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TFD: A modest proposal to fix the NBA draft lottery system

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 16th at 12:52pm 299925921

markmadsenWe talk about tanking in sports. Most teams deny they do it because it’s not polite or competitive to say you are trying to lose. Rather, they just do everything in their power not to win — like, say, go with a youth movement, rest veterans and, when particularly desperate, make sure scads of good players are ultra-cautious when dealing with injuries. Don’t come back to soon, fellas. Take your time.

We talk about tanking as it relates to the draft. We talk about it in the NFL, though in that case it’s harder to prove — and harder to improve by leaps and bounds with just one good player. Tanking might be an issue there, but unless you end up drafting a once-a-decade quarterback, it probably won’t do you a ton of good to pick No. 1 instead of, say, No. 3.

We talk about tanking in the NHL and MLB a little, but in both of those sports prospects often take so long to develop that it’s hard to say there are sure things at the end of the losing rainbow.

The league in which tanking really seems to be a problem — be it in perception, reality or both — is the NBA. It’s a sport where one star player can completely transform a franchise (see: Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and maybe, just maybe, Andrew Wiggins, all number one picks). It’s a sport of finely tuned athletes, guaranteed contracts, tendinitis, sprains, strains and pulls. It’s easy to hide guys on the bench and invent injuries. It’s easy to go young. It’s easy to lose.

Almost too easy.

And the incentive, as noted above, can be great. Now, the lottery ensures that teams don’t just get to draft players in the reverse order of their finish (unlike the NFL and MLB, which do go that route), but it’s not enough of a disincentive to keep teams from at least giving the appearance that they are intentionally losing. The Timberwolves, as long as they lose tonight, will pick no lower than No. 4 in the draft as the team with the worst record in the NBA. They will have the best chance at landing the best prospect, and regardless they will get a great prospect.

Giving the worst teams the best new players is a very fair notion. If college teams did this, the top recruits would go to the worst teams in the Big Ten and so forth. College sports have no such competitive balance. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and it takes a special set of circumstances to break decades of history.

But while I love the idea of the lottery helping teams get better, I hate the idea that there is an incentive for losing. As such, I had an immediate distaste for Five Thirty Eight’s proposal for changing the NBA draft lottery formula:

Here’s how it works. Take each team’s number of losses. Subtract 41 (41-41 represents a breakeven record in the NBA). Then square the result. That’s how many ping pong balls a team gets. (OK, one more provision: A team gets a minimum of 10 lottery balls, including if it has a winning record).

Once you get past the math (which really isn’t that hard), the intent is to keep teams from trying to get the worst record by making the difference between one win or loss in the standings not that meaningful. It works this year because the Wolves, Knicks and 76ers are so close together.

In general, though, it still offers incentive to lose. In fact, it offers greater incentive to lose. The year that Charlotte was 7-59 (the labor-shortened year of 2011-12), it would have had nearly a 40 percent chance of getting the top pick under this system. So you’re saying to teams: don’t just lose. LOSE MORE. Tankers would go all out. You might have teams winning 7-10 games a season as the norm. This solves nothing. It only makes things worse by increasing the lottery odds of the really bad teams and decreasing the odds of the marginally bad teams who might actually be trying to make the playoffs and win.

As such, I have a different proposal. It’s one I’ve thought about for way too long. It’s also probably crazy, but it’s time. Here is what I would do to try to eliminate tanking:

16 teams make the NBA playoffs, and 14 do not. At the end of the regular season, the 14 teams who didn’t make the playoffs engage in a series of one-game loser playoffs to determine lottery order. Here’s how it works:

Each conference is seeded 1-7, with the No. 1 seed being the team with the worst record in the conference and No. 7 being the best.

Each No. 1 seed gets a bye. The 7 plays the 6, the 5 plays the 4 and the 2 plays the 3 (going against tradition in which the best would play the weakest in order to keep like teams grouped together in this case and not give an undue edge to the best of the worst).

