Lose as often as possible to increase your chances of recruiting Victor Wenbanyama in the draft: the temptation to “tank” has rarely been as strong as with the announced arrival of the phenomenon, but thanks to the measures decided by the NBA, no team was caught in the act.
The front page of the reference magazine Sports Illustrated for the month of March – a rare honor reserved for a “prospect”, the most illustrious remaining LeBron James, then a high school student nicknamed the Chosen One in 2002 – proves it: the 19-year-old Frenchman and 2.21 m is seen as the greatest hope in world basketball. “LBJ” sees in him “an extraterrestrial”, “a generational talent”.
Enough to arouse the envy of all franchises, even if only a handful can hope to win the jackpot at the end of the season. It is likely that “Wemby” will be the No. 1 in the Draft on June 22, despite competition from another prodigy, Scoot Henderson. But the identity of the team that will select him is far from known.
It will depend in particular on the final classification and this lottery set up to balance the forces of this closed championship and organized for the fourteen clubs not qualified for the play-offs.
For three editions, the three formations with the worst records of the season each have a 14% chance of choosing first the player of the “Draft”, this “market” for young talents whose services they want to attach. The fourth worst team will have a 12.5% chance, the 5th 10.5%, etc., down to the 14th which will only have a 0.5% chance.
– “Particular attention” –
If he smiled at Minnesota (Anthony Edwards), Detroit (Cade Cunningham) then Orlando (Paolo Banchero) who were among the teams having the first choice with a 14% chance, this new system has the main purpose of avoiding a massive “tanking”, which has the effect of distorting the championship. Until the implementation of this new system, the worst team of the season had a 25% chance of choosing first in the Draft and the fight was sometimes raging… to finish last.
Despite everything, the NBA feared, given the Wembanyama phenomenon, that many, once their dreams of the play-offs were gone, would give in to the temptation of who loses wins at the end of the season.
“I understand (the idea of tanking), especially when you see a single player arrive. But we have warned the teams, we will pay particular attention to this question”, warned league boss Adam Silver, before the season.
On the sidelines of Chicago-Detroit, relocated in January to Paris, he insisted: “The word that begins with + T + is not part of the vocabulary of the commissionaire that I am. We have imposed multiple changes in the lottery, to discourage teams to intentionally lose. We realize there’s a legitimate process of rebuilding. But there’s no advantage to being the worst or second-worst formation of the season. Admittedly 14% chance, that’s is better than 1% or 0%, but it’s hard to stake your future on that.”
– “Let’s pray for Victor!” –
The NBA boss, who has however ruled out the threat of establishing a relegation system to punish faulty franchises, seems to have been heard, since Houston (13v / 49d), Detroit (15v / 48d) and San Antonio (15v / 47d) might be the only ones to finish with less than twenty successes. These clubs, which quickly appeared to be the weakest, should, unless surprised, compose the trio with a 14% chance of inheriting Wembanyama.
Others in reconstruction, like Orlando, Indiana and Utah, looked like potential candidates for tanking but showed a different face, as did Charlotte, whose current five-game winning streak demonstrates a desire to hold on tight.
When a Portland fan on Twitter urged his favorite team to “tank”, the reply of Damian Lillard, the star of the Blazers, in the fight for the accession play-offs to the play-offs, burst out: “Out of the question.”
And among the leaders concerned by the stakes of the Draft, there is only Tilman Fertitta, owner of Houston, to openly hope to recover Wembanyama. But by relying … on God: “Let’s pray for Victor!”, He proclaimed during an obviously watered Mardi Gras.