Lockout Scuttlebutt: Changing the Draft

Among the various issues at stake in the lockout -- distribution of basketball-related income (BRI), a hard or soft cap, and revenue sharing -- it is sometimes easy to overlook the fact in CBA negotiations nothing is sacrosanct, and literally every assumption of how the NBA operates can be changed during the course of a single negotiating season. This apparently was the case at some point this last week or so, as the owners proposed a significant change to the draft process, namely adding a third round, which harkens back to the pre-1988 format in which the draft contained a NFL-esque seven rounds, after which the draft contained three rounds in 1988 and the modern two round system in 1989. Writing from his new perch at SheridanHoops, former ESPN and AP writer Chris Sheridan has the scoop:

SheridanHoops.com has learned that NBA owners have proposed adding a third round to the annual draft, a proposal that the players’ union has countered by offering an array of changes to the draft that would help address the owners’ desire for more competitive balance.

A third round, as well as the "array of changes" the union proposed that slant the draft even more in favor of losing teams, would have a fairly adverse effect on the best teams' ability to restock through the draft, the Lakers scorning of the first round the past few years notwithstanding. After the jump, we will cover how these proposals would be detrimental to the Lakers' future prospects, and how generally misguided the notion is that either the owners' or players' suggestions actually contribute anything towards a sense of parity.

According to Sheridan, the proposals that have been bounced around look something like the following:

Under one proposal, the 15 teams with the worst records would continue to pick 1st through 15th, but then would also have the 16th through 30th picks. The teams with the top 15 records would have the first 15 picks of the second round, then would have the 44th through 60th picks, too. Under this proposal, the Chicago Bulls (whose 62-20 record was the league’s best last season) would have the 45th and 60th picks instead of the 30th and 30th picks. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who had the NBA’s worst record (17-65), would have their lottery pick and the 16th pick, but would no longer have the first pick of the second round — No. 31 overall.

Under another proposal, the teams with the eight worst records would get an additional first round pick, beginning with selection No. 22, and the teams with the eight best records would have no first-round picks but would select at the top of the second round (picks 31 through 38), then also would get the final eight picks of the second round.

On the face, this looks like something that could conceivably be beneficial for parity, as it allows rebuilding teams to quickly restock their rosters. Assuming that Minnesota would get a competent general manager, having two first round picks would give them a great deal of flexibility in their draft selections, trades, and so on and such forth. One can only imagine what a GM such as Sam Presti or Kevin Pritchard would do with a good amount of cap space and an extra first rounder to throw around, and it could potentially shorten the rebuilding process for teams dramatically.

The problem, as I elucidated on in my draft primer, is that the talent pool runs dry very fast in draft near the end of the first round, after which the possibility of finding an actual rotation player decreases exponentially. It is a credit to Mitch Kupchak that he drafted two solid prospects in Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock in the second round during this year's draft, but even at the end of the first round, teams are looking for role players who can stick on a roster or projects that need a season or two of seasoning before they can contribute, not future building blocks. More often than not, there is a considerable difference between the player taken at #22, still a spot for a possible fourth or fifth wheel, and #31, at which point you're hoping for a player who can be a serviceable contributor off the bench.

So yes, in one respect, this proposal does contribute to a form of parity, but only by limiting the ability of the best teams to fill the holes in their rosters. The foundation of championship teams is not only built upon the primary core of star players, but the role players who fill the niches around them, and those are often found at the end of the first round. The Toney Douglas example is almost trite at this juncture, but a failure to use the draft well in this regard has a very real effect on the longevity of a championship team's window. Without the draft as a resource, teams are forced to often overpay free agents to fill these holes, hence the terrible-in-hindsight $16 million/4 years deal that was given to Steve Blake last summer. And for teams like San Antonio that can't pay free agents exorbitant sums because of their small market status making them unable to absorb large amounts of luxury tax, such a change is especially damaging, as they have kept their championship window open for over a decade due to savvy decision-making in the draft. As such, punishing the best teams in this manner is rather unfair; if a good team is able to keep its window open entirely with picks from the bottom of the first round, that's a sign of solid management that should be lauded, not limited.

Adding a third round doesn't help in any regard either. The end of the second round is already a complete crapshoot, and the possibility of a player making a roster from that draft position is very slim. For every Manu Ginobili, there are dozens upon dozens of prospects who have washed out of the league during their first training camp or were sent to Europe to improve their skills and never returned. Even Derrick Caracter, a solid selection for his draft position despite all his flaws, looks like a highly marginal rotation player, and it's open question as to whether he will even be on the roster next year. Most picks at the end of the second round look much more like Joe Crawford and Chinemelu Elonu, the Lakers' second round picks in 2008 and 2009 respectively, who have bounced around foreign teams and the D-League and have hardly a prayer of making a NBA roster. Given this, a third round is nothing more than an exercise in futility. There's a reason players nowadays go undrafted, and why the league finally cut the number of rounds after realizing that every player taken after the second round simply wasn't going to make a team.

Whether these changes have been seriously discussed or were just ideas being thrown at the wall is unknown, but given that none of the key issues regarding revenue sharing, BRI, and so on and such forth have been resolved, one would lean towards the latter. Nevertheless, regardless of how the draft turns out next season, it will be incumbent upon the Lakers to use it wisely, whether they are picking in the early to mid-second round due to a new CBA or more short-sighted penny-pinching.

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