The Perfect Blocking Scheme Against Loyal Fans (Part 2 of 3)

These are so many massive revenue streams for NFL owners that the local fan base gets about as much respect as Jim Tomsula had as 49er head coach. Deals like the $27 Billion national TV deal are well known. Others not so much. The NFL has a brazen system in place that actually provides financial incentive for teams to move.

The NFL “relocation fee” is a vivid illustration of a business model that befits of a Sopranos episode. Quite simply, when a team wants to move to another turf, they pay off their fellow bosses with a large sum of money. Sports Illustrated reports that both the Chargers and Rams will pay $645 million for their relocation fee and the Raiders will pay $378 million. That’s some serious money being relocated!

So what happens to this approximate $1.6 billion? It all gets split up and pocketed by all the owners. Bada bing!

Why does it cost so much just to change business locations? It seems perfectly legal for a business to move, and it’s not as if an owner in New York is having the fan base impinged on in a move of two teams in the far west.

Is the exorbitant price-tag recognition that something egregious is happening to the fans, so it’s aimed to release the guilt of the moving owner? I’m not sure buying absolution is the most effective way towards achieving it, even if you are being shaken down for $645 million.

Or maybe it’s just good ol’ hush money –so the other owners will look the other way and vote to approve the relocation. I was surprised that only one owner voted against the iconic Oakland Raiders becoming the Las Vegas Raiders–that is until I learned how much money each owner made from the move. The relocation fee is a billion dollar business enterprise within the NFL structure–and it’s a business that couldn’t conflict more with the premise of loyalty on which the NFL prides itself.

How exactly do the owners decide on those exorbitant numbers anyway? $645 million seems like a number just pulled out of a hat. Fair market value for relocating seems to be about $99. It’s hard to picture any sort of formula determining that it will cost $645 million to change cities—are they calculating it using a derivative of a per mile change? Or the total number of days that loyal fans have loved them over the years?

The only sense I can make out of it is that they are factoring in the price of a league selling its soul.

Teams that relocate do make a lot of money in the short term–which is why they are willing to pay so much. Teams get wooed with giant public sector gifts. The Nevada government gave the Raiders a $750 million subsidy to build the new stadium–money that owner Mark Davis could not get from Oakland–and away the Raiders go.

Of course, this is after the Raiders already took $200 million from the City of Oakland for stadium renovations in 1995 when they returned after their failed move to Los Angeles. Deadspin reported that the City of Oakland will have to be paying off this $200 million plus another $150 million from unsold PSL’s they were stuck with long after the Raiders are gone.

Maybe the Raiders shouldn’t take their team name so literally?

The past moves of the Raiders and Rams have not just been nightmares for the cities, they have also not been long-term wins for the team and the league. If the past repeats itself, after about 20 years in Vegas the Raiders will be looking for a new home again. At that time, the Nevada government will have no more money to give and the Las Vegas Raiders will not be a shiny new team to their brand new fans anymore.

I wonder how long it will take for the Chargers to follow this recent pattern and return to San Diego? The Chargers have been in Los Angeles less than a year and it has been so painful for them that even the most move-happy owners must be cringing. The Chargers not only cannot fill their 20,000 seat soccer stadium, but many of the fans in attendance wear the visiting team’s colors. There are already stories about a return to San Diego.

How many times lately have you heard an owner, player, or coach say, “This is a business.” Yes it is a business, but it’s also something more. Local teams become part of the community fabric. Rivalry games like the Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers build over time and gain a lore and historic value that can’t be replaced overnight.

The NFL should adopt a strategy of incentives to encourage teams to plant their flag in a city and build a relationship with fans that lasts over generations. Instead, the league is a feeding frenzy with money flying around from cities to money hungry rambling owners who then share their windfall with their fellow owners.

Residents of Oakland have now had their hearts broken twice by the Raiders, and the City of Oakland is in debt paying off the money they gave the Raiders. This is not how a community or fan base should be treated. Multi-billion dollar national television contracts are making stadiums the equivalent to a recording studio–and some owners don’t even appear to care where they are located.

The NFL should be ashamed.

