On the NBA: Discussing the Draft

The basketball commentariat wants to talk about the NBA Draft. With the various ideas that get bandied about in the late off season, this is the time to have this discussion. The NBA Draft is at its core a bizarre institution, and bears some close scrutiny. People have been arguing for ages over how much, if any, to weigh the draft lottery, but now some people are advocating getting rid of the draft altogether. That’s a radical change in the NBA, but perhaps a lot more reasonable than it seems at first glance.

The first question to ask is what the NBA draft is supposed to do? The stated goal is parity. Teams which have worse records are given a chance to lay claim to players first, players who are hopefully better than players selected later. The end goal here is for bad teams to have a chance to get better, and for good teams to have to make do with later picks. The NBA has been at this for a while, and since 1980, nine teams have won championships. It would take some real upsets to add a 10th team to that list this coming season, and that will likely be the case the following season as well. If parity is the goal, the draft doesn’t seem terribly effective.

The second question to ask is this: what does the draft actually do? It’s easy to measure institutions against their goals, but it can be harder to see what they’re actually accomplishing, perhaps unwittingly. The largest effect of the draft is to depress rookie salary. I have no interest in discovering whether or not this was an intentional effect. Whatever motivation there was is washed away in the tides of history. All that’s left now is a field where rookies get rookie scale, no matter how talented or in demand they are.

In free agency, players and teams have to weigh the supply and demand in the league, trying to find the best deal for both sides. Teams regularly save cap space, hoping to make a run at a player they think can help them. The draft is different, for some reason, and players are simply told to wait in line while the league figures out what order the owners make their choices. Taken on its own, this seems like a jarring change of tactic from a league very interested in showcasing its players. What does this depression of rookie wages do?

The first thing this does is allow teams that are already over the cap to sign their rookies. This means that teams well over the cap, like the Nets, Knicks, and Heat, can continue to sign their rookies, and continue to have an influx of new players to use as prospects or as trade assets. Lowered wages for rookies also moves that money to other players. The collective bargaining agreement (cba) specifies what percent of basketball related income (BRI) goes to the teams for salary cap purposes, and this cap determines the salary floor. There’s a set range for how much players will get paid, and there’s a set amount of players. It’s not exact, but the end result is that there’s a wiggly but more or less set amount of money players get as a whole. If the rookies aren’t making that money, that means other players are.

Here’s an assertion: rookies, in general, aren’t getting paid enough. How much will Andrew Wiggins make in his first year? About $5.5 million, almost certainly. That’s the maximum possible to hand him, and it’s not even league average pay. Second round picks regularly rake in less than a million dollars a year. That’s a lot in real world money, but it’s a complete pittance for an NBA player. Veterans willingly take minimum deals at the ends of their careers, but they’ve almost universally made much more in previous years, and are effectively paying for the privilege of being on the team they want. Wiggins will have neither that choice, nor that bank account.

So, if rookies are, indeed, worth more than they get paid, where’s that money going? An easy answer is to say “superstars,” but they’re generally getting the max salary, and that would be very unlikely to change in almost any circumstance. The top couple players at each position are worth anything you can pay them in the current cap structure. The players who would be paying for rookies would be the B and C tier players of the league. The good but not great players in the NBA, the solid role players, those are the players who have the most to lose from a wide array of NBA finance changes. Many have overlapping skill sets, and unlike superstars, can’t write their own checks. Who would you rather have on your team? Gerald Henderson or Andrew Wiggins? Henderson is making more this year than Wiggins will next year. Sure, Henderson has more experience and will probably contribute more right away, but Wiggins and his cohorts have the ability to become stars.

So what’s to be done? The simplest solution is probably the most elegant. Eliminate the draft altogether. We don’t know exactly what this would do to the league, but we have a solid idea. Even a “job fair” like Matt Moore has suggested would be fine. It’s still free agency of a sort and it would still be beholden to market forces and not strictures from on high. Just allow every eligible player to be pulled out of a pool by all thirty teams. If your team has no cap space, your team can’t sign anyone. Sorry, perennially capped out teams, you’ll have to start clearing space if you want a free influx of youth. Also, no more draft picks to throw at teams as trade filler.

So what would this do? This would make teams have to improve their risk versus reward calculus. Many teams already do this in free agency, but it would mean that there would be a tradeoff between salary cap and hope for the future. A team like the Kings, who are eternally flush with space, could simply offer giant contracts to young talent. Perhaps Wiggins would prefer to go to the Heat and win now? The only way he could do that is by taking a tiny contract, or the Heat dumping some of their stars. Admittedly, this would work even better in a hard cap situation, in which teams have to think even harder about the relative value of current talent vs future talent.

