Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Snider calls for original lottery with equal luck

The Sixers' chairman is among those suggesting the change so teams won't be tempted to lose to improve their draft odds.

With so much at stake in this year's draft lottery, there have been complaints about the current system. Texas guard Kevin Durant, left, and Ohio State center Greg Oden, right, are the two biggest prizes.
With so much at stake in this year's draft lottery, there have been complaints about the current system. Texas guard Kevin Durant, left, and Ohio State center Greg Oden, right, are the two biggest prizes.Read more

Since the inception of the NBA's draft lottery in 1985, the system for awarding the biggest losers has faced a series of changes. Because of the two stars - Greg Oden of Ohio State and Kevin Durant of Texas - headlining a bumper crop of prospects, the current system has come under criticism as the 23d annual excursion to Secaucus, N.J., takes place on Tuesday.

And if 76ers chairman Ed Snider had his way, the process would revert to its original form, in which the non-playoff teams would earn an equal shot at the No. 1 pick.

Snider said his opinion has nothing to do with the fact that the Sixers are seeded 12th in the 14-team lottery and would need to defy serious odds to move up.

"There should be just one Ping-Pong ball per team," Snider said. "Teams should not be rewarded for being inept."

Snider's suggestion has not been casually dismissed by the NBA.

"I put credence in anything Mr. Snider suggests, given his track record as a team owner in hockey and basketball," said Joel Litvin, the NBA president of league and basketball operations. "We have had discussions on this subject over the years with the Board of Governors, and I think this will be an issue that will be reraised before the board."

The idea of assigning one chance per team seems so simple, but nothing about the lottery is as basic as it appears. During the first two lotteries in 1985 and 1986, there were seven non-playoff qualifiers, and each received one envelope, giving each a one-in-seven chance of earning the top pick or of earning the No. 7 selection.

When asked about teams losing purposely to improve their lottery odds, Litvin said the NBA hierarchy doesn't believe it took place this season. But there has been more discussion about the issue this year because of the unusually high stakes of the draft.

And with so much talk about the lottery and teams' allegedly losing on purpose, the NBA will almost certainly address the issue in the off-season. Whether any measures are taken is anybody's guess.

"Given how much attention this has gotten from the media, from owners who have asked questions, including Mr. Snider, this is the kind of thing, as with most things, we will go back to question," said Litvin, a Penn graduate.

Boston, which is seeded No. 2 in the lottery behind Memphis, has been accused the most of not playing to win.

That is interesting because the lottery was created in 1984 because the Houston Rockets, who earned the No. 1 pick, were accused of tanking games.

Before 1985, the worst teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences held a coin flip for the No. 1 pick. In 1984, Houston won the flip after sporting a 29-53 record.

"Houston went into a complete swan dive," said Orlando Magic senior vice president Pat Williams, who was the Sixers' general manager in 1984 when they used a first-round pick that was acquired from the San Diego Clippers to select Charles Barkley at No. 5. "The Houston thing was so flagrant, and that is why the lottery came about."

Since 1987, the lottery has determined the order of selection for the first three teams only. That means that a team is assured of picking no lower than three places below where it finished.

Still, the lottery participants received one envelope per team until 1990. That year, a weighted system was introduced. There were 11 non-playoff teams, and the team with the worst record received 11 balls, the second-worst team earned 10, and so on. There were a total of 66 balls.

The systems changed after Orlando, with the best record in 1993 among non-playoff qualifiers, earned the top pick despite having just one chance in 66.

The current system was adopted in 1994, in which 14 Ping-Pong balls numbered 1 through 14 are placed in a drum. There are 1,001 predetermined possible combinations when four balls are drawn out of 14 without regard to their order of selection to determine a four-digit combination. The team that has been assigned that combination will receive the No. 1 pick. The four balls are placed back in the drum and the process is repeated to determine the No. 2 and 3 picks.

The order of selection for the teams that do not win one of the top three picks is determined by inverse order of their regular-season records.

Since 1994, the worst team has had a 25 percent chance of earning the top pick.

This year, the Sixers are more than likely to remain at No. 12. Under the system, they have seven chances out of 1,000 to earn the top pick (0.70 percent), a 0.83 percent chance at the second pick, and a 1.01 percent chance at the No. 3 pick. The Sixers could only move up to the top three, stay where they are, or drop down to either 13th or 14th.

The only way the Sixers would move below No. 12 is if one of the two teams behind them, No. 13 New Orleans or the No. 14 Los Angeles Clippers, moved up to the top three.

"They have tweaked it and fine-tuned it and buffed and polished it for more than 20 years," Williams said of the lottery. "Let's not lose sight why this is in place: so teams won't dump games."

And the questions that were asked about dumping games before the lottery's inception are still being posed, which means the NBA Board of Governors could have some interesting discussions during the off-season.