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Raiding Our Heart (Part 1 of 3)

When I think back to rooting for the Giants in the 1970’s, I remember family camping trips in Yosemite. At night, way out there in the wilderness, my dad and I would sneak off to the car and turn on the radio–and we would strain to decipher what was happening in the Giants game.

The signal would come and go and only a few sentences here and there would make it all the way to the valley floor. But on clear nights the picture would slowly emerge—and with the hopefulness of line drives down the line, that would often hook foul, we would sometimes learn the score.

Whatever was happening in those game was so amplified, it was our connection to something that mattered in a place just out of reach; and it mattered so much.

We were glued to that radio—to deep fly balls getting lost in the Sierras.

This is how I was raised a Giants fan.

Sometimes I think about what it would have been like if the Giants had actually moved to Tampa Bay in 1992 when they signed that letter of intent to do so. But I quickly push that thought away. I can’t even picture them in another city.

But after seeing the San Diego Chargers become the Los Angeles Chargers, and the Las Vegas Raiders not far behind, it’s a subject that has forced its way into all our realities.

I went to college in San Diego and I saw the love that community had for the Chargers. The powder blue and gold decorating laid back beach towns during playoff runs. And Hacksaw Hamilton on the radio shouting “show me your lightning bolt!!” What a bitter pill to swallow for San Diego:  to not only lose the Chargers to a city that already has a football team, but to have it be LA.

I also remember the first Raiders move in 1982, their “commitment to exodus”. Some say that no team embodied their city as much as the Raiders did of Oakland before that move.

The thing about these moves is that no matter how common they become, each one is a jarring punch to the gut of anyone who cares even a little about professional sports. Each move is like a puncture in a Matrix that has been built over generations.

What do people really get from their team besides the ability to love and be loyal?

If you are a fan of McDonalds you can get food to eat.

If you are a fan of Audi you can drive a car.

If you are a fan of a sports team, uh…you get the opportunity to be a fan of a team. This in itself is a unique relationship dynamic. If you take this team/fan relationship and make an analogy to human relations, you are essentially describing the most narcissistic relationship possible.

And yet human beings by nature want to show loyalty and be part of a community. Sports teams can bring people together of all ages and ethnicities, and it brings so much to a region. But the basis of this is that the team and the community have both a history and future together. Without these two things, what is really there?

When professional sports teams decide to relocate, wow their fans sure look foolish. Because up until that moment, the only consideration the team has really given fans is operating in that community–with an underlying assumption that by giving loyalty in the present fans would also get to maintain this loyalty in the future.

Professional sports is like a social contract. The franchise offers up a team, and the fans accept this and give their money, time, love, and passion. But what does the team give back?

There are a few key drivers fueling these moves and the following blog series will explore them—things such as shared relocation fees and political bidding wars. Of course, there’s also a very simple component: an owner’s ego may get hurt, the grass is always greener, and owners just move ‘because they can’. But for sports to continue to be a heartbeat of our nation, they can’t.

In our country right now we hear so much about divisions getting amplified. And here we have something that is a unifier like sports dissipating into the air like steam. Sports teams bring people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic background together, giving them reason to pull for the same team and bonding them together. Can you name something else that does this as effectively?  

Teams abandoning the fans who have loved them through thick and thin is like a metaphor of the humanity being sucked out of our communities, replaced by traffic jams and new corporate offices. I guess the Las Vegas Raiders are a sign of the times.

It’s so painful to see the Raiders and Chargers leave their fans who have given so much. These moves are such a kick in the mouth to these towns that the kick is reverberating beyond these areas. Leaving a city violates the key premise which professional sports bases its brand on: loyalty.

Sports hold a soft spot in our hearts, and these moves are hardening this.

In my youth, fly balls getting lost in the Sierras may have cemented my love of the Giants. But today, instead of getting lost in the Sierras, the Raiders and Chargers are gambling and getting lost in glitz. Pretty soon, without a history and a fan base which has passed the love of the team down through generations, the stands could be as empty as beautiful meadows in the wilderness.

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A Tale of Two Cities and One Legend

Matt Cain is the longest standing Giants player on the team right now by far. He is also one of the greatest San Francisco Giants who ever played. It only seems like yesterday when Cain first came up to the Giants at the age of 21 throwing absolute heat–and yet that was before the first ever iPhone had been released!

