By: Don Porarco
It is a popular theory that no true fan wants to believe. Since 1985 the NBA has had control of who ends up with the first overall pick in the draft. Don't believe me? read the outcomes of these previous NBA lotteries and maybe you'll start to catch on. Let’s start with the first ever NBA Lottery.
It used to be a coin toss. The two worst teams in the league would have representatives meet for a legitimate coin toss to decide who gets the first and second pick. However, after too many teams were tanking, and star players ended up going to low level franchises, the NBA came up with a new idea. In 1985 the NBA put seven different envelopes representing the seven worst teams in the league and randomly selected each one. The first team selected would get the seventh pick, second would get six and so on. One envelope however, stood out amongst the rest. The New York Knicks envelope, who ended up being the number one pick, had a noticeable fold on one of the corners. The prize in the draft that year was Patrick Ewing. An absolute star who many thought for sure he could resurrect any franchise. The Knicks were going through a really rough patch and the NBA needed one of their premier franchises to get back on track. This popular “folded envelope” seemed to be the iconic image of the believers of the conspiracy.
Since then, the NBA has changed how they have ran the draft lottery (partly because of the easily spotted rigging and partly because the seventh worst team having the same odds as the worst team doesn't seem logical). Now, the NBA still has a lottery, yet it is run with ping pong balls. These ping pong balls are thrown into a machine and randomly selected. To make it fair, the worst teams have the best odds and all the way to the 14th team in the league have the worst odds. Basically without trying to complicate the process too much, each NBA team is assigned sets of four digit numbers. The most combinations are given to the worst overall team. The NBA then draws four numbers in a private room with only the reps of each team and some media members. The team whose combination matches those four numbers will land the number one pick. Seems legit right? Well the first thing that seems a bit sketchy is the fact it is not nationally televised. You would think this is something the NBA could really cash in on. The NBA is all about making money, and fans from all over would tune in to watch their horrible team have a chance at a star in the draft. Another part many find strange is the numbers of the teams are not very publicized. Now I'm not saying the NBA strategically puts each and every team at a certain spot, but it is pretty sketchy. They are known for being corrupt, and many conspiracies surround the NBA. I wouldn't put it past them to control the future starts and what teams they go to.
I’m not going to go through every draft since 1985 to explain why the draft is rigged, but let’s start with a relatively close year. Although the NBA has been known to control outcomes of games and series (2002 Western Conference Finals, look it up), many do not want to believe they have control of where their star players go. But before you read this, you need to remember the NBA is all about storylines. The more drama in the NBA, the better ratings are. Keep that in mind while we go through the list. So here comes the explanation.
2011- Kyrie Irving
Starting six years ago, with the Cleveland Cavaliers receiving the number one pick. This didn't seem completely fishy as the Cavs had the second best odds at receiving the pick, but it is a big coincidence that the they received the pick in the first off-season in which they didn't have LeBron. With LeBron still being pretty young at the time, Kyrie Irving had time to develop into the star that he now is. The hope was to build a rivalry between Cleveland and LeBron. Kyrie was the chosen superstar to lead Cleveland back to the top. Imagine an Eastern Conference Finals where the old star of Cleveland, now a villain to the city takes on the new rising star. NBA viewers would lose their minds. This was the original plan and the NBA had a golden future.
2012- Anthony Davis
Alright, so the NBA now has their storyline set. Let the Big Three Celtics die out, get LeBron a ring and then sit back and wait for Cleveland vs LeBron. The west was also starting to thrive with the Emergence of the Thunder and Clippers along with the typical Lakers and Spurs battling it out. So who does the NBA help out now? How about themselves. The brand new franchise New Orleans Pelicans, originally the Hornets, was at the time owned by the NBA. That means all the profits, jersey sales and ticket sales would go back to the NBA. Anthony Davis brought people in the building and jerseys quickly flew off the shelves. With this being the year of the lockout, it only seemed logical the league would take advantage of the players after have a dispute with the players association that lasted well into what was supposed to be the start of the regular season. Even when Tom Benson purchased the team, the NBA still ended up putting a star player on the league's newest franchise. That’s a win-win for the league. Oh, and not to mention the Pelicans had a 13% chance of getting the number one pick. Strange coincidence or something more? Let’s keep going.
