But what will happen to the draftees?
By Joe Vitiello
One topic dominated NBA talks these past four months; the lockout. For many reasons, the league and the players association have not been able to come to an agreement and end the labor dispute. The main issue is on the distribution of Basketball Related Income (BRI) amongst the owners and the players. The last labor agreement had the players sharing 57% leaving the owners to split the remaining 43%. There have been reports the owners want to go down to a 50-50 split while the players have offered a 53-47 split. At the surface, 3% does not seem to be a huge difference. However, when last season's BRI was $3.8 billion you’re left with a pretty hefty number (114 million to be exact).
The media has covered the lockout ad nauseum, however, I’ve never heard anybody ask one hypothetical question. If the entire season is lost, what happens to next year’s draft? There are a number of possibilities on how it can be done, but none seem particularly fair and each way has its own particular problem.
Option A: THE REDO. The most obvious option would be to just keep the same order as last year’s draft. The problem is that the order of last year’s draft is based on the 2010-2011 season, and does not take into account the improvement of teams with their newly drafted rookies and the free agents that they would have gained or lost. Essentially, the Cavs would fare the best from this scenario, as they had the first pick (acquired through a trade with the Clippers) and fourth in this past draft and would get the fourth pick again in this year’s draft (assuming the Clippers get their pick back in 2012). A glaring problem with this option is that the NBA has a lottery for draft order, thus, the worst team doesn’t always get the top pick. Last year, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the top chance of winning the number 1 pick of draft, yet the Cleveland Cavaliers (via LA Clippers) who had only a 2.8 percent chance hit the lotto (pun intended). This leads us to our next possibility.
Option B: REDO PART DEUX. Re-run last year’s entire draft process; the draft AND the lottery. This solves the lottery problem; however you still are basing the draft on this past season’s record meaning the same teams are receiving back-to-back lottery picks. One year can make a huge difference to a team’s overall performance and record. The Oklahoma City Thunder went from finishing the 08-09 season at 23-59, to ending the 09-10 season at 50-32; a difference of 27 wins. Is basing the draft on a previous year’s record really the way to go? I don’t think so.
Option C: THE RANDOM LOTTERY. It’s simple. There are 30 NBA teams. Throw 30 balls in a hat, each with a team logo, and let balls fall where they may. Like any draft, some organizations own the rights to other teams picks so therefore they will have a better chance of hitting the jackpot. The main problem here, superior teams like the Mavericks or the Heat have the same chance of catching lightning in a bottle as poor teams such as the Raptors or Bobcats. People were worried about the Miami Heat’s big three as soon as LeBron signed in Miami, can you imagine if that team was able to add a Jared Sullinger or a Harrison Barnes? It’s crazy to even think about.
Option D: THE WILD WEST APPROACH. Let the rookies choose where to sign. If Sullinger and Barnes want to go to join the Knicks, and New York has the cap room to sign them both, it’s fair game. Obviously, this possibility has its own kinks. What stops top college teammates from making a pact to go to the same team? Athletes have a huge decision to make when it comes to what team they will play for. Some decide to go for the most money while others decide to go to the place where they have the best shot to win a ring. Mike Bibby sacrificed 6.2 million dollars last year to try to win a ring with the Heat. What stops rookies from signing for the league minimum for one year with a title contender to try to win a ring BEFORE signing a max contract with another team? Nothing would stop rookies from this “cheap” loophole.
Option E: THE “WAIVER WIRE”? My personal favorite; It’s sort of a combination of Options C and D. Here’s how it works. Teams below the salary cap have the first crack at selecting rookies. If more than one team claims a rookie, he is then allowed to choose which one of those teams he wants to sign with. That team essentially uses their first round pick on that signing and is allowed to pay him within their cap space. The “losing” team is allowed to select another player. Is that confusing? Let me try an example. Let’s say the Nets (12 million under cap) and the Kings (10 million under) both claim Jared Sullinger. The Nets offer Jared 5 years 11 million dollars annually while the Kings who are extremely high on Sullinger offer 5 years 10 million/year. The Kings would be unable to match the Nets offer since they do not have the cap space, however, if Sullinger wants to take less money he is free to go to the Kings. If he signs with the Nets, the Kings will then be able to move onto another rookie or vice versa. The standard rookie salary will be ignored for teams under the cap and the process continues until every team under the cap has a new rookie. The method is then repeated with teams over the cap but with a small alteration. It would still be a mutual agreement between a team and player, however, the rookie will now get the standard guaranteed pay of whatever pick number he is. If the X teams under the cap picked and he is the Y selection in the draft, he will get paid the normal wage of the Y pick in the draft. The process would continue like this for the rest of the draft. Teams under the cap will not have first dibs on the second round picks. People may think that it is unfair that a team may lose out on multiple rookies since they are in negotiations with one and another signs during that time. However, this is very similar to free agency, and that works fine. A team may decide to focus all their attention on wooing one rookie and if they get him that’s great, however, if they miss out, too bad. It’s all about strategy.
Option E seems to be the best, most fair scenario. It has its problems, such as why should a team with no 1st round pick in the 2012 draft be allowed to “claim” a rookie. This is true, however, the problem could be easily solved by just pushing all the owed picks back a year. The Knicks owe the Rockets their 2012 1st round pick, change it so New York owes Houston their 2013 pick, in a, fingers’crossed, lockout-less year. Another problem that may be pointed out is that there are good teams under the cap and bad teams over it, so how is it fair that the good teams get a higher pick. You are dealing with very few teams that fit that bill, especially in the good teams under the cap scenario. Teams are punished with luxury taxes for being over the cap, so why can’t they be punished with a lower draft pick? If a general manager has been able to put together a good team under the cap, shouldn’t he deserve a reward? Again, we wouldn’t know how good these teams are since we haven’t seen them in action so we should go by something other than the 09-10 record. The only other possibility I see is cap space. Wishful thinking has the lockout ending tomorrow and the season getting under way next month. Though it’s interesting to think about what will happen if the season never does get under way.