Like the fast moving technology of the Bay Area that often revolutionizes in a decade, Cain’s career spans two completely different Giants franchises–like a Tale of Two Cities of the baseball world. And like the greatest novels of all time, future generations will marvel at Cain and his lasting meaning as to what it was like to be alive today and be a Giants fan.

When Matt Cain arrived in 2005, the Giants were a franchise like a lost ship at sea. It was the worst of times. In their long history in San Francisco they had exactly zero World Series championships. Any Giants fan who says this didn’t bother them to the point of not even wanting to think about it would be lying. Today, the team is like an entirely different organization–more like a decorated aircraft carrier. They may be struggling on the field right now, but they are doing so with banners flying in the wind. No matter what happens the next few seasons, the Giants will almost certainly end up as the top team of this decade having already won three World Series titles.

The tale of Matt Cain unveils greatness. He has meant so much to the Giants, that it’s even easy to overlook the nightmarish aspect of his most recent $112.5 million contract—a contract that is one of the worst of its’ size in baseball history. How is it possible to overlook his dreadful performance as a $112.5 man? That’s just how great Matt Cain was before this contract, and also how his value goes beyond what numbers can show.

First about that contract: right before the 2012 season the Giants signed Cain to a five-year, $112.5 million contract extension that would start in 2013. Cain was already signed through the 2012 season, but whispers of the Dodgers signing Cain for the following season sent shivers through Giants fans, and this could have had a role in this deal getting done so early– a full season before he reached free agency. An upshot of this timing is that Cain’s career year in 2012 did not technically count as part of his $112.5 million deal. But even if the stellar stats from 2102 were included it would not be nearly enough to make his next contract look even average. The specifics of how he has played during the lifetime of this deal are the kind that has ruined the name of every other $100+ million dollar player. In the roughly four and a half seasons of the deal so far, Cain’s stats are: 19 wins, 37 losses, an ERA of 5.03, and a WHIP of 1.42. Yes he has battled arm trouble, but there is no getting around how ineffective he has been on the mound during this time.

But Cain’s value as a golden bridge from the team without a World Series title to being a multiple champion is so powerful that it transcends this contract. And like how true greatness can be easily summed up, Cain’s value can be succinctly illustrated in just two snapshots: his 2010 playoff performance and game 7 of the 2012 Series.

In 2010, while bringing the Giants their first ever World Series in their San Francisco history, Cain posted a ZERO ERA in the entire postseason. Yes you read that right: 0.00. He did not let in a single run in the League Division Series, the League Champion Series, or the World Series. He pitched a total of 20.4 scoreless innings during this heart pounding, pressurized, gut wrenching period of Giants history, where the World Series ghosts of 1962, 1989, and 2002 were finally vanquished. Cain’s record was 2-0, and with an ERA of zero does WHIP even matter? I’m not sure any post season starter with over 20 innings has ever warranted this question before.

The Giants arrived in San Francisco in 1958, and after 51 seasons without a World Series title going into 2010,  many fans were wondering if it would ever happen in their lifetime (even attentive seven year olds were probably pondering this painful existential question).

Cain’s near perfection throughout the entire playoff run during 2010 was crucial to the drought ending. This alone could put Cain in the pantheon of Giants greats, but then in 2012, he again played a critical part in another World Series victory. The entire 2012 season was like a dream season for Cain. That year he pitched one of only 23 perfect games in the history of major league baseball. And then in the post season, he won a winner-take-all game 7 against the Cardinals to win the pennant. To put the value of this in context, in the history of major league baseball, there have only been a total of 53 games 7’s ever played.

I was at that game 7 in the rain. It was a rout with the Giants scoring early and often, but I will never forget the confidence Cain exuded as he walked out to the mound to start this dramatic game. He looked like a cowboy confidently walking out to the OK Corral–with his understated swaggering gait–a quiet confidence that just gave the sense it was going to be OK. Cain always had the look and feel of a San Francisco Giant legend, a player who had arrived when the Giants were horrible, and then in his prime was leading them to their second World Series title.