Then the winner of 2 vs. 3 plays the 1; the 7 vs. 6 winner plays the 5 vs. 4 winner. Then those winners face off. Then the conference winners face off to determine the losers’ champion.

All of these are one game, single elimination. Assuming arena availability would be there, all of the games are on the home court of the higher-seeded team (the one with the worse record). All of it is solely to determine lottery order, not draft order, and the current breakdown of odds would essentially remain in place.

The tournament champion gets the most ping pong balls (25 percent). The runner-up gets the second-most (19.9 percent). Those who lost in the finals in each conference split the difference of the third and fourth best odds (13.8 percent each). The four teams who lost in the conference semifinals — by virtue of getting a bye the teams with the worst records in each conference would at least get this far — would split the existing odds of the 5-8 spots in the lottery (5.5 percent each); and the six teams who lost in the first round would split the existing 9-14 odds (0.9 percent each).

For order purposes, the teams knocked out at each stage would still be slotted from worst to best record (for example: the 9-14 teams, if none got lucky and jumped into the top 3 of the draft during the lottery, would pick in order of worst record to best record; the worst would pick 9th and the best would pick 14th).

Advantages: It’s no longer cool to lose. It’s cool to try to make the playoffs, and if you miss the playoffs, it’s still cool to win. There would only be a marginal incentive to be the worst team (the bye and guarantee of no worse than a 5.5 percent chance of getting the top pick, while also picking no worse than 8th since the 5-8 teams would be slotted in reverse order of finish if none won the lottery and a team can only fall three spots from its lottery position).

Basically, the 3 or 4 worst teams would still likely pick in the 5-9 range even if they didn’t win a game in the loser playoffs or get lucky in the lottery. But they wouldn’t be guaranteed the higher picks they are now. As such, they could still improve but they wouldn’t have the incentive to stink.

It also would make it more possible for fringe playoff contenders to improve. Wolves coach/President Flip Saunders recently said, “In this league, you either have to be real good or real bad. If you’re in the middle, it’s tough to improve.”

He’s absolutely right, and that’s absolutely unfair. But if you miss the playoffs by a game, steamroll the losers’ bracket and suddenly have a 25 percent chance at the No. 1 pick and a guarantee of picking no lower than fourth … that can change your fortunes in a hurry. (And no, a team wouldn’t tank to barely miss the playoffs in order to get a high pick. If you have a chance to make the postseason, you go for it because anything can happen once you’re in).

It would make it slightly harder for teams that are legitimately bad to improve, though it wouldn’t make it impossible. Lottery odds guarantee nothing (just ask the Wolves). Maybe it’s asking a lot of teams to play as many four games after an 82-game season, particularly if your roster is comprised of impending free agents who don’t care about your future . But: 1) how much fun would those games be? and 2) If you’re in the real playoffs, you might play 20-plus extra games.

Maybe it’s a lot of work just to determine lottery order. But if this was happening this year, the Wolves would get a first-round bye in the West and then have a conference semifinal matchup against the winner of the 2 vs. 3 game (Lakers vs. Kings) at Target Center. And outside of KG’s return and maybe Wiggins’ debut, that game would be the single most-anticipated Wolves game at Target Center this season.

It would be far better than any game in the past month, when the Wolves were (sadly) better off losing.

Bottom line: If you wanted to get better, you would be best-served trying to win. That is, after all, what it’s all about.

Rocket's Red Glare: NHL playoff preview, haiku style

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 15th at 3:28pm 299890651

rocketI was going to make fun of Rocket for being the only person on earth who could write a NHL playoff preview in haiku form and still have it check in at more than 1,000 words, but then I wrote the post that will go up after this and it’s 1,500 crazy words on how to fix the NBA draft lottery. Pot, meet kettle. Anyway, here’s the guest post.