The benefit is that teams can then compete for players based on cap space, which any team can create, and based on the desires of the rookies themselves, who currently have no say in the situation. Cap space is the great equalizer of teams, and the more value is placed on it, the more even the playing field will be for small market teams. The downside is that the Anthonys Tolliver of the world will feel the pinch. If Wiggins makes $8-10m in his first year, that’s almost an entire role player who that team won’t hire. Instead, they’ll fill out the roster with someone cheap. If every team is playing rookies more, the role player talent will be in lower demand relative to the cap space available, and their salaries will dip somewhat. This could be avoided by giving players a larger part of the BRI and letting rookie salaries rise but everyone else stay the same, but that seems to be right off the table in general.

The NBA draft is fun. It’s spectacle and hope and excitement. Unfortunately, it’s also wage depression, arbitrariness and choosing employment locations for people who haven’t had a chance to make any decisions. So-called “parity” is almost always the goal of NBA changes. Parity isn’t what the league needs. The league needs salaries that make sense for their players, and a situation that rewards intelligence and competent management. This might not do that, but there’s good reason to believe it very well could.

 

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Total comments: 23
  • thenit says 10 months ago It's suppose to be a free market system. IMO there are to many teams that its watered down product. There's a reason two teams has almost half of the championships. And the past 15 years only a handful of teams has won it. I rather have a league with 20 teams that are willing to spend, and abolish the draft and cap. Even baseball has more variety of winners and there's really no cap there.
  • Buckko says 10 months ago

    Agreed. Basically making all rookies FAs would turn the NBA into a monopoly.

  • rockets best fan says 10 months ago

    Benefits of the draft

    there has been some good lively debate on doing away with the draft. especially for this slow part of the year. we have been discussing only the scenarios related to a draft-less system. I would like to expand on that line of thinking by exploring the system we have now with the draft. all of us pretty much except that the present system does have faults. this is undeniable. however the benefits it provides far and away out weigh any fault. which parts of the system is flawed is really debatable depending on your perspective. I'll only cover a couple of points at a time to help give structure to the debate.

    1. THE LOTTERY SYSTEM..........some here are in favor of making all rookies free agents. some want the top teams to be in the lottery. this is why the lottery system works.........distribution of talent to weaker teams first. why is this important? it's easy to argue for making bad teams suffer when you live in a city where your team is good. sure you want them to have advantages so hopefully you never have to endure losing, but it's not healthy for the league. in cities where the team is bad the NBA can sell hope. if teams have no means of ever rising from the ashes who's going to pay to come see them? let's make a small comparison to the NFL here...........at the beginning of every season there are at least 15 teams who think they have some degree of a chance to win the super bowl.....now even though only 5 or 6 really have a chance....the hope that these other cities have helps sell the overall product to a larger fan base. that's the direction theNBA is trying to move. the more teams who think they have a shot.....the more interest....... which makes everybody's pockets a little fatter. now I wouldn't be opposed to some minor changes to this system (like may be inserting the two 8th place playoffteams at 4 and 5 in the lottery to reward the fight for the last spot) however this system works.......... now you can't really address this point without talking about tanking. should the NBA reward the bad teams. it's not really rewarding them as much as it's giving them an avenue to dig themselves out of the hole. the NBA is trying to move away from a system where the same teams stay on top all the time. after a team has rode the wave of their stars......there should bea rebuilding period......allowing all teams their moment in the sun. some are to badly mismanaged to ever rise, but at least they have the chance.

    2. THE DRAFT..........distribution of talent to all teams..........why not make all rookies FA and let them go where they want to....here's why JG this is your point. player collusion. what if the top five picks of next years draft decided because there was no draft they all wanted to go to LA where they might win rings for the nextfive years with Kobe. is that fair to the rest of the league? whether we want to accept it or not...........not all places are as appealing to live especiallytotoday's younger generation as major cities. that spells trouble for places like N.O., Cleveland, Utah, OKC, Portland, SACand Minny just to name a few. if these cities have no real chance to ever draw top level talent how are they suppose to compete? what you will end up with is a few big dog teams in the league and the rest are just farm clubs where players go until an opening in NY, LA, Boston, Houston orChicago become available. this is also why teams must be able to control a drafted player for 5 years. it gives small markets the opportunity to hold on to players long enough to make the situation around them appealing enough for them to stay. they have a chance to build something. now I LOVE Houston.....born and raised here, but not all people like or can stand the heat....if Houston was in Philly's position and Wiggins decided he didn't want to come here because it's too hot....he would much rather live in Miami. would that be fair? face it where ever these first round draft picks go they are still going to become millionaires......so I have absolutely no pity for theirdesires until they have paid their dues. before you start reaping top benefits of playing the game you have to give something to the game.........I don't think that's to much to ask of a millionaire.......... do you?