Cain is a rare baseball player where statistics don’t tell the whole story. In those early days in 2005-2009, he was like an unbridled horse with an electric fastball, a pitch which almost elicited hope for the future with each explosive launch. Yet Cain kept receiving heart breaking losses due to a lack of run support. In 2008 Cain had the worst run support in baseball, and yet despite being in this early 20’s, he always accepted these losses as a team player and displayed maturity beyond his years, never blaming others or questioning the feeble offense behind him. In fact, losing a game after a terrific pitching performance became a verb which is still used today by both fans and broadcasters, it’s called getting “Cained”.

I will just never forget how pure and powerful his stuff was in those early days. It seemed every other game he had a no-hitter into the 6th inning. I was once at an interleague game against the Angels, and I had no idea he had a no hitter until I was in the bathroom in the sixth inning and I heard the broadcasters mention it. From my seat, it just looked like another typical young Matt Cain performance. And no surprise, he ended up getting ‘Cained’ that night. But as a young kid, calmly taking these heartbreaking losses onto his own win/loss record was leading by example, and showing how to blend trust and professionalism and friendship in the clubhouse. Clubhouse chemistry later was the secret sauce to the Giants championships.

A ‘Tale of Two Franchises’, starring Timmy, Cain, Buster, and Mad Bum.

Cain’s performances when it mattered most easily erased his last bad contract, and when he leaves the Giants, it will be like San Francisco losing another piece of its history amidst the urban sprawl of the day.

And then even on the best of days, without Matt Cain around, the Bay Area will be the one getting Cained.

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Surprise! The Warriors and Cavs Top Four Players Have the Same Average Age

There is an eye popping and very fitting statistic that the Warriors and Cavaliers share. As of today, the top four players on each team have the EXACT same average age: 27.75 years old.

Core Four Ages:

Warriors:

Stephen Curry: 29

Kevin Durant: 28

Klay Thompson: 27

Draymond Green: 27

29 + 28 + 27 + 27 = 141.

141/4 = 27.75

 

Cavaliers:

Lebron James: 32

Kevin Love 28

Tristan Thompson: 26

Kyrie Irving 25

32 + 28 + 26 + 25 = 141

141/4 = 27.75

 

This identical average age is quite a coincidence–and hints at the continued dominance that these teams may enjoy for the next few years.

With the likely third consecutive meeting these teams could have in the upcoming NBA Finals, referred to as ”The Trilogy”,  the shared age of these team’s top four players speaks to the core of these teams being in their prime years. In addition, considering the Warriors and Cavs are a combined 23-1 in the playoffs so far this year, how many years in a row could these two teams face off in the NBA finals?  Barring injury, it could easily be a few more years.

The biggest short term threat to the Warriors are the aging Spurs, who enter the off season with very little salary cap space. Barring the Spurs adding free agent Chris Paul and getting a discount from him, it will be difficult for the Spurs to pass the Warriors next season.

The Celtics, on the other hand, are young and will also have maximum salary cap space this off season. So the Celtics could not only find their way to the finals this season and cancel the Trilogy, they could also drastically improve very quickly.

In the history of the salary cap, no team has ever entered the off season with maximum space and had the number one pick in the draft while also sporting the best regular season record in their conference. So even if the Celtics lose the Cavs this year, they will be entering the offseason with their own trilogy of hope for the future. If the Celtics are able to sign free agent Gordon Hayward and reunite him with his college coach Brad Stevens, as well as add a few other pieces, they could pose a serious threat to the Cavaliers playoff dominance.

But given that 27.75 number and names like Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry–there could be quite a few sequels to the Warriors vs. Cavaliers Trilogy.

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When It Comes to PEDS, Cashman Puts a Ring on It

On August 7 a ‘hush hush’ topic of the baseball steroid era finally raised its head. But instead of making a subtle reference to this taboo subject, Yankees GM Brian Cashman decided to address it with a swagger usually reserved for how the winning hand of the World Series of poker might be revealed.

This Fox Sports story describes the scene perfectly:

“During the press conference Sunday, Yankees GM Brian Cashman was asked a pointed question about how A-Rod should be remembered — as one of the best ever or a cheater — and deftly dodged it, instead taking the 2009 World Series ring off his finger and laying it on the table in front of reporters. He then responded…

‘Well, I’m wearing this 2009 World Series ring right here. I’ll take it off and put it right in front of you guys so you can take a look at it. That’s the ’09 ring — that doesn’t come along to this franchise’s trophy case without Alex’s contributions, significant contributions’”.

