Even though I know it's in the best interest of the Denver Nuggets' immediate future to lose and lose often for the remainder of the season, I simply cannot root for my beloved hometown team to lose games. It goes against my fundamental DNA and everything I stand for as a Nuggets fan.
Just this week - and knowing better - the Nuggets all-too-short two-game win streak (and seeing the team actually having fun on the court for once) gave me that hint of optimism experienced briefly months ago.
Kenneth Faried can play for Brian Shaw! Ty Lawson is an all-star caliber point guard! Wilson Chandler could be the sixth-man of the year when Danilo Gallinari comes back! Evan Fournier is the next Manu Ginobili! This team will be fine when they're healthy and they have a lottery pick added to the roster as-is!
And then they blew a 16-point lead against a crappy New Orleans Pelicans team, lost in overtime and reality set back in.
LOSE! LOSE! LOSE! Did you see what Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker did over the weekend! Trade half the roster and build around a top-three pick already!!
Put it simply, I don't want to spend another season of NBA basketball rooting for my hometown team to lose. And I suspect other NBA fans don't either.
But thanks to a NBA Draft Lottery system that encourages - check that, practically demands - losing as many games as possible as a pathway to NBA success, you can't help but wish for a team that has no hope of making the playoffs (like, regrettably, our Nuggets) to lose their way into NBA Lottery ping pong ball accumulation.
So from this point forward, you can add me to the chorus of critics who have had it with the NBA Draft Lottery in its present condition. This past week, the always-great Bill Simmons of ESPN's Grantland wrote an exceptional column on tanking that's a must-read for all NBA fans. In it Simmons points out the huge negatives associated with tanking, notably the poisonous culture purposeful losing can cause for a franchise and the players on the roster while it's happening ... something we've written about and argued about frequently this season here at Denver Stiffs this season. And often ignored is the impact that tanking has on young fans of NBA teams. One of the many reasons why I happen to be a huge Nuggets fan is because the franchise was competitive and fun to watch for the first 15 years of my life. How many kids are Philadelphia 76ers fans this season?
To Coach Shaw and the Nuggets organization's credit, they have NOT embarked on blatant tanking this season. Scarily (given the results), Shaw and the Nuggets actually tried to make the playoffs this season but allowed injuries and an assortment of personnel issues to derail a would-be holdover playoff season. So at present I'm not concerned with a tanking culture carrying over into the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets season (I have a lot of other concerns but they've been aired here and don't need to be repeated again). Potentially, the Nuggets could have the best of both worlds - a playoff-caliber team and a high lottery pick coming their way ... with that whole "playoff-caliber team" thing in need of some work.
But unlike Denver, this season we've witnessed the Philadelphia 76ers (whose all-time tank job Simmons writes so eloquently about), Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic and others play for ping pong balls in May instead of wins in March. The Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls attempted to play for ping pong balls, too, but are so well coached that they could be bona fide playoff threats. Conversely, the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans actually tried making the playoffs themselves, but are so poorly organized / coached that they'll be left out of the post-season dance (although the Knicks still have a shot at the Eastern Conference's eighth-seed which scares the hell out of me).
Regardless of the antics of the specific franchises mentioned above, the bottom line is that many (if not most) NBA fans have spent the 2013-14 season worrying about how the NBA Draft Lottery will shake out. I know I have. It's as if Tuesday, May 20th - the night that the draft lottery order gets determined - is more important than June 5th, the start of the 2014 NBA Finals. The purposeful tanking has gotten so bad that there's a website dedicated to it all at tankingforwiggins.com, complete with up-to-the-minute standings, draft projections and the like.
At the NBA's headquarters in New York, I have to believe that new commissioner Adam Silver is appalled by the blatant tanking and is working on revamping the system from the ground up. From what I've read on the subject, two options make the most sense to me.
The first is "the wheel" as proposed by Grantland's Zach Lowe, a format that pre-determines a franchise's draft position for the next 30 years. In his column on "the wheel," Lowe does an exceptional job of outlining exactly how it would work. For example, if our Nuggets had the 1st pick in the draft in 2014, they'd have the 30th pick in 2015, the 19th pick in 2016, the 18th pick in 2017, the 7th pick in 2018 and so on based on a mathematical formula that balances out every team over the next 30 years. So enamored with "the wheel" concept was I, that I forwarded it to several NBA executives that I know and they all (immediately) raised a critique that Lowe failed to foresee: if you're Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins and you know the Nuggets are drafting 1st in 2014 but let's say the Lakers are drafting 1st in 2015, what's to prevent you from staying in college an extra year to ensure you go to the Lakers? Even though I love "the wheel" conceptually, I'm not sure how the NBA would solve that problem.
The second option lacks creativity, but after enduring the tank jobs we've witnessed these past few seasons I'm leaning towards the NBA re-installing the one-team, one-chance format that existed when the draft lottery began in 1985 (when the NBA allegedly "freezed" or "creased" the card that gave the Knicks the first pick in the draft who became Patrick Ewing):
The fixed 1985 NBA lottery (via Basketball John)
It may not be the "fairest" of systems per se, but in theory if all 14 non-playoff teams have an equal chance of getting the first overall pick in the draft, they lose all incentive to stink it up as the season goes on. In fact, even if destined to miss the playoffs, teams would be much better off playing hard all season long and developing a culture of excellence rather than losing-on-purpose as we're seeing in Philly this season.
Besides, whether the NBA's worst team has the highest or lowest chance of winning the lottery ultimately doesn't matter: because if the Lakers, Celtics or Knicks happen to be in the lottery, the NBA will ensure they get a top-three selection anyway!