Jody Avirgan, FiveThirtyEight
147 Columbus Avenue 4th Floor
New York, NY 10023
Adam Silver, Commissioner, NBA
Olympic Tower Associates
645 5th Ave
New York, NY 10022
Dear Commissioner Silver-
Here’s a gimme. Over the last month, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast “Hot Takedown” has been soliciting ideas from listeners for how to change the NBA draft lottery in order to prevent certain teams from “tanking.” We know that your office doesn’t believe teams are trying to lose on purpose, but nevertheless many fans are frustrated by the way in which some franchises seem to prioritize stockpiling high draft picks over immediate victories.
After putting out an initial call for entries, we received over 7,000 proposals across a wide spectrum of ideas. There were radical proposals to eliminate the draft entirely, and smaller proposals to tweak the ping-pong ball odds. Ultimately, we were looking for a proposal that was innovative, but still palatable to both the league and the average fan.
Our panel winnowed that list down to a few finalists, and have picked one plan to officially endorse and submit to you. The winning plan comes to us from Samuel B. Feldblum and Cody Cutting of New York, NY. They refer to themselves as The Futures Draft Planning Committee.
Here is the crux of their plan, in their words:
Teams tank only because they own their own picks. So it stands to reason that we could eliminate tanking by creating a world in which nobody owned their own pick, but instead owned stock market-style futures on other teams’ picks.
In other words, each summer the league would conduct not one, but two drafts: the normal one in which teams select incoming rookies, plus another in which teams choose from their fellow franchises based on which one they think will have the worst record in the upcoming season.
Then, the order of the following year’s rookie draft would be based on which teams were smartest at predicting poor records for their peers. Since a team isn’t allowed to choose themselves in this exercise, there’s no longer any incentive to lose basketball games for a better pick -- in fact, it’s in a team’s best interest to win as much as possible, since a quality record will damage the opponent who holds that team’s “future,” meaning one fewer opponent to compete with at the top of the draft pool.
And think of the rivalries this could create! There’s room for discussion about how much teams will be allowed to know about who owns whose future, but imagine the motivation when a team plays the opponent who literally bet against them having a good season.
Rest assured, Samuel and Cody have created a much more detailed document outlining the various contingencies that would need to go into effect alongside this proposal. There are no-trade clauses between teams who own each other’s futures; GM non-compete agreements; and so forth.
We will gladly send you the full proposal if you’re interested.
Moreover, we’d like to extend a formal invitation for you to join us on “Hot Takedown” to discuss this plan, the other ideas we received and the state of the NBA draft in general.
If you want to put a meeting on our Outlook calendar, I’m sure we can make it work.
Chadwick Matlin, Neil Paine, Kate Fagan, Jody Avirgan on behalf of Samuel B. Feldblum and Cody Cutting -- and our NBA listener-fans everywhere.