A short while back I found myself sitting in one of those faux-oases nestled between two shopping complexes.  To my left stood an old manufacturing building that had been converted into a hippie-fried collection of boutiques that your least practical aunt would describe as “magical,” and to my right stood its dullard cousin from the suburbs who thinks of cumin as a rare and exotic spice. I suppose I appreciated the attempt to offer a respite from the only-talk-to-each-other-at-Thanksgiving temples of commerce, but the whole feel of the place was reminiscent of a guy trying too hard to keep his cool around the prettiest girl in school.

Regardless, I was there, sitting on a metal chair fused to a metal table that was mostly covered with a dusting of the sort of natural materials that make me eternally grateful for manufactured antihistamines.  I found myself in this oddly cultivated nether region because Rockette needed to buy something frilly or dainty or otherwise personal and I had no desire to impede this purchase with whatever inappropriate action I was otherwise destined to take.  A small cadre of other lost souls were also in the vicinity, but we were all satisfied with our unspoken agreement to just leave each other the [redacted] alone.  The place was just tolerable enough as it was, and no one was going to ruin it by talking or getting to know each other.

And then HE showed up.  In one respect, he was no different from every other middle aged schlub in the world.  His canvas shoes could not contain the white socks that reached halfway up his calves.  There is no place on this earth where one can spend a double-digit dollar figure on his anonymous gray shorts.  And his garish, mostly blue, oddly patterned shirt is exactly the type of garment that seems to appeal to those who, frankly, ought not be drawing that much attention to their corpulence.  The spindly legs belied someone who may have been an athlete – perhaps even something of a catch back in the day – but they had long ago been forced to endure the bulbous nature of the upper half of his frame and were worse for the wear.

Again, he seemed no different than so many others like him: just another guy in his fifties who had long since seen the best days come and go, destined to be just another seamless face in the crowd.  And yet, within a shorter span of time than it will take you to read this whole soliloquy, he became life’s latest reminder that everyone has a story.

It all began with him gliding into the oasis on his bicycle.  This, in itself, was odd enough as he gave the impression of a man who rode not for the exercise, thrill of the sport, or the wind in his hair, but because it was his most legal form of transportation after the last court hearing.  Yet, the surprises hardly ended there; he had rigged a speaker and a personal CD player to the back of the bicycle and he was pumping out the tunes.  At first, it was exceptionally annoying as the tinny, single speaker completely destroyed the quiet, unspoken agreement I had made with the other patrons of the space to shut up and not bother each other.

Yes, annoying.  At first.  But then I started listening to the song and watching the guy.  He had clearly already been drinking the tall can that he fished out of the Hogwartian satchel he had strapped to the back of this bike.  I assumed it was alcohol at first, but I kept looking at the can and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was only an Arnold Palmer.  I was probably wrong, since the can looked more like this, but the whole scene just makes more of a twisted kind of sense if one imagines that he was only drinking iced tea and lemonade.  Regardless, he kept taking long pulls off of the can and staring deep into the nothingness of middle distance.  Then the song really caught my ear.  I’m sure that I had never heard it before, but it is such a quintessentially eighties song that once you hear it you never forget it.  For those unwilling to click the link the song is called “Hold On To 18,” by a band called Black N’ Blue, who look exactly like you would expect them to look.  The lyric that really got me was, “I don’t care about society, I don’t care about responsibility…”  Here stood this middle aged man, so far from his prime that the memories of back then had to have been sepia-toned, listening to a 30-year-old song imploring him to hold onto an age that he may have already experienced three times over.

Finally, I understood.  Sitting there, in the “oasis,” I had felt a sense of unease in a place that wasn’t quite right and in which I did not comfortably fit.  But whatever I was enduring in that moment was but a leaky bucket compared to the ocean that engulfed this man.  I was a bit uncomfortable; he was a man out of his time, his place, his car, and everything else that he had once known.  If there were still any corners of the world where he could live the life he wanted they were few and far between, and this oasis certainly was not one of them.

It felt like he stood there forever, but in truth he didn’t even stick around for the whole song.  After finishing the tall can he jumped back on the bike and rode off in search of the next spot were he might feel just a little less out of place.