There you have it: the first time a team has attributed the contributions of a convicted PED user as a key to winning the World Series. But Cashman even goes further than this. He says that the championship would not have even happened “without A-Rod’s contributions”.

The World Series ring is quite a prop. I wonder if Cashman considered a bat flip or a touchdown dance after his statement?

Because the championship being referenced by Cashman is the World Series of baseball, and not the World Series of poker, this is quite a revealing statement by Cashman. It demonstrates the institutional apathy of baseball’s front offices towards PEDS users, as well as an almost grateful acceptance of what they achieve. However, it also shines light on a solution to the PEDS problem in professional sports.

On the surface, Cashman’s statement on the 2009 Yankees could seem unrelated to A-Rod’s actual PED usage. Technically, A-Rod has only admitted to using PEDS from 2001-2003, and then, according to the DEA’s report of investigation, from late 2010 to October 2012. But if you think those are the only times A-Rod ever went this PEDestrian route, you may also still think that Obama has a fake American birth certificate.

I can’t imagine Cashman really thinking that A-Rod only used PEDS in pinstripes during the admitted windows of time.

It turns out that A-Rod’s first ‘gotcha’ moment occurred before the formal testing process had even started in baseball. In 2003, a test was given but players were assured that this test was anonymous and only being done for research purposes. The results would have remained secret but the names were leaked.

After a tearful apology, that conveniently occurred as the TV cameras were rolling, A-Rod was caught a second time without actually even failing an MLB drug test. Of course, a slight limitation of these so-called drug tests were that they did not test for HGH or account for how quickly testosterone goes through your system. But the savvy A-Rod had researched these flaws in the test like a Nobel prize winning scientist. Unfortunately for A-Rod, he still got busted for HGH and testosterone because his doctor was raided by the DEA and the paper trail led directly to him. Talk about bad luck.

But now talk about good luck, Cashman now credits A-Rod for the Yankees 2009 Championship.

Assume that A-Rod gets the benefit of the doubt because it’s not a proven fact that he used PEDS in 2009. Who cares that in 2009 the MLB did not test for HGH. Who cares that MLB had the same drug testing policy in 2009 that A-Rod was able to avoid the very next season while admittedly using PEDS. Who even cares that Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated at the time reported that A-Rod starting using steroids way back in high school, making his entire career a potential fraud.

Whether A-Rod was dirty or clean in 2009, Cashman is still giving the credit for the World Series win to someone who was convicted of using PEDS both before 2009 and after 2009, and this is a fact.

Why would Cashman do this? Did Cashman want to remind everyone that he and the Yankees have actually won a World Series after the year 2000? Was he in a giving mood because he was so happy that A-Rod was finally going to be gone from his clubhouse? Or, does winning a World Series behind a serial juicer not even matter to the team’s front office?

Cashman appears to be making the latter statement, and this shows the flaw in how MLB polices PED use, and also how it can be improved.

It’s hard to believe that right now MLB teams receive no penalty at all if their players get caught using PEDS.  Teams have very little incentive to care if their players use PEDS. A team can win with these players and profit off their performance and not fear any consequences. This is ridiculous!

Cashman may have chosen to focus on A-Rod’s 2009 contributions rather than A-Rod’s cheating because that is how Cashman’s boss sets up his comp plan.

Until the team gets severely penalized for one of its players doing PEDS, teams will continue to pretend to care and continue to reap the benefits of the PEDS, whether these benefits are victories or revenue.

If  teams faced the prospect of retroactively having their World Series championship erased from the record books, or being fined for every dollar they made during that timeframe, front offices would have an incentive to use their resources to suit up PED free players. If teams focused on building rosters that are PED free with the same vigor they focus on harnessing speed, pitching, and defense, an entire culture would emerge against PEDs, from a fear of letting down teammates to the reality of taking money out of the bosses pocket.

Because Cashman believes that A-Rod should be remembered for his 2009 World Series contributions and not his rampant cheating, Cashman is showing what the owners and general managers value. Until this changes, the next A-Rod may be entering the big leagues right now, always one step ahead of the drug testing policy.

