76ers' Epic Losing Streak Makes Some Reconsider NBA Draft

The Philadelphia 76ers have lost their last 15 games. As sportswriter Stefan Fatsis notes, the team's losing streak has raised a question: Are some NBA teams trying to lose to get a better draft pick?

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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

The Philadelphia '76ers have lost their last 15 games and no one would be surprised if they didn't win again this season. But the big question now is whether all that losing is intentional and whether the league needs to do something about it. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now. Hey there, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: All right. So put this losing streak in context, right? How bad is this team?

FATSIS: Well, right now, the '76ers don't even have the worst record in the NBA. They're 15 and 46. Milwaukee has three fewer wins. But Philly has gotten worse as the season has progressed. Kevin Pelton of ESPN found that the team's winless February was one of the worst months in NBA history. Losses averaging around 20 points a game, so a record-breaking, season-ending run of 36 straight losses definitely within reach.

CORNISH: And I guess by having the worst record in the league, Philadelphia would have the best chance at the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Is that the gist of this?

FATSIS: That is the idea. This team was designed to not compete. Last year, the 6ers traded one of their best players for a high draft pick, and then they used the pick on a guy that they knew wasn't going to play this season because of a knee injury. Last month, they traded two starters for draft picks, benchwarmers, and some payroll flexibility. So the debate is this: Should a team be rewarded with the best chance for the number one pick for selling a deliberately inferior product?

CORNISH: And earlier this week, former NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy called what the 6ers are doing embarrassing. He said they're tanking, you know, trying to lose.

FATSIS: Yeah. He said it at the annual Sloan Sports Conference at MIT. And on the same panel, former Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo admitted trying to tank a couple of years ago. Now, part of this is semantics. The NBA's new commissioner, Adam Silver, said that he defines tanking as intentionally trying to lose once a game has started and that what's happening in Philly is a legitimate rebuilding strategy. Either way, it is a scourge on the league and it's unfair to fans and sponsors. Silver needs to do something about it.

CORNISH: So what would that something be? I mean, reforming the draft?

FATSIS: Yes. Reforming the draft would be a big step. Right now, it's a weighted lottery. The teams with the worst records have a better chance of landing the top picks. And one way to end the tanking would be to give all 14 teams that don't make the playoffs an equal shot at the top pick.

But there's another more intriguing proposal and it was created by the Boston Celtics assistant general manager, Mike Zarren. It's called the wheel. The 30 NBA teams would cycle through the draft slots over 30 years. But it would be done in a mathematically balanced way. Every team would get one top six pick every five seasons. For instance, the team picking first this year, then would pick 30th and then 19th, 18th, 17th and then sixth. If you're drafting, say, third, you'd go three, 28, 21, 16, nine, four. You get three top 10 picks in six years.

CORNISH: All right. Is the NBA actually taking any of this seriously?

FATSIS: Yes, it is. Silver said he likes the idea. He has sent it the team executives. One reaction has been that it might lead college kids to try time when they come into the NBA based who's picking first. I don't think that's terribly reasonable. Good for Adam Silver for considering a mathematical solution to a long-standing problem.

CORNISH: Stefan, thanks so much.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis, he's a panelist on Slate's sports podcast "Hang Up and Listen." He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

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