The moral of the story?  I have no idea what is going to happen in the NHL playoffs, but I am going to make predictions in haiku form anyway.

Montreal v. Ottawa

It’s French Canada

Versus the seat of the feds

Secessionists win

Tampa Bay v. Detroit

Do you fear Detroit?

Stamkos and the crew will win

The Yzerman Cup

New York Rangers v. Pittsburgh

Even Sid the Kid

Cannot escape the allure

Of Hank’s dreamy eyes

Washington v. New York Islanders

Many great games played

In Nassau Coliseum

Too bad it ends here

Anaheim v. Winnipeg

A playoff return!

Winnipeg will go crazy!

Enjoy those four games

Vancouver v. Calgary

Lanny McDonald

And his glorious moustache

Will not be enough

Nashville v. Chicago

Nashville seems all right

But Chicago is better

The city and team

St. Louis v. Minnesota

A St. Loo upset?

Yes! They will be gone early

Just not in this round

New soccer stadium: Bad timing shouldn't diminish good plan

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 15th at 11:01am 299842571

soccerMinnesotans are tired of building new stadiums. They should be. There was a time (albeit just one year a generation ago) when the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves and Gophers football team all played in the Metrodome. Each of them now either has or is building its own stadium. The Wild has its own building, whereas in a lot of markets the NBA and NHL teams share an arena.

We are a combination of overbuilt and overspent, with palaces such as Xcel Energy Center, Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium and the new Vikings stadium — not to mention a new ballpark for the Saints — eating up more than a combined $1 billion in public funding alone (more than was spent on the private contributions). This doesn’t even include renovations to Target Center.

If everyone had it to do all over again (everyone but the teams feasting on the profits, that is), we probably would have done it differently. It’s unnecessary to spend gobs of money on two pro arenas for hockey and basketball when one really would do. It’s a little crazy, even though the audiences are slightly different, to construct two huge new football stadiums so close together in both proximity and timing.

The same could be said, we suppose, for the notion of now considering building one more stadium: an open-air Major League Soccer facility near Target Field and Target Center. The new Vikings stadium can be configured for soccer. It wouldn’t be as good of a gameday experience, but it would work. Should we always have to have the best?

In general, no. But in this case … it adds up. An ownership group led by Bill McGuire was awarded an MLS expansion franchise. That group is willing to pay the $100 million expansion fee and almost all of the $150 million cost associated with the stadium. The group wants some tax relief. That’s about it.

It’s drop-in-the-bucket stuff compared to every other stadium we’ve built, and it’s in line with standard operating procedure for a lot of new businesses coming into an area.

The United group had a keen sense of its bad timing and came in with a plan that is more than just palatable. It’s fair. It might even be a good deal for the state and city, something that is rare. Their bad timing shouldn’t diminish a good plan.

That story linked above, by the way, includes perhaps the greatest single user comment in Startribune.com history from someone with the moniker cutthebull:

So far the comments are falling into a few predictable groups:

1. Those who dislike/hate/feel threatened by soccer, and have a kneejerk reaction every time it is mentioned. (These are the people who love to bring up the Kicks, Strikers, et al. And crickets – obsessed with crickets for some reason.)

2. Those who love soccer and have a kneejerk reaction every time it is mentioned. (These are the “most popular game on the planet” people who like to pooh-pooh American football as a dying sport played by Neanderthals.)

3. Those who are tired of stadium discussions and/or sports in general and have a kneejerk reaction every time they are mentioned.

4. Those who are suspicious of wealthy people and have a kneejerk reaction every time they are mentioned.

5. Those (like me) who have no real dog in the fight one way or the other, but who realize this isn’t a bad deal. If a private business owner was going to pony up $150-250 MM to redevelop an underutilized/blighted part of town and put in a call center or insurance offices or a Target or a widget factory, the $3 MM in misc. tax breaks would be a no-brainer. Most of the opposition comes from people in groups 1-4.

