By Ben Sullivan
For the Sixers, who have played by the rules, this is the week they have feared for months.
The NBA owners, meeting in New York, are about to change the rules by which teams are incentivized to lose in order to get high draft picks in order to rebuild. It is a strategy the Sixers have used to land center Joel Embiid in the June draft.
Right now, the team with the worst record has a 25% chance of getting the No. 1 pick and the worst it can get is the No. 4 pick. The team with second-worst record can get no worse than the fifth pick and the third-worst team can’t fall lower than the sixth pick.
But because the idea of “tanking” — or bottoming out in order to eventually get better — carries such a negative image, the league is considering significant changes to the lottery system. Among the changes being discussed: teams with the four-worst records have an equal shot at the No. 1 pick. Also, the team with worst record could drop to the seventh pick in a worst-case scenario.
While the Sixers’ strategy has been criticized, the league has defended Philly’s rebuilding plan. In March, NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn and vice president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe didn’t believe teams were tanking and did not criticize the Sixers’ strategy to build from the ground up.
“Their plan is ‘We’re stuck in the middle here. … We don’t want to be stuck here. We want to accumulate all the assets we possibly can,’ ” Thorn said. “They knew they weren’t going to be very good but as quickly as they can, they want to get back to the point where they can compete for the big prize.”
VanDeWeghe added: “It’s certainly not up to us to tell them how to run their business.”
But the NBA might just force the Sixers to change the way they do business. Philly might have a legitimate complaint, too, if a new draft lottery process is adopted starting in 2015. The Sixers embarked on a plan and now the league could abruptly change the rules. Introducing the change in 2016 or 2017 would at least give teams the opportunity to plan for a new system.