Well, I’m not sure anyone could ever equal A-Rod in his shameless pursuit of cheating, but you get my point. And maybe A-Rod’s bosses even appreciate the lengths he went to in order to be the best player science could buy.

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Bochy’s Choice

Bruce Bochy is fiercely loyal to his veteran players. This has made him a successful coach and beloved by his players. Case in point: in Jake Peavy’s first interview when he joined the Giants in 2014, he referred to Bochy as a “father figure” dating back to their days together on the Padres during the previous decade.

Today, as Peavy struggles with a staggering ERA hovering around 9, Giants fans wonder if Peavy’s nine lives in the starting rotation are coming to an end. But Bochy has only heaped respect and trust on Peavy, like a dad believing in his son.

This must be gut wrenching for Bochy, because Peavy is far from his only baseball child. Bochy and the Giants front office have difficult choices to consider regarding the fourth and fifth spots in their rotation. Today, another one of Bochy’s extended baseball family, Tim Lincecum, who some people credit with resurrecting the Giants franchise, is looking for work and having a showcase after hip surgery.

This is the same Tim Lincecum who not too long ago wasn’t just winning Cy Young’s for Bochy but was also willing to risk his health and put what some have seen as unhealthy strain on his body for the good of the team in the postseason om 2010. Bochy turned to Lincecum to come in from the bullpen on two days’ rest to pitch in the 8th inning of the close-out game against the Phillies. Timmy did this for Bochy that night and the Giants won that critical game and avoided having to take the series back to San Franciso. During that historic postseason in 2010, Lincecum also threw a two hit shutout in game one against the Braves and won the World Series deciding game against the Rangers. That final win prevented the Giants from facing a terrifying game six against the Rangers.(Can any Giants fan truly forget the agony of what happened in game 6 in the 2002 World Series against the Angels?) Without Lincecum’s clutch performance in Texas, that nightmarish game six failure might have reared its ugly head and echoed into 2010.

As a manager who takes pride in being loyal to his players, Bochy has not forgotten Timmy’s heroics and grit, and this must be a challenging time for Bochy to think about how he approaches this iteration of Timmy the Kid.

As the media asked questions last week, the Giants front office started their public comments on Timmy’s showcase with GM Bobby Evans saying that they are leaving a door open for Timmy as a potential reliever, but that their five starting spots were taken, essentially closing the door on him. But only this week, Bochy added that consideration would also be given to Lincecum to fill a potential starting spot that could open because of an injury. This could be a hint at the phantom ‘injury’ that sidelined Peavy early last season as he struggled. And last night after the Rockies pounded Matt Cain, Bochy admitted that the pitching rotation is something “they’ll talk about”.

This added comment hints at how much Bochy must be suffering on this Sophie’s Choice decision– to have to choose among Bochy Peavy, Lincecum  and even Matt Cain, as these heroes of Bochy’s past seek to find out what they have left while all still in their early 30’s (Lincecum and Cain are both 31 and Peavy is 34).

To add a layer of complexity: observing this is Madison Bumgarner, the best pitcher for Bochy right now. Like Lincecum, Bumgarner risked his health by pitching on two days rest in the post season, and he did this for a lot more innings than Lincecum did. Bumgarner must know that some day he may be in the same position as Lincecum, and I’m sure he’s watching this out of the corner of his eye.

The Giants were out of line when they said publicly before Timmy’s showcase that there is no room for him in their starting rotation right now. While they may feel they have to say this to show confidence in their current players, simply keeping silence on the issue would have been a more tactful way to pay respect to what Timmy has meant to the Giants.

Without Lincecum throwing his body all the way into the operating room, the Giants might still be looking for their first World Series win in San Francisco. Instead they seek their fourth title in seven seasons this year–and those last three championships must be in the forefront of the mind of a loyal player’s coach like Bochy.

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Time to Change the NBA Lottery (Part 4 of 4)

The NBA started the draft lottery in 1985 as a way to combat tanking—the practice of strategically fielding a bad team in order to get a top draft pick. Based on the number of teams that still tank every season, it’s startlingly clear that the 1985 version of the NBA lottery did not go far enough.

