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NBA AM: A Viable NBA Consolation Tournament

Buddy Grizzard proposes that a consolation tournament determine the Draft Lottery for non-playoff teams.

Buddy Grizzard

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There have been a million ideas to reform the draft lottery in hopes of solving the NBA’s tanking issue, but each seems to create as many problems as it solves. Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler illustrated this problem in relation to a separate issue — the idea of seeding playoff teams one through 16 and eliminating seeding by conference — in another NBA AM piece last month. Today we will present a concept to replace the NBA Draft Lottery system with an NBA Consolation Tournament to determine draft order that avoids some of the problems created by other proposals.

Before we start, below is a tweet from Kyler from last month that illustrates how serious the issue of tanking has become for the NBA.

If player agents think more teams are deliberately setting out to lose games to maximize draft position than ever before, then the time has come to find a solution. The idea of a tournament for NBA teams that miss the playoffs isn’t new. For years, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons has proposed what he calls the “Entertaining As Hell Tournament.” However, his idea is to seed the top 14 playoff teams by record without regard to conference, then have the remaining teams play a single-elimination tournament with the finalists receiving the final two playoff seeds.

While Simmons’ tournament would undoubtedly be entertaining, it would push back the start of the playoffs and add days to the NBA calendar, one of the key issues Kyler mentioned in his piece. HEAT President Pat Riley also proposed a tournament for non-playoff teams in which the tournament winner would claim the top overall pick. Again, Riley’s proposal would be incredibly entertaining, but as we’ll show below, NBA owners have already rejected the idea of increasing the odds of a borderline playoff team winning a high lottery pick.

For purposes of this proposal, we’re going to take Kyler’s seeding arguments as definitive and say that it must remain as is. The 2014 Suns won 48 games but missed the playoffs in the stacked West while the 38-win Hawks made the playoffs in the East. In our proposal, nothing would change about the current seeding system and a similar 48-win team that missed the playoffs would participate in the Consolation Tournament described below.

In October of 2014, the NBA failed to get the 23 votes needed to implement proposed changes to the lottery system. One seemingly-counterintuitive feature would have increased the odds for the lottery team with the most wins to move into the top three of the draft by around 400 percent. This was odd since lottery reform is generally aimed at eliminating incentives to lose games deliberately. Under the league’s proposal, a team like the 48-win Suns of 2014 might miss the playoffs on purpose, given the massive bump in odds to receive a top three draft pick.

“I think we all recognize we need to find the right balance between creating the appropriate incentives on one hand for teams to, of course, win, and on the other hand allowing for appropriate rebuilding and the draft to work as it should in which the worst performing teams get the highest picks in the draft,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN after the lottery reform proposal was voted down by the league’s owners.

And yet, as Grantland reported at the time, increasing the likelihood that a team that barely missed the playoffs would luck into a top three pick was a stated goal of the league’s proposal. It was reportedly defeated in part because a number of owners didn’t like it when the Cavaliers won the top overall pick in three out of four drafts. Upping the odds for a borderline playoff team to win a top pick could have made similar “insta-rebuilds” a more frequent feature of the NBA landscape.

This should never happen. The owners have spoken. So now we’ll introduce our draft reform proposal that eliminates nearly every incentive for teams to deliberately lose games.

In this system, teams that miss the playoffs would be seeded by conference for a Consolation Tournament in a manner similar to playoff seeding. Since there are only 14 teams that miss the playoffs versus 16 that make the playoffs, the top seeds get a bye in the first round. Rather than awarding the tournament winner with the top overall pick — a system that would undoubtedly lead to a team like the aforementioned 48-win Suns receiving a potential superstar — teams would move up one spot in the draft order for each round of the tournament the team wins.

The tournament would consist of a two-game home-and-home series with the winner determined by point aggregation. In other words, it doesn’t matter if each team wins one game. The team that scores the most points combined in the two games will move on to the next round. The top seeds for each conference can only win a total of three rounds by winning the tournament since they receive a bye in the first round. Below is the draft order for non-playoff teams as determined by record with the lottery system eliminated. By way of illustration, let’s say the higher-seeded team wins every round of the tournament, with the HEAT winning three rounds to emerge as champions. Next to the teams is the total number of draft slots they can potentially move up based on the number of rounds the team won.