2013- Anthony Bennett
LeBron is a once in a lifetime player. He took a team that should not have been close to a championship to an NBA finals. It didn't take long for the league to realize that was something Kyrie Irving couldn't do. He needed some help. With LeBron very happy in Miami, it seemed he was going to stick around for a long time. The west was still thriving and did not need much help with the draft. However it seemed to be Miami against everyone else. The Big Three had broken up and there was no team that seemed to challenge the Heat. Orlando and Charlotte were the two teams projected with better odds than Cleveland in that years lottery. Both of which were a long way from competing in the East. So once again, give the Cavs the pick, give Kyrie some help and wait for them to develop to dethrone the King. Seemed like a perfect plan right? Well that was until Anthony Bennett ended up being possibly the biggest bust in league history. Oops.
This might be the most compelling part of the argument. LeBron now has two championships in Miami. Rumors are swirling of him going back to Cleveland. Before LeBron even signed back with Cleveland, reporters were brainstorming who the Cavs could trade for to help out LeBron. So think about this. There were reporters, who went on ESPN and said IF the Cavs sign James, and IF the T-Wolves want to give up Kevin Love, they could trade him to Cleveland IF the Cavs end up with the number one pick. That sounds like a lot of “If’s” for something that seemed pretty impossible. Especially since the Cavs had a LESS THAN TWO PERCENT CHANCE at getting the number one pick. The official number was a 1.7% chance that they ended up with the first overall pick for the third time in four years. But if you're the NBA how do you not fall in love with this idea? LeBron going back to his hometown to win a championship and starting his own big three in Cleveland? Remember that thing I said earlier about storylines? This might be the greatest story line of them all. Once it seemed as a definite LeBron would come back home, the NBA gave the Cavs the first overall pick, only to trade it to the Wolves to get Kevin Love. So now they have created another big three, this time with Irving and Love. Wiggins on the other hand, will start his career in Minnesota.
2015- Karl-Anthony Towns
There seems to be a pattern here. The star players of teams consistently need help from another player. With the NBA turning into a two or three superstar led team, Wiggins needed some help. People also forget how goo Wiggins was hyped up to be. The hashtag #TankForWiggins appeared all over twitter as he was talked up to be the best prospect in a long time. With the Western Conference premier superstars getting older with Kobe and Duncan, there needed to be a new up-and-coming power in the West. With the combining forces of Wiggins and Towns mixed with Zach Lavine, this Wolves team projected to be dangerous in the future. The Wolves had the best chance to win the lottery so there did not even have to be any controversial strings being pulled.
What possible storyline could the 76ers bring that could benefit the NBA? Constantly finishing at the bottom, draft picks not working out and not a great place for free agents. Well, for starters there draft picks are still up and coming. Well Joel Embid has spent most of his career on the bench with injuries, he put on a campaign in the 2016 season to possibly be rookie of the year despite the limited amount of games played. Jalil Okafor still undoubtedly has talent, and Dario Saric has the potential to be a very good player in the league. Ben Simmons came into the league with companions to Magic Johnson. A 6’ 10” point guard who is a very gifted passer that makes his whole team better. Someone who would benefit from having a team around him that can also grow and develop with him. With Lebron, Love and Kyrie seeming unstoppable, the NBA knew they has to wait a few years before a new rivalry built in the East. The top three picks best odds that year went to the 76ers, Lakers and Celtics. The Lakers have constantly been one of the premier free agent destinations. With rumors already of Paul George and other stars wanting to be in Los Angeles, the Lakers did not need the one pick. Boston on the other hand, controlled the Nets draft picks for the next two years. Eventually they would get a superstar so there need was not great for the one pick. Philadelphia however, with their rising draft picks would not be this bad for a long time, and this was their once chance to end up with the first overall pick. The NBA had an easy decision.
So what is in store for tonight? The Celtics have the best odds followed by the Lakers and Suns. But do you really have to even watch the Draft lottery to know what will happen tonight? There has already been so much talk of Lonzo Ball to the Lakers and the Celtics trading their pick. Regardless of first or second, the Lakers will take Ball and Boston will try and trade the pick. Boston and L.A. will get the first two picks, in which order it doesn't really matter. The West is completely stacked and also has young talent. Sorry Phoenix, there is no reason for you to get the one pick. My prediction? completely chalk on the top three. Celtics, Lakers and Suns. However, if the Lakers do end up with the one pick, Lonzo Ball will still be a Laker. Marcella Fultz will either be a Celtic or will get traded.
If the Suns or someone else end up getting the one pick, then I will take back my argument. I honestly see no reason for the Suns getting the one pick and there really is no explanation besides them taking someone such as a Josh Jackson (highly unlikely). But as of right now, it seems pretty obvious the NBA draft has been sketchy as of late. Although it does create great storylines, NBA fans need to at least accept the possibility that this sport plays favorites.