Sports Drafts Are Immoral And Bad

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The Sacramento Kings came in for even more derisive laughter than the baseline occasioned by any mention of their existence yesterday when ESPN’s Chad Ford posted the following in the little quasi-Twitter scroll thing on the right side of the Worldwide Leader’s busted website:

Doing research tonight for Mock Draft 10. Based on all the info I can find, the Kings only got 1 prospect ranked in our Top 30 in for a workout—Wade Baldwin. They didn’t even get medicals on most of the top 10 prospects. They’ve been completely shunned by agents.

The clowning is richly deserved: the Kings are a ridiculous trash-fire of an organization staffed by flamboyantly unqualified doofuses and owned by a spiral-eyed tech-industry boob who makes Joe Lacob look like Art Rooney, and it’s pretty hilarious to see them getting stiff-armed by the incoming rookie class in advance of the draft. On the other hand, maybe let’s pause for a moment to consider at whose precise expense these laughs are coming. Workouts or no, the Kings are entitled to select an incoming player with the eighth overall pick tonight and pay him a salary pegged to the draft slot rather than to the team exercising it. That poor fucker will be compelled to spend the next three or four years of his life counting the days until he is free to seek an actual good place of employment. That’s pretty fucked up!

Typically, the discussion of what should be done about the NBA draft centers on tanking: the current lottery system, which gives the previous season’s worst teams the highest odds of securing the draft’s top picks, works in combination with the rookie wage scale and the outsize importance of individual stars in basketball to provide a powerful incentive for all but the league’s best teams to lose on purpose. This was the lens through which OG sabermetrician Bill James examined things yesterday at Slate. This is fine, as far as it goes; tanking is bad, and the current draft system incentivizes it, and that’s also bad. But even a rejiggered lottery system still protects a franchise like the Kings—whose abysmal 2015-16 season was not the result of tanking but rather of comprehensive, years-long, systemic dysfunction and incompetence—from any pressure to do its fucking job. It still screws over incoming NBA players and the Kings’ competitors and the Kings’ fans.


Consider how the ecosystem might be different if the draft were replaced with a fair job market. This offseason at least, the Kings wouldn’t be able to hire anybody from the incoming rookie class unless they were willing to pay whatever it’d cost to override both players’ and agents’ reasonable distaste for shitty, incompetently run tomato-can organizations headquartered in dull cowtowns. Fellow bottom-feeders like the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans would see a benefit to running comparably stable, functional shops. And the Kings wouldn’t be able to peddle cheap, low-grade optimism to their beleaguered local fanbase just by going Hey, come watch the bushy-tailed young cock the draft pooped into our undeserving hands before the miserable experience of playing for 12 coaches in four hours erodes his will to live! Ownership would be under that much more pressure to get with the fucking program.

Instead, pretty much everybody but Vivek Ranadivé is getting screwed. The poor sucker the Kings take eighth overall tonight gets the same salary and contract length he’d get if a functional organization in a cool city were occupying that spot. Sober organizations with actual smart people running them in good faith get no bidding advantage over a pinwheeling clusterfuck in the market for desirable young talent. Sacramento fans get a club protected from pressure to pull its head out of its ass by the possibility that a rigged system might accidentally deliver it a bound-and-gagged superstar in any given year. Raise this to the power of all teams in all cities, in all sports that continue practicing this perverse nonsense. The whole thing is stupid and wasteful and immoral. The solution isn’t to fix the draft, but to abolish it.