Under the current rules, all 14 teams who miss the playoffs qualify for the lottery. The worse a team’s record is, the better odds they have of getting the first, second, or third pick. For example, the worst team in the NBA has a 25% chance of nabbing the first pick and the second worst team has a 19.9% chance. The 6th worst team drops down to 6.3%–and by the time it gets down to the 10th team they have a 1.1% chance for the first pick. The 11th-13th place teams have a .8%, .7%, .6%, respectively. The team with the 14th and worst record has a .5% chance for the first pick, .6% chance for the second pick and .7% chance for the 3rd pick. (See the probability table below with the lottery teams from 2015.)

lottery grid

The short story is that teams who come close to the playoffs but don’t make them start approaching Powerball-like odds for a high pick. The current NBA lottery rules apply to the top three draft picks. Once the top three players are chosen, the rest of the draft selections from 4-14 are made in order from worst record to best record.

This system does not do enough to prevent front offices from tanking. At times it actually has the opposite effect and incentivizes teams to tank. Because tanking is such an insult to NBA fans and also to the players who have to be on a tanking team, I propose the following plans to motivate front offices to stop tanking.

Anti-tanking solution part A: Continue with a draft lottery that encompasses all 14 teams who miss the playoffs, but now give each of these teams an equal shot with the same odds. That’s right, the team with the worst record in basketball would have the same odds for the first pick as the best of the 14 teams. Each team who misses the playoffs would now have a 1/14 chance, about 7%, to get the first pick. Bye bye tanking!

This would lead to front offices’ joining the players in doing everything they can do to win every game.

If you think teams would still miss the playoffs on purpose to enter this lottery for a 7% chance, this says more about the NBA playoff format, because in football or baseball you would never see a team pass up a chance to enter the ‘anything can happen’ playoffs. In college basketball, teams erupt in celebration when getting an invite to the big dance, and perhaps the NBA should tweak their 2 month playoff mini-season into NCAA-like brackets, but that’s for another blog.

There is also a financial incentive to making the playoffs that would guard against teams on the playoff bubble choosing the 7% tanking option. Each NBA team who makes the playoffs gets to host at least two playoff games. This guarantees increased revenue and would make any owner scoff at a GM who proposed tanking for only a 7% shot at the best draft pick. I would also give all 14 teams the same odds to get every pick from 1-14.

This change to the lottery would lead to a culture shift in NBA front offices.

Anti-tanking solution part B (This would be optional if part A were instituted, but completely necessary without part A):

Save NBA GM’s from themselves by banning the practice of trading future number 1 picks.

The purpose of a draft is to distribute future talent to allow under-performing teams to improve and build for the future. Their use as a bargaining chip so teams can gamble on their future has created problems on multiple levels, as discussed in part 2.

I don’t like having to suggest something that restricts trade in sports. In fact, I just wrote a four part series about how the salary cap violates basic capitalistic principles and should be eliminated. But in this case, the trading of future draft picks can lead to the least entertaining thing in sports: tanking.

If the thought of restricting the right of teams to trade picks seems overbearing, this is something that the NBA has already partially instituted with the Stepien Rule. This is a rule that forbids teams from trading future first round picks in back to back years. It was essentially adopted to prevent GM’s from giving away too much of their future.

Until tanking stops, it’s time to step up the Stepien Rule and expand it to include every season.

If anti-tanking solution part A is adopted, first round picks could be traded without motivating tanking because there would be no protected picks and only a 7% chance at winning the number one pick–not high enough odds to be worth giving up a season.

When tanking is gone it will be such a breath of fresh air for the NBA. Think back to Rajon Rondo’s veteran move last week for the Kings described in part 3. He stalled the other’s teams’ game-winning free throw for 30 seconds, and the opposing player ended up missing the shot. This scrappy will to win seems to have crept down from the front office, which is pulling all stops to win this year even without a championship roster. Rondo’s young teammates might be telling rookies about that hilariously competitive move 15 years from now. However, I doubt this type of play would ever take place on a tanking team like the 76ers. It’s certainly not the undermanned players’ fault. They are trying their hardest, but they are victims of a front office phenomenon that sucks the air out of a team like a vacuum while insulting both the players and the fans.

As I said in the first part of this series, the fact that tanking actually happens is difficult even to think about, but at least it can be stopped.

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