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.


At 3/28/2007 3:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason Maxiel doesn't turn a franchise around. You can't show me one team that was built up on a bunch of Maxiels. The end of the draft works well because expectations are low. If you look at a guy like KVH or Kwame Brown Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur Rahim, Chris Mim..they're "solid" late round picks who were drafted way too early. I don't think good teams do better with the draft. Instead crappy teams can't solve their problems only through the draft because there are only so many players in any given class that can singlehandedly reverse the fortunes of a team.

At 3/28/2007 3:45 AM, Blogger T. said...

I know this might not fly so well in the "We Love Ubermensch" atmosphere of FD, but as much as I support Van Gundy in most matters, as a Rockets fan, I have fears of Oden ending up on the Mavs or Durant on the Suns and no other team (i.e. my Rockets) winning a championship for the next decade.

I'd slightly modify the lottery instead and even out the odds from the worst to best non-lottery teams making them a lot more even.*

*if preventing tanking was the goal.

At 3/28/2007 3:56 AM, Anonymous Miss Gossip said...

Here's how you they should do it: every year the bottom three teams get NO draft picks. Instead, they get demoted to D-league status. The top three D-league teams get promoted and sweep up the top three picks. Everyone else has an equal chance of getting picks 4+.

At 3/28/2007 4:18 AM, Anonymous tom said...

a sure fire way to prevent tanking, if that's even a real issue, would be giving all the teams that didn't make the playoffs the same odds.

off-topic but JMash wrote a Kobe article on espn. Does that strike anyone else as strange considering he's still a viable player?

At 3/28/2007 7:44 AM, Anonymous db said...

I'm with Tom: make the playoffs, or don't, and give all the non-playoff teams equal odds and have them pick before the playoff teams.

The trouble with the weighting system is that it's more granular than the difference between teams is - the difference between the 3rd worst and 7th worst team might not be that high.

At 3/28/2007 8:45 AM, Anonymous Cyanide said...

off-topic but JMash wrote a Kobe article on espn. Does that strike anyone else as strange considering he's still a viable player?

Are you talking about Mashburn as a viable player? He announced around this time last year his retirement because of all the knee/microfracture recovery problems and has been a regular contributor for ESPN's NBA page (usually the Daily Dime) and is part of the halftime show for games on ESPN from time to time.

And my biggest issue with the equal lottery is how unwatchably bad teams like Charlotte would be without assured talented, young lottery picks and there refusal/inability to spend any money (so... you just plan on loaning out your enormous cap space for $3 mil every year? k.) Then again that might be a positive, as teams that can/are willing to spend will be able to bring in young talent, parity be damned. Social Darwinist NBA: survival of the richest?

At 3/28/2007 9:10 AM, Blogger BenQRock said...

Jameer Nelson was the College Player of the Year and managed to slip to 20th, where the Nuggets drafted him and immediately traded his rights to the Magic. Three years later, Nelson is averaging 4 assists per game and has not recorded more than 7 in any single game this season.

Scott Skiles, he ain't.

Maybe Redick will be the next Kevin Martin. WHERE IS TRAVIS DIENER?

At 3/28/2007 9:32 AM, Anonymous White People Don't Know said...

Maybe this is a dumb question, but why does anyone care about tanking? So teams don't try as hard when they realize they suck--who cares? Is this any different than pulling your starters when your down 20 points in the fourth?

Also, who came up with the idea that the lottery would stop tanking? If I offer you a million dollars for raising your hand, you'd do it, because there is no risk. But if I say "if you raise your hand, there is a 50% chance that i give you a million dollars," do you react any more slowly?

luck is a part of sports, and a lack of parity would hurt the fans. the lottery is unnecessary, and tanking is no big deal.

At 3/28/2007 10:27 AM, Anonymous Bayern Munich said...

Miss Gossip likes the soccer style!! Unfortunately, that might not work when the D-league is pretty much a subsidiary of the NBA. But an interesting idea.

But eliminating the lottery isn't going to stop tanking - imagine if there were no lottery right now, but the teams would just pick in the (reverse) order of finish. There wouldn't even be the CHANCE of the Celtics losing intentionally and then still getting stuck with a 3 or 4 pick - it would be a simple race to the bottom. I don't think JVG really thought this out.

And I think the Bulls might surprise you.

At 3/28/2007 12:00 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Being in the lottery is overrated. I've said this in the past in defense of the Curry trade, but it is also applies to the Hawks and the Joe Johnson trade. Sorry, but the Hawks have been in the lottery, picking in the top 5 since Sherman it seems. And aside from Josh Smith, Joe Johnson is the only thing they have to show for the last decade of futility.

The idea or perception that having is a high draft pick is sufficient to turn around a franchise is one of the biggest myths there is in basketball. Yeah, having a Yao, Duncan or David Robinson or O'Neal or Ewing at #1 will set you up nicely. Or Hakeem. Or Oden this year. Guess what they all have in common? They were big men that came around about once every 5 years or so, and were only available to one team, because no one was stupid enough to let them go by.

For everyone of those franchise players, there are the same number of busts - Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, et al.

There are lots of All-Stars that didn't change a team's fortunes as much as your would think - Jason Richardson, Vince Carter, Baron Davis, Elton Brand are all top-5 picks in their prime right now, and all are fighting to just make the playoffs.

There are whole drafts (2000) where there wasn't a single franchise player in the top 10 picks: K-Mart, Swift, Miles, Fizer, et al. Right now only Crawford and Mike Miller are even decent players.

Lottery picks are overrated.

At 3/28/2007 2:07 PM, Blogger SuperFrankieLampard said...

one must surely wonder if the lure of money should be taken into account here. of course i don't mean that every league exec is after money instead of winning, but here's what i'm saying:

these teams that finish out of the playoffs and near or in the lottery every year, they've got to keep the fans coming. so maybe they feel the need to, as shoals says, "swing for the fences" because not only do you have the five-in-a-million chance of getting a savior but also, who's going to bring in more gate: a hyped-up top pick or a stealth second-dayer? every draft pick is a gamble, and it's obvious that losing teams would rather go after a lucrative gamble than just a gamble. of course there are teams like the celtics, who have the fans anyway, and want to bring back the days of bygone, but for every celtics franchise there is a grizzlies and pre-lebron cavs.

At 3/28/2007 2:20 PM, Blogger spanish bombs said...

What the heck is the point of this? That bad teams make bad picks, okay, whatever. Are you saying that we should let the best team pick first so that bad teams are forced to make blue-chip picks? What?

No matter how we might evaluate the use of these picks, this does not change JVG's point in the slightest that the current system promotes tanking in landmark draft class years. And if you want to say this doesn't happen very often: Lebron, Duncan, Oden. 3 out of the last 10. That is a big deal. People say that the US electoral system because very rarely the college winner doesn't win the popular vote.

At 3/28/2007 2:27 PM, Blogger Graham Swift said...

I liked this.

To add to one of your main tenets:

Joe Dumars in the lottery = Darko Milicic and Rodney White.

Joe Dumars post 20s = Jason Maxiell AND Tayshaun Prince.

Prince wears #22 for the 22 teams that passed on him.

word verification: illnow.

At 3/28/2007 5:09 PM, Anonymous tom said...

Teams that see tanking as an acceptable option are usually poorly managed anyways and either end up picking a bust or assembling a team that has no hope of winning.

At 3/28/2007 6:41 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

I'd love to see a freedarko take on the following story:


At 3/28/2007 7:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FD alert: Hawks/Bobcats game right now.

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