14. HEAT (+3)
13. Nuggets (+2)
12. Pistons (+2)
11. Hornets (+1)
10. Pelicans (+2)
9. Mavericks (+1)
8. Kings (+1)
7. Knicks (+1)
6. Timberwolves
5. Magic
4. 76ers
3. Lakers
2. Suns
1. Nets

In this example, there’s very little movement since the higher-seeded team won every game. By winning the tournament, the HEAT could potentially move from the 14th pick to the 11th pick since the team won three rounds. However, the Nuggets also won two rounds. In our final order below, the HEAT moves ahead of the Nuggets since we’re also awarding all tie-breaks to the higher-seeded team. As a rule, tie-breaks would go to the team that had the highest point differential for the tournament, with a second tie-break being total points scored.

Final lottery order after tie breaks:

14. Nuggets
13. HEAT
12. Hornets
11. Pistons
10. Mavericks
9. Pelicans
8. Kings
7. Timberwolves
6. Knicks
5. Magic
4. 76ers
3. Lakers
2. Suns
1. Nets

The only way for the HEAT to jump all the way up to the 11th pick would be if the Nuggets, Hornets, and Pistons all lost in the first round. In our example, the Hornets and Pistons were still able to pick ahead of the HEAT since each won at least one round. Where the concept gets more interesting is when you consider a less-predictable scenario. Let’s say the consensus first pick was set to enter the league with hype on the level of LeBron James. The Nets, Suns, Lakers, and 76ers would all be supremely motivated to field the most competitive teams possible since an upset of a higher-seeded team in the first round could allow that team to move up in the draft order. For example, if the Suns — the seventh seed in the West — upset the second-seeded Pelicans in the first round while the Nets lost, Phoenix would move ahead of the Nets in the draft order.

This system would create two types of teams that end up in the lottery — those that miss the playoffs despite their best efforts and those that are rebuilding but never deliberately bottoming out. Those rebuilding teams will always get higher draft picks than teams on the fringes of the playoffs. But a deliberate tank job like the 76ers’ “process” would result in rebuilding teams having little chance to win rounds in the Consolation Tournament, which could cost those teams a chance at a once-in-a-generation player.

Finally, some of the rebuttals to proposals to eliminate conference seeding from Kyler’s piece apply here and must be addressed. Kyler wrote that a tournament would add days to the NBA calendar for lottery teams for which the offseason normally ends sooner. He also argued that pending free agents wouldn’t want to risk injury in a relatively-meaningless tournament to help a team potentially draft a replacement player. And finally, Kyler questioned if television networks and ticket buyers would pay for games that run concurrently with the playoffs.

The answer is that yes, fans and networks would be phenomenally engaged with a tournament built to decide who gets the top picks in the upcoming NBA drafts. In a scenario where a LeBron-level talent was set to enter the league, these games could potentially overshadow the first round of the NBA playoffs. The revenue thus produced would be the league’s primary incentive to implement the Consolation Tournament. Players would get paid out of the additional revenue just as they would from a playoff bonus.

And as for pending free agents fearing injury and being reticent to help a team draft a replacement player, there are two sides to that coin. NBA players pay as much attention to the draft and free agency as anyone. Players such as Magic Johnson have admitted timing their entry to the league to maximize their chance of playing on a preferred team with ideal personnel. Teams could certainly sit players with too much to lose, but most players would relish the opportunity to help their current team improve. If a pending free agent helps a team secure a generational talent with a spectacular run in the Consolation Tournament, that player will have increased their value in free agency and made a strong argument for the current team to keep them.

The NBA needs to end the era of tanking and a postseason tournament for teams that miss the playoffs is the right idea to create new revenue streams for the league and greater engagement for NBA fans. This proposal checks nearly every conceivable box. Teams will still rebuild by necessity, but never again will we see a team deliberately assemble the worst possible product. A postseason for 30 teams rather than the current 16 might seem like overkill, but when the revenue and ratings start pouring in, the NBA will wonder why it didn’t implement the tournament sooner.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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