  • Cooper says 10 months ago

    Do folks even have any idea how much endorsement NBA players not named Lebron / Kobe actually makes? if you think your going to make more or even close to as much by giving up 5 million bucks to play in LA, and your not a super star, I have nothing left to say except pointing out that last year, Pau Gasol made 2 million off the court. meanwhile,, Lebron made more off the court than anyone while still in Cleveland.

    But I get that facts are not what we're looking at here.

    Good point only about 10-15 players make significant money from endorsements and half of those players have big money shoe contracts that aren't going to change.
  • RollingWave says 10 months ago

    Two words: Player collusion. It's already a growing problem. With no draft things would be ridiculous.

    Johnny: I find this very difficult to believe in regards to rookies, they're not established yet, and plenty of can't failed guys failed. and frankly, if you take a look at how rookies tend to play, there's no team that's in the business of winning games who should be lining up 3+ rookies to significant contracts. (last year for example only 3 rookie had a RAPM that was in the positive. Davis / Lillard / Drummond, everyone else was really hurting their team more than helping.)

  • RollingWave says 10 months ago

    Do folks even have any idea how much endorsement NBA players not named Lebron / Kobe actually makes? if you think your going to make more or even close to as much by giving up 5 million bucks to play in LA, and your not a super star, I have nothing left to say except pointing out that last year, Pau Gasol made 2 million off the court. meanwhile,, Lebron made more off the court than anyone while still in Cleveland.

    But I get that facts are not what we're looking at here.

  • RollingWave says 10 months ago

    So long as you still have roster size limits and a salary cap, I think folks are overestimating the difficulty small-market teams would face without the draft.

    Nah, as we all know Wiggins would rather make 100k for the Lakers to get those endorsement and play 5 min a game than go to the Bobcats and start for 8m #logic

  • rockets best fan says 10 months ago

    To combat tanking, rewarding teams for wins seems the way to go.

    if you reward teams for being good by giving them the top prospects.......how do you ever expect the bad teams to get better?

  • BenQueens says 10 months ago

    So long as you still have roster size limits and a salary cap, I think folks are overestimating the difficulty small-market teams would face without the draft.

  • thenit says 10 months ago

    When I mean European Soccer I mean you have different tiers with regulations and promotions basically forcing everyone to compete to be in the top tier and therefore they have to spend the money. Therefore the quality of the product would be better.

  • thenit says 10 months ago

    I think they should honestly abolish all cap regulations and drafts since America is a nation where the strong survives and the only thing socialized in U.S is sports. It would be just all out fun with 10 strong teams with the best talent instead of water downed teams. E.I European Soccer.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 10 months ago To combat tanking, rewarding teams for wins seems the way to go.
  • rockets best fan says 10 months ago

    God it's slow if I am commenting on this.

    I agree with those saying that this would be a disaster for small markets. I second that johnnygold, player collusion would become a problem right out of the gates. There is a reason why we are fans and there are folks paid to formulate draft policy.

    :lol: :lol:it is slow this time of year

  • feelingsupersonic says 10 months ago

    God it's slow if I am commenting on this.

    I agree with those saying that this would be a disaster for small markets. I second that johnnygold, player collusion would become a problem right out of the gates. There is a reason why we are fans and there are folks paid to formulate draft policy.

  • thejohnnygold says 10 months ago

    Two words: Player collusion. It's already a growing problem. With no draft things would be ridiculous.

  • rockets best fan says 10 months ago

    So essentially let's say this is the rules.

    A. all rookies are FA free to sign with anyone

    B. rookie contract must be 2 +2 team options

    C. scale is in accordance to current scale except rookie year goes up way to lineup with the other years, so at least 6/7/8/10 for max. preferably higher.

    D. Teams over the cap can only sign rookies at the minimum .

    E. all teams not over the luxury tax have an exception of something like a 2 to 3 million (like a mid first round pick ) .

    F. teams that did make the playoffs have an additional exception of 4-5m ish for rookies (like a upper middle first round.) and can offer rookies one additional years on the contract.

    why they won't work

    A. to easy for top teams to reload....all they have to do is issue a bunch of one year contracts around their staruntil they get who they want. if given a choice of LA or Utah.........which would you take.....even if LA was paying a little less I would still take them and make it up in endorsements

    B. rookie contracts would be the same as they are now....how does that help? it still doesn't solve the problem of some places being just flat better to live in than others. it doesn't matter if you give teams the right to hold on too players if they can never get the top players

    C. WHY? you already said rookies get 2 years guaranteed. do you realized how low the success rates for rookies are? so what you're saying is owners should pay the wash outs better?

