An NBA executive has come out with a new plan intended to prevent lottery teams from tanking at the end of the regular season, SI.com has learned.
The proposal by Nuggets vice president Mark Warkentien, which was recently mailed to fellow team executives as well as to NBA headquarters, calls for a mini single-elimination postseason tournament in which the Nos. 8-15 teams in each conference would play up to three games in pursuit of the eighth and final spot in the playoffs.
Under the proposal, nothing would change for the playoff teams that earn the top seven playoff spots. The No. 8 spot, however, would be up for grabs.
No. 8 would play a home game against No. 15, No. 9 would play at home against No. 14 and so on. The loser of each game would be eliminated, while each winner would advance to the next round.
At the conclusion of the mini-tournament, the playoffs would revert to the traditional format, with the winner of the No. 8 seed opposing the team with the best record in the conference.
The results of the postseason tournament would not alter the rankings of teams heading into the lottery. Even if the No. 15 team with the league's worst record went on to win the mini-tournament, and thereby qualify for the playoffs, that team would still enter the lottery with the most Ping-Pong balls and the best chance at the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The league acknowledged it received Warkentien's plan in response to an open query asking franchise executives for ideas to help maintain enthusiasm from lottery teams over the closing weeks of the season. "Make every game count," is the theme of his proposal, sources said.
Even if a majority of the league should come around to support the proposal and it is enacted, the reality is that lottery teams would continue to insidiously improve their draft position -- especially in those years when an elite talent (LeBron James, for example) is slotted as the No. 1 pick. On the other hand, this proposal could encourage losing teams to keep their veteran players active in hopes of creating extra gate receipts, whether from the mini-tournament or the playoffs.
"I kind of like the idea," an Eastern Conference general manager said. "Conceptually, it's very interesting -- as long as I'm not the No. 8 team. But then again, No. 8 should be able to beat No. 15 in a one-game playoff."
The one-and-done mini-tournament -- similar to a college conference postseason tournament -- would extend the season by a week (perhaps at the expense of a shortened exhibition season). Even if other executives and league officials share his interest, the GM noted, it would take a lot of negotiating to install the proposal amid labor negotiations between the owners and union to avoid a lockout in 2011-12.
"There would be collective bargaining issues involved in something like this," the GM said. "There would have to be give-and-take with the players' association to make this work."
An executive with another Eastern team doubted the proposal would get off the ground because it could diminish the integrity of the regular season.
"I don't think anyone wants to see a team win 11 games and then make the playoffs over an 82-game season," he said. "It will be interesting because it can give somebody a boxer's chance. But if you're one of the top seven or eight teams, you're going to be thinking, Why should Sacramento have a chance to make the playoffs?''
From one perspective, this concept would push teams to remain engaged in hopes of salvaging a spot in the playoffs. But it may also raise concerns that a franchise could cynically rest its players over the final weeks to improve its lottery position -- and then restore a full lineup for the mini-tournament.
At the very least, this is a creative proposal that provides the league with new perspective on a difficult issue.