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Here’s What Adam Silver Thinks About Our Proposal To Fix The NBA Draft

Over the last month, our sports podcast “Hot Takedown” asked listeners to submit their ideas for how to fix the NBA Lottery and end tanking. We got almost 7,000 responses, some silly, most very thoughtful. We picked one — a proposal in which teams would place bets on how other teams will perform, divorcing one’s own record from one’s own lottery pick (read about it here) — and sent it off to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s office.

And then we waited. Most of us (all of us) figured that was it. Usually letters to powerful sports bureaucrats go into the ether.

Well, on Friday an envelope arrived in the mail from Commissioner Silver’s office. Someone had clearly read our letter and taken the time to draft a three-page response. (But, for what it’s worth, that someone had not listened to the podcast, or seen my bio page — it was addressed to “Ms.” Jody Avirgan.)

The letter lauded our project, offered a detailed response to our plan, and acknowledged a “growing consensus” that the lottery needs fixing. Ultimately, though, it said the equivalent of “thanks, but no thanks.” But over three pages!

Watch the video above for instant reaction from “Hot Takedown” host Chadwick Matlin and me. We’ve also posted the full text of the letter at the bottom of this post, and invite you to annotate it on Genius.

We’ll dig into the details of Silver’s response soon, but here are a few quick notes.

  • “I can’t say I’ll be riding a bear into the Lottery room any time soon,” Silver writes. Bummer. But the vision lives on.
  • The word “tanking” does not appear in this letter.
  • Nevertheless, in responding to the “futures” plan, Silver does say he thinks “there would still be an incentive to be among the worst-performing teams.” Not to get too Talmudic, but is his use of “still” a tacit acknowledgment that there is currently an incentive to perform poorly?
  • It’s signed only “Adam.” Neat.
  • It’s tough to say whether this letter, along with the other statements Silver has made about lottery reform, indicates that the NBA is truly considering or merely entertaining more creative ideas. And Silver points out that three-quarters of owners will have to approve any changes. Is mentioning that the lottery’s fate is in owners’ hands an excuse not to take bold action, or just realism?
  • Toward the end of the letter, Silver writes that “there appears to be a growing consensus that we need to reform the Draft Lottery.” In the past, Silver has flat-out denied that players are trying to lose, but he’s also acknowledged that the Competition Committee is looking at lottery reform. Part of me appreciates his candor, and part of me is surprised that Silver is still using cautious language like “appears to be … growing.”

We’ve already re-extended our invitation for Commissioner Silver to come on “Hot Takedown” to further discuss the proposals and NBA tanking. Again, you can annotate his response for yourself and listen to our original podcast discussing all the proposals below (tanking conversation starts at 17:30):

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Silver’s full letter, plus your annotations:

Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.

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