Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
To tank or not to tank? That is the question.
But it may not be for long. If some of the league's top executives get their way, tanking could become obsolete very soon.
This subject came to light in a Grantland piece earlier this week. In it, Zach Lowe describes an innovative anti-tanking campaign gaining traction around the league.
The plan is to replace the current draft lottery with a wheel consisting of 30 numbers, one for each team in the NBA. The wheel is predetermined so that each team will have the No. 1 pick once every 30 years. To ensure fairness, each team, regardless of their record the year before, would receive at least one top-six pick every five seasons and one top-12 pick every four seasons. Each 30-year cycle would look like this:
It may seem a little random at first but once you get the hang of it, the process is actually pretty easy to understand. Jazz and Sixers fans are probably hyperventilating at this prospect but the good news is, it probably won't be instituted anytime soon, if at all.
In my opinion, the wheel is a solution to something that was never a problem. Though owners and fans will contend that tanking still exists (and it might to a certain degree), the odds of the worst team getting the No. 1 pick still aren't very good.
If Milwaukee, the NBA's current worst team, finishes the year with the lowest win percentage, they'll have a 25 percent shot at getting the No. 1 overall pick. That leaves a 75 percent chance that all that tanking was for nothing.
The Bobcats have been terrible for the last decade. Want to know how many times they've gotten the No. 1 pick? Zero.
Celtics fans can relate. In 1996-97, they wasted six months being as bad as possible only to land the No. 3 pick and get Chauncey Billups instead of Tim Duncan. Boston wouldn't make it back to the playoffs for another five years.
But back to the wheel for a second. Suppose the wheel system was instituted ten years earlier when the league's current landscape was beginning to take shape. In terms of influence, no draft class in the last 15 years has had a bigger impact than the class of 2003, a group that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh among its top-five picks.
Unfortunately, the draft wheel couldn't have been put in place until the following season, 2004-05, because the Bobcats didn't exist yet. So let's leave reality by the side of the road and pretend that the '04 Draft, for all intents and purposes, was the last year of the lottery. The Orlando Magic, who took Dwight Howard with their No. 1 pick, would pick 30th in the next draft with the Seattle SuperSonics moving up to No. 1.
Arguably the most significant development of the last ten years was LeBron James' decision to leave Cleveland and form a super-trio with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. So would it have happened if the wheel was in place?
Well, it certainly would have given LeBron a different cast to work with. Assuming all players were drafted in the same position (which is a terrible assumption but it works well for this exercise), Cleveland's six first-round picks between 2005 and 2010 (which is when LeBron left for Miami) would have been as follows: Deron Williams, Maurice Ager, Daequan Cook, Marreese Speights, DeMar DeRozan and Wesley Johnson.
D-Will and DeRozan certainly would have been interesting pieces and maybe they'd be enough for James to reconsider his "Decision." Interestingly enough, Speights was drafted one pick ahead of Roy Hibbert while Wes Johnson went one before DeMarcus Cousins. If the Cavs had taken either one of those players and molded them into a franchise center, it could be Cleveland trying for a three- peat right now instead of Miami.
It's also worth mentioning that Cleveland would have had the No. 1 pick in 2015, which, depending on how eager he is to make a buck, could be Jabari Parker. A starting five of D-Will, James, Cousins, DeRozan and Parker would put Miami's Big Three to shame.
The 2007 Draft was also important in that it gave us Kevin Durant, a future Hall of Famer and probably the second-best player in the league right now. If the wheel system had been utilized, Dallas would have had the No. 1 pick that season.
Dirk Nowitzki, Durant, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion sounds like a dynasty waiting to happen doesn't it? Except back then, the decision to take Durant No. 1 wasn't so clear cut. In fact, Durant ended up going second to the Sonics while Portland opted for Ohio State man-child Greg Oden with the first pick.
As good as the Mavs have been in the Dirk Era, they've never had much of a low post presence. I imagine the chance to take Oden No. 1 would have been too good to pass up, which would have allowed Durant to slip to Memphis at No. 2.
It's pretty wild to think that Oklahoma City's dynamic duo of Durant and Russell Westbrook may never have happened. Indeed, Westbrook, who was taken at No. 4 overall in the '08 Draft, would have fallen to San Antonio in that slot.
Westbrook's UCLA teammate, Kevin Love, has been the subject of trade rumors seemingly since his arrival in Minnesota in the 2008 Draft. The weird thing is, Minnesota would have been in the same position even if the wheel were in place. The Wolves traded with Memphis for the fifth pick, which, according to the wheel, is where Love would have ended up anyway. How's that for anti- climatic?
But back to Westbrook. The Spurs would have had the fourth pick in 2008 according to the wheel's 30-year cycle. But with Tony Parker already running the point, it probably would have been redundant to add Westbrook to the mix.
With Love still available, there's a good chance San Antonio would have gone that route instead. The Love/Tim Duncan low post duo would have been reminiscent of the Twin Tower days when Duncan and David Robinson were dominating the Western Conference in the late 90s.
And what about Derrick Rose? He would have gone to the Lakers at No. 1 in that same draft. An injury-prone point guard in L.A.? Sounds like he would have fit right in.
Los Angeles won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 so having Rose at their disposal probably wouldn't have changed much. But just imagine how dominant those teams would have been with Rose playing alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
The 2009 Draft was almost as talented as the one before it. Blake Griffin, a high-scoring forward out of Oklahoma, ultimately went to the Clippers with the No. 1 pick. But if the wheel had been around, that pick would have gone to Charlotte instead. Knowing Michael Jordan and his long history of questionable decisions, the Bobcats probably would have passed on Griffin and instead drafted UConn seven-footer Hasheem Thabeet, who ended up going to Memphis at No. 2 that year.
The pick after Thabeet turned out to be James Harden. In the alternate universe created by the wheel, Harden and his tangled beard would have gone to Washington instead of OKC. Because he's mentioned OKC's Harden trade in about a zillion podcasts since, this would have given Grantland founder Bill Simmons nothing to talk about for the last two years. Poor Bill.
Remember though, not every No. 1 pick is a slam dunk. Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, is already being called one of the worst picks ever and possibly the worst No. 1 since the Wizards selected Kwame Brown in 2001.
If we could rewrite history with the wheel, Bennett would have been San Antonio's problem instead of Cleveland's. Given the Spurs' expertise when it comes to evaluating talent, I'm guessing they would have passed on Bennett and gone with guard Victor Oladipo. We'll never see it but I bet Oladipo would have done well in silver and black.
But before my draft wheel fantasy comes to an end, we have to prepare for the possibility that this may actually happen. It might even happen next year.
It's not out of the question for David Stern, who is leaving his post as commissioner in a month anyway, to pull a fast one before he leaves. If ten teams can wear ridiculous jerseys with sleeves on Christmas Day, then we certainly can't rule out the possibility of a draft overhaul.
By using last year's draft order, potentially the last in the lottery era, as the hypothetical starting point for the wheel's 30-year cycle, these are what the top-six picks would be:
Tanking may someday be a relic of a simpler time. Or maybe the ping pong balls will keep bouncing forever and ever. The coming months will decide that. But in the mean time, the draft wheel is awfully fun to think about it.