Should the NBA Draft Be Abolished?

Conversations have been held over the years to reform the NBA Draft Lottery. Here’s the easy — or not so easy — way to fix it: get rid of the draft altogether.

The Reasoning

So, why not just reform the lottery? That’s the easiest way of fixing things. It doesn’t create too much drama and the tanking problem is closer to being solved. But it doesn’t solve two major problems that no simple reform can fix: rewarding failure and lack of player freedom.

The Plan

In the 2014 proposal for lottery reform, the top four (or bottom four) teams would have equal odds at the top pick rather than the worst team having the best odds. This year, the Celtics (via Brooklyn) had a 25 percent chance at earning the top pick, Phoenix had a 19.9 percent chance, LA (Lakers) a 15.6 percent chance, and the Philadelphia 76ers an 11.9 percent chance.

The Contracts

Teams with tons of cap space — which generally tend to be teams at the top of the lottery — still can give the best financial incentives to incoming players. Ziller came up with the Rookie Max, which is 150 percent of the Mid-Level Exception — $12.2 million in 2017–18. With annual raises, this would amount to a four-year, $51.6 million deal. Only team options would be allowed.

The Pros

We have already gone through two large pros of abolishing the draft in detail — increased player freedom and disincentivizing losing. There are others that I would like to delve into a bit.

Hope If A Star Leaves

If a team were to lose a star in free agency, they wouldn’t have to sell out for a year or more in hopes of sinking to the bottom of the standings and drafting one.

Happier Players

That really good player playing in a city he hates with a dumb coach and bad players? Yeah, he’s not going to want to stay there forever. But thanks to restricted free agency, that player is (almost) locked into that situation for at least seven years.

Holding Everybody Accountable

It is really sad to say, but in the current system, even terrible general managers have some value to NBA teams. It is not unfathomable for a GM’s terrible decisions to lead his team to the NBA’s depths, receive a top pick and then hit on it — even if by luck more than pure scouting skill.

More Creative People Getting Jobs

Even today’s executives have to have a little bit of a knack for marketing in them. Selling your team to free agents is a part of the gig. When expanding that yearly free agent list by more than 30 players, including some that could be the future of their team and the league altogether, teams would have to get a lot more creative to attract rookies.

More Competition

The majority of the people reading this probably weren’t too thrilled with this year’s playoffs. Cleveland damn near swept through the East, and Golden State damn near swept through the entire playoffs. It would take a while, but eventually, the NBA’s competition level would be at an all-time high.

The Cons

I am probably too attached to this idea to find many arguments against it. Maybe that’s because the idea just makes too much sense. But I realize a lot of the “pros” are based off of assumptions of certain things happening and that they may not happen. Should certain things happen? Sure. But this is not a perfect world. You can come up with a flawless idea, think things through, account for missteps, plan around them and execute it all the way through. But things always happen that you don’t plan for or think about. It’s just how it is. This “con” represents anything and everything that passed me by.

Small Market Struggle

No matter how solid an organization is built, small market teams will always be at a disadvantage. My “Hope If A Star Leaves” pro assumes a team has a star in the first place. My two examples — Indiana and Oklahoma City — drafted Paul George and Kevin Durant because they were bad enough at basketball to get a top 10 pick. If the draft system ended today and the current small market teams with no stars had to attract a star by what they had to offer, could they? It’s not impossible to sell an incoming rookie on even the most unfavorable NBA city, but it’s sure as hell a lot easier to just draft them. Would the NBA rather a team tank for a star or go decades without one? It’s a question we can’t answer, but it is certainly up for debate and something to consider if this plan was truly considered by the league.

Fewer Players Getting A Chance

On draft night, 60 players get their dream of becoming an NBA player realized. This is because all 30 teams have two draft picks to use, and there’s no way around it.

Less Tradable Assets

Draft picks are moved every year. It could be a second round pick, a future pick, or the no. 1 overall pick. Draft picks allow for more trades to happen, whether they be dealt on their own or are paired with players. Teams can trade exceptions, but they are not worth nearly what draft picks are worth — mostly because there are only two kinds of exceptions. Trades are a large part of what makes the NBA so exciting, and making trades less fun would in part make the NBA less fun.

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Dylan Hughes

Two-time self-development author also writing on business and electric vehicles. My free newsletter: https://dylanhughes.substack.com.