Tanks For Nothing


The NBA Draft is tonight, and it’s already promising to be one of the most fascinating nights of what will be a getcha-popcorn-ready off-season of free agency and trades.

Because NBA success is no longer predicated on getting lucky with a lumbering 7-foot mastodon with the first overall pick – a creature that usually appeared around once every 10 years, at best – there’s never been a stronger argument in favor of abolishing the draft lottery.

Oh, I’m not saying the NBA should go back to giving the top pick to the worst team. I would like the NBA to pioneer the new millennium concept of every team in the league taking turns picking first overall.

I know, radical, right? Stupid, you say? Hold on. You do know that once upon a time, there was something called a “Territorial Pick” in the NBA, right? The Sixers used it to take a guy who turned out pretty good. Wilt Chamberlain was his name.

The Sixers still couldn’t win the NBA championship with him averaging 50 ppg in his 3rd season! (They’d eventually win ONE title with Wilt, before he left for Los Angeles and the land of 10,000 women!)

My point is that “Territorial Picks” made sense at the time – feed popular college players to “local” pro teams to help attendance. Then, eventually, it didn’t make as much sense. So they scrapped it.

Let’s do that with all of our sports, but let’s start with the NBA, which is ripe for the change.

The concept has already been floated – and shot down, by those who just can’t stand change – as a sort of “Draft Wheel.” Every team, picks in every slot 1-30 on a rotating basis over a 30-year cycle.

The nuanced merits and demerits of such a plan, are well articulated here in this piece by Zach Lowe in the (now-defunct) Grantland.

As we know from the Golden State Warriors success, really good players can be found anywhere from 1-30. So why are we obsessed with constantly helping the awful teams get better with prime picks? Worse yet, the NBA’s weighted draft lottery is only encouraging teams to really, really suck.

Ah yes, welcome to The Tank. Where pro sports teams take your money (no discounts!) while actively trying to be as bad as possible for the benefit of a player who doesn’t even exist yet.

There’s no doubt the 76ers were “tanking” under now-departed GM Sam Hinkie. They have averaged a 14th place finish in the NBA’s weak-sister Eastern Conference for the last 4 years. Maybe it’ll payoff. Maybe not.

Joel Embiid finally made it onto the court. He was a sensation. Then promptly got hurt again. Ben Simmons is still a huge “maybe” as a player, and he didn’t play at all because of injury. Now the Sixers have traded up to #1/#1 to take (we presume) Markell Fultz.

It’s gonna work, right? THIS is the start of something BIG for the 76ers, right?

Meh. I wouldn’t count on it.

The NFL is now grappling with tanking – something that had previously been unthinkable. The presumed purity of NFL teams always striving to be good, better, best at all times is starting to crumble.

Thanks alot, Jets.

I would be perfectly happy with the NFL adopting a “draft wheel” as well. Giving the Browns high draft picks has obviously done nothing to lift them out of perennial loserdom. The Browns have finished an almost impossible-to-do dead last in their own Division for 8 of the last 9 years.

As Steve Spurrier once breezily quipped: “Sure we expect to win our division. Heck, you only have to beat 3 other teams!”

Giving the Browns more high picks is like throwing peals before swine. Worse yet, it encourages inept management to use the high draft picks as false hope for the future. “Yes, we really sucked this year. One win! Not good, not good at all. BUT…. we DO have the #1 pick in the draft! So there’s HOPE for the future!”

“But Czabe, you are saying we should strip what little hope exists for perennially bad teams, by a coldĀ and indifferent “wheel of draft picks” system that moves slower than tectonic plates.”

Not exactly. What I am doing, is delivering these fans from the scourge of management malfeasance. I am imposing a rigid accountability on these teams to try to be good – no matter what! Because help isn’t coming by way of the draft!

And in the NBA, the draft lottery remains one of the most suspicious endeavors in sports. If that 1985 lottery wasn’t rigged, I’ll eat every envelope in the hopper! Now, the NBA uses such a complex lottery, that it isn’t even televisable.

Scrap it all. Our pro sports draft process needs an overhaul like this.

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Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. "Czabe" also writes and edits his own commentaries for www.czabe.com and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at czabe@yahoo.com.


  1. The USFL instituted a territorial draft of college players, brainchild of George Allen, who was coaching the Chicago team. I think the idea has merit.

  2. Relegation or team auction. If your team finishes last it is sent down to the CBA (defunct) or put on a 3-day EBay auction. You’ll get to pick last. Coffee is for closers.

  3. “…before he left for Los Angeles and the land of 10,000 women!”

    Was that a subtle double entendre about Wilt’s libido and the Lakers’ former home of Minneapolis?


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