From Chaos, Order
I was all set to title this one "A Modest Proposal," and then I found a couple pieces that had already used the language. Either sportswriters are smarter than I think, or I'm getting lazy.
The topic of choice, naturally, is Van Gundy's plan for lottery's end. I know that what makes it timely is the whole stench of tanking, and the luminous splendor of this year's draft class. But I've come up with three reasons why, regardless of this season's illustrative circumstances, JVG's not so squirrelly after all.
First, there's the menace of conference inequality. Now, more than ever, missing the playoffs in the West is by no means a branch of depression. Nor is a postseason invite from out the East-gate any kind of positive vector. Earlier this year, it looked like a should-be lottery team might well win a division. And regardless of how cheerful a Eastern team can be going into the playoffs—say, a Cinderella Bulls—they will still likely find themselves overmatched in the Finals. Yes, I know, Detroit and Miami. Tell me honestly, though, that at least half the Eastern teams aren't still at least one solid rotation player away from contention.
Then, there's that funny matter called "teams foolishly dealing away lottery picks" that some higher power should really be able to veto. The Darko Deal has lost its edge, if only because the alternative seem too heavy to imagine, and Zeke's Kingdom for a Curry doesn't sting so bad at the moment—with Thomas still raw and the other #1 unlikely to be a superstar. Has anyone noticed, though, that the Suns are in the lottery this season? I know we have to tar them periodically for letting Deng slip away, but this year they might luck into a cheap starter. While I have as much of an unlikely sentimental twinge toward Joe Johnson as the next guy, this pick alone might end up being worth his departure. I don't care what Van Gundy says; the best young talent should be landing with the teams that need it most.
It's a good thing football players are too noble, and the sport too pure, for them to ever need a lottery. They'll flip a coin only when absolutely necessary, and the absurdity of that provision seems to me absolutely fraught with disdain.
I have to say, though, that Van Gundy's idea makes sense exactly because of who needs the best players. Every year, we're treated to the same thing: potential or proven, possibility or experience. Sure, this will supposedly decrease with the age limit, but don't think the market won't still grope for can't-miss freshman with a few childish holes in their game. I would go so far as to predict that, after a couple of speculative picks blow up, we'll again see that become a scouting priority. If this sounds familiar, it's because IT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE HIGH SCHOOL FLOODGATES OPENED. International players, not so much so—that whole thing was based on the Dirk phenomenon.
The sad truth is, it's harder to waste a pick later in the draft. You're left with the unsexy prospects, the ceiling-out or limited guys that don't make any GM blush. Last I checked, though, the NBA had more than a few notable performers who slipped or were pushed into the bottom half of the first round. I'm not talking about the cruel joke that is Arenas, Redd, or Monta Ellis in round two. More Josh Howard, David West, Tony Parker, Kevin Martin, Jameer Nelson, Delonte West, Jarrett Jack, Luther Head, David Lee, and Jason Maxiell. Maybe I've got the privilege of hindsight, maybe this is only a handful of names out of dozens more who withered. Still, all of these names were bandied about from about pick #19 down, and they landed with a franchise that either didn't have the luxury, stomach or patience for cleverness. Yes, these are extreme examples of value. But certainly, a lack of glamor is preferable to flailing or underdeveloped waste
This is not the Vitale rant. I could care less about past good acts, or how many deafening Big Ten gyms someone has won in. I just want to ask the question of whether these players went to good teams because these organizations are intrinsically smart, or because they were still on the board. You have to figure that, especially if playoff teams were up near the top of the order, they'd have the option (and in some senses, the compulsion) to take Darko-style risks. This would force the teams in need of immediate, practical help to draft some, without feeling the proverbial obligation to "swing for the fences."
Van Gundy might have been out to humiliate the tankers one way, but he ended up doing so in another.