remain entertaining while individual teams feel that losing is the best thing for their future. When organizations like the 76ers have an incentive to lose games, people are not interested in tuning into, or going to their games, and the entertainment value of the NBA is dragged down due to the lack of competition. In seasons like this current one, where the incoming draft class is extremely talented, there are 4 or 5 teams who are all ‘competing’ for the top draft pick by losing as many games as possible. This is a common theme for the last few months of every NBA season. Teams like the 76ers, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Orlando Magic are all losing games at an alarming rate, and playing poor basketball. It is not fun to watch for anyone, and is an issue that needs to be solved.
This purposeful losing is not as prevalent in any other major sport. I believe this losing for draft picks problem can be attributed to the fact that a basketball team only has 12-15 players on a roster while football teams have over 50. Each basketball player has more relative value to his organization than one football player. Basketball is different than any other major sport in this way, and to fix this problem we must look at changing the structure of the draft from the traditional format (the worse you are, the better the pick you get). The current draft lottery system gives the team with the worst record the best chance to win the first pick in the draft, with the following teams having progressively worse chances of winning the top pick. This creates an incentive for NBA teams to lose games, and causes teams like the 76ers and the Bucks to be battling to lose more games than each other. The NBA must remove the incentive that causes this race to the bottom that we have to watch every year. The NBA’s current draft system enters all teams who don’t make the playoffs into the lottery so 14 teams technically have a chance of winning the top pick. One way to take away the incentive to lose would be to give all 14 teams that miss the playoffs an equal chance of winning the lottery. This would mean that being worse than another team would not provide you with a better chance at a higher pick. I believe this would promote more competitive basketball, without the shameless losing that fans have to sit through during the last few months of the season. There are other theories on this losing problem the NBA has right now, and below is an article discussing a new idea if you would like to find out more!
This article discusses a new idea that surfaced a couple months back called the Draft Wheel. Basically it is a system that has a rotating draft order that is not based on each year’s standings, but gives each team every pick from 1 to 30 over a 30 year cycle. Here is the more in-depth explanation.