    D. if you do this what happens when most of the league is over the cap.....no influx of talent that year or every rookie must take the minimum? that's not fair to the kids coming in or the teams who want to sign them. signing all these bad contracts (overpaying for overhyped talent)surely you can't expect the owners to police themselves.....that's asking for trouble.

    E. no matter how many exceptions you give you still have not spread the talent around so exception are useless

    F. then you're going to give the playoff teams extra money to play with in FA. what this will cause is small markets teams will have to overpay for talent.

    I'm glad you stopped at F because that's what this idea is IMOan F

  • bearkat414 says 10 months ago

    what about just a straight two year deal to start with from the draft though? first rounders get 1 year plus one that is player option, second rounders would be eligible for 1 year plus 1 with team option. if you are amazing then after a year you can opt out and get someone to sign you for a ton of money...at least would give some stats to back up the money paid, while allowing the team and the player flexibility....oh wait, we have something very similar, just not as hammered down. if anything needs to change its the nba's rule that players must go to college for 1 year or be 19 or whatever the rule is. 1 and done is ruining college basketball. seeing kg out of highschool was awesome.

  • bearkat414 says 10 months ago

    This article is stupid. I feel so bad that Wiggins will make over five mil to play a freaking game. Yes it is peanuts compared to kobe...but after two to three he will be signed to a max contract.....also look at the flip side of the coin. he is not a lock. prevents a desperate team with cap space paying someone a huge sum of money that may or may not turn out to be as good as you expect. also, money equal, who wants to go to portland...or worse, cleveland or memphis. nope. dumb.

  • RollingWave says 10 months ago

    So essentially let's say this is the rules.

    A. all rookies are FA free to sign with anyone

    B. rookie contract must be 2 +2 team options

    C. scale is in accordance to current scale except rookie year goes up way to lineup with the other years, so at least 6/7/8/10 for max. preferably higher.

    D. Teams over the cap can only sign rookies at the minimum .

    E. all teams not over the luxury tax have an exception of something like a 2 to 3 million (like a mid first round pick ) .

    F. teams that did make the playoffs have an additional exception of 4-5m ish for rookies (like a upper middle first round.) and can offer rookies one additional years on the contract.

  • RollingWave says 10 months ago

    There are plenty of possible way for relative parity without the lotto ball, I think it has been suggested that they should just make all rookies FA, and give a higher rookie scale (say 8/9/10/11) , all the normal cap / rights / exception rules apply. may add in a couple of more rules / exception in there as well.

    This way, teams over the cap or have limited cap can't sign the best rookies, unless you really think Wiggins will give up nearly 25 million bucks to play for LA instead of some lesser team. on the other hand, teams that really want to compete now using 8m-11m of cap space on rookies is usually a bad idea in terms of cost effectiveness. especially in the first couple years.

    This way it reward teams that are both good and manage cap wisely (aka, the Rockets.) instead of teams that just goes mind boggling bad.

  • rockets best fan says 10 months ago

    I totally disagree...........while the draft isn't prefect.....it's better than no draft for parity. can you everfor see a day ofWiggins choosing to go play for Utah over almost any where else to play on the planet :lol:small market teams already have trouble holding on to talent.....you're talking about not giving them any at all. sure they can always get the Ibaka's, but never the Durrant's. how can these large market teams hoard talent that way? I'm tell you how....every time it appears some new promising talent is about to hit the market they would sucker some stupid small market team into taking their lest favorable star and open up the cap room. small market teams would only become farm clubs for the big market teams.sometimes you need systems to save the owners from themselves. IS THE DRAFT PERFECT.....NO, but it's better than nothing. because these small market teams know they can control a drafted player for 5 years it gives them a chance to build. without that security they could never do that. as for Wiggins only making 5 mil next year BOO WHO :(......I guess he's going to have to figure out how to make ends meet. :lol:keeping this in perspective.....these boys/men get paid to play a game. many get overpaid because of the draft system (first rounder's get 2 guaranteed years), but it also keeps teams to some degree from overpaying for an overhyped youngster who is unproven. Yes some teams do it anyway despite the safeguards in place, but that's where it comes down to good management. if a team is managed well they should be able to compete...........and that's really all you can ask for.......a realistic chance

  • bboley24 says 10 months ago

    Yeah this is a bad idea. It's increased the talent level of the youngsters like a Chandler Parsons to fight for that big contract. I think the draft is PERFECT. Let the small teams do their diligence to find their savior and the large teams have their throw aways.

  • Cooper says 10 months ago If the nba did dump the draft they'd have to raise the salary cap or significantly lower max salaries because it opens the door for the eddy currys and adam morrisons of the world to be under 4 year 50+million deals I don't see any executives going for it but it would incredibly entertaining.