The Bid Draft: An End to Tanking

The Bid Draft would end the NBA's reliance on ping pong balls.
The recent NBA trade deadline was most notable for the drama involving Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.  Faced with the looming specter of Howard’s potential departure as a free agent, the Magic were presented with the decision of whether to trade Howard or “risk losing him for nothing” as a free agent.  In fact, some argued that simply letting Howard go and becoming a losing team in the short-term was better for the team’s long-term competitiveness.  Howard ultimately waived his option to become a free agent this year, sparing the Magic this unenviable decision.

Nevertheless, the Howard quandary highlighted an issue that has garnered increasing attention in recent months:  If a team isn’t going to be really good, it’s better to be really bad.*  Sam Presti executed the most salient example of this strategy with his tear down of the Rashard Lewis/Ray Allen Sonics into the current Thunder juggernaut.  In response, we have seen what seems to be an increasing number of teams “tanking” for better draft position, either by trading away good players or by benching their best players with questionable “injuries” once it becomes clear they won’t be competing for the playoffs that season.  The belief is that getting a high draft pick is the easiest road to getting good again.**

*When even Michael Jordan has something figured out about team management, you know it’s entered the conventional wisdom.

**This study by David Berri argues otherwise.  While I think the study has some holes (perhaps a better study would be rating how teams with high lottery picks did a few years later) and I’m not a huge fan of Wins Produced as a metric, it is compelling evidence that being bad is not necessarily the quickest way to being good.  Nonetheless, NBA teams think tanking is the way to future success, so it’s still a problem regardless of whether it actually works or not.

The problem was neatly encapsulated by Jeff Van Gundy (2:00 mark of this video) and a subsequent article by Henry Abbott.  Meanwhile, tanking has become fodder for nightly ballosphere Twitter jokes.  Humor aside, the growing consensus is that tanking is a bad thing and serious changes in the system are needed.  The issue, however, is balancing the problem of incentivizing losing with the problem of competitive balance that the draft is meant to alleviate.  To these eyes, a hopeless, uncompetitive team in a particular city is a worse problem than the league incentivizing losing in certain situations.  Therefore, I believe solutions that award draft picks without any regard for team quality would hurt the game more than they would help.  Helping bad teams get good without incentivizing losing is a rather intractable problem.

The best solution I’ve been able to come up is a system I call the Bid Draft.*  It is quite simple: Allow teams with salary cap space to bid on the top draft slots. 

The One Where I Talk About Some Teams

After 9 days on the road I finally got back in town to catch up on a few games. I don't have a real hook for this post (oh wait, yeah I do) other than some random thoughts on some random Western Conference teams. Andele!

Monty Williams' coaching has gone overlooked in the NBA backwater of New Orleans

New Orleans Hornets:  The Hornets currently sit at 10-31, just about what might have been expected after the Chris Paul trade.  But that mark masks the excellent job Monty Williams has done of late with an injury-depleted roster.  Saturday, the Hornets defeated Minnesota on the road with a starting lineup of Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, Gustavo Ayon, and Chris Kaman.  This unit (with only a few changes) has started the last ten games despite lacking a single player who might have been deemed above-average before the season. While the Hornets have gone 3-7 in that stretch, this Bobcatsesque roster has looked remarkably competitive, including close road losses against the Bulls and Pacers.

Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Day 1

I finally made it to the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (#SSAC on Twitter) and it was all I hoped it would be.  After all the powerpoints I watched today I'm only capable of writing in bullet points, so on to the highlights, in chronological order:

  • Houston Rockets GM (and event founder) Daryl Morey had a great one-liner that POTUS would be welcome at the conference so he could be disabused of the notion he expressed on the BS Report that Blake Griffin should shoot more jumpers.*  Even if the joke hadn't been funny, I would have pretended it was--I was sitting next to Daryl's dad!
*A topic close to my heart given my position in this post.
  • The opening panel with NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Scott Boras, Rob Manfred of MLB, and Steve Tisch of the New York Giants was noteworthy mostly for the drool collecting in Silver and Bettman's laps as Tisch discussed the NFL's revenues.
  • Scott Boras had a good point that younger players' "myopic" focus on simply making it to the league results in them getting the short end of the stick in CBA negotiations.
  • What I would have loved to ask Silver was whether BRI or "System issues"/"perceived competitive balance"* was more important to the owners.  To these eyes, they mostly caved on the system issues to get the players to accept a lower percentage of BRI.  Does that mean that the small-market owners, when it comes down to it, care more about making money than winning?
*Research conducted during the lockout concluded that teams that spend more don't really win more, but the key here is that the owners appeared to believe that limiting the high-spending teams would improve competitive balance.  From that standpoint, they gave up perceived competitive balance to make more money.