NBA commissioner Adam Silver, speaking Thursday to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, praised the league’s reformed draft lottery system while saying he hopes that it changes the “destructive” mindset some teams and fans have about tanking.
“Where I think it’s the greatest success is, hopefully it’ll stop fans in those markets from rooting for their teams to perform poorly,” Silver said prior to Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. “Because that race to the bottom is just destructive, I think, for everyone. Corrosive for players and franchises, and I think, in some cases, even some executives who knew better felt they couldn’t withstand the pressure from the communities, from the media in some cases, saying, ‘Why are you operating at this level when you should either get much better or much worse?'”
In a week, the New Orleans Pelicans will be on the clock for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, landing the top slot at the draft lottery in May despite having only a 6 percent chance. Under the old system, the worst three teams had a 25 percent chance at the top pick. Under the reformed rules, it was 14 percent.
“I think in this case now with the change in the lottery, people are going to realize that there’s only one way to build a franchise,” Silver said. “Of course, you need to get great players, but at the same time you need to build culture, you need strong management, you need strong coaching. And players incrementally get better year after year. I mean, look at these two great franchises. It’s wonderful from a league standpoint to see the Warriors and the Raptors, two incredibly well-run franchises from top to bottom, here representing the league.”
The Raptors, for example, are in the NBA Finals despite not having a single lottery player on their roster. Kawhi Leonard (drafted 15th overall) has stated his case this postseason as maybe the game’s best overall player — something Silver suggested himself — and has benefited from the Raptors’ plan to manage his workload with regular rest throughout the season.
Silver, though, noted Leonard’s plan for “load management” is different than others and didn’t seem to endorse the idea in a general sense.
“That term ‘load management’ is generally used in regard to rest,” Silver said. “That’s not what the protocol was for Kawhi. We had a player coming back from having missed almost an entire season, and that was a protocol designed by doctors, physical therapists, as a way to bring him back to full health. So it’s very different, I think, for a player who is otherwise completely healthy who then chooses to sit out.”
The Warriors — who trail these Finals 3-2 — have been the preeminent superteam of the past five seasons, but their postseason has been heavily disrupted by injuries, most notably to Kevin Durant, who tore his Achilles in Game 5. Silver called the injury “devastating” and noted the impact it will have on the league overall with the expectation Durant will miss most, if not all, of next season.
“I feel, of course, for him personally,” Silver said. “I think beyond that, as a league, we’re only as big as our players, and he’s one of the greatest stars in the league, so it’ll be a huge loss not to have him. Of course, having said that, other players will step up, but he’s a unique player. I think the caliber at which he plays, the spirit and the passion he brings to the game, puts him in that very elite category. So all we can do is root for him to come back at full speed, and I know it won’t be for a lack of effort on his part. I’m sure he’s going to begin rehabbing the moment his doctors allow it.”