Well-said. Even if you don’t like soccer, rich people or stadiums, it’s hard for a reasonable person to find much wrong with this plan.

You can sense when reading between the lines that our politicians understand this as well. They have to hedge their bets and try to take semi-tough stances because they know what the stadium climate is, but at the end of the day they will build it because they realize two things: this will be the last stadium request for a long time, and it’s (by far) the best deal of the bunch.

TFD: Yet another set of statistics shows Minnesota sports are the worst

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 14th at 5:32pm 299761991

millerEvery week or so (maybe not that often, but it seems that way), a new publication comes out with a study, poll or other set of facts indicating that Minnesota sports are bad.

Sometimes they’re ho-hum bad, and sometimes they’re the worst. It doesn’t usually matter what the angle of the study is. Unless it comes to fitness (where we’re great!), the Twin Cities and our pro sports teams are generally judged as epic failures.

The latest effort comes from the Washington Post, which just published a set of online graphics that, coupled with essays from around the country, looks at the last decade for the 12 U.S. markets that have NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB franchises.

The methodology in this case is pretty basic: The Post simply took the combined winning percentages of all four teams starting in 2005 to establish a 1-12 order. Minnesota, with a combined .462 winning percentage, finished last among the 12 markets.

Again, the “what” is not surprising. In tomorrow’s Page 2 feature, I spend a little time trying to understand the “why,” at least in the case of this particular study.

For now, though, I open the floor to the readers. What is the primary reason the last decade of Minnesota sports has been so largely forgettable?

Twins ask fans on Twitter to relive Monday's home opener; fans impolitely decline

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated April 14th at 1:57pm 299714361

Twitter is often all about timing and phrasing. If you miss your window or word something the wrong way, good intentions can drift into bad results in a hurry.

This is particularly true of brands, and even more particularly true of brands that are struggling. I offer up Example A from this morning, when the official Twins twitter account sent out this tweet:

It’s pretty harmless, basically trying to get fans to look at some photos from the home opener. Sure, the Twins are 1-6 and were blasted 12-3 by the Royals, but there were still some nice moments.

However, I imagine the use of the word “relive” served as a launching pad for things to get ugly in a hurry in the @ replies. Let’s take a spin through a handful of the ones that are safe for print:


Philadelphia - WP: A. Harang 5 FINAL
Washington - LP: J. Zimmermann 3
Atlanta - LP: S. Marimon 5 FINAL
Toronto - WP: B. Cecil 6
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 12 FINAL
Detroit - LP: A. Sanchez 3
Cleveland - WP: D. Salazar 4 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes 2
Cincinnati - LP: H. Bailey 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: C. Martinez 5
San Diego - LP: C. Kimbrel 6 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: Z. Rosscup 7
Baltimore - WP: C. Tillman 4 FINAL
Boston - LP: C. Buchholz 1
Milwaukee - LP: K. Lohse 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 6
Miami - LP: M. Latos 4 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 5
LA Angels - LP: C. Wilson 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 4
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 9 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: J. Odorizzi 0
Oakland - WP: J. Hahn 5 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: Y. Ventura 0
Arizona - LP: R. De La Rosa 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: C. Heston 4
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 3 FINAL
Los Angeles - WP: Z. Greinke 6
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 1 FINAL
Seattle - WP: F. Hernandez 3
Washington 93 FINAL
Toronto 86
New Orleans 99 FINAL
Golden State 106
Milwaukee 91 FINAL
Chicago 103
Dallas 108 FINAL
Houston 118
Minnesota 1 FINAL
St. Louis 4
Detroit 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 5
Pittsburgh 4 FINAL
NY Rangers 3
Winnipeg 1 FINAL
Anaheim 2
Houston 1 FINAL
D.C. 1
Orlando City 0 FINAL
Columbus 3
Toronto FC 2 FINAL
FC Dallas 3
Seattle 3 FINAL
Colorado 1
Vancouver FC 1 FINAL
Real Salt Lake 0
Sporting Kansas City 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2


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