So word leaked out this week that the NBA was considering, among other things, adding a four-point shot to the game. Now, as much as that might seem like an enticing proposition, I really don’t want to live in a world where Jamaal Crawford leads the league in scoring. Still, it’s nice to see new commish Adam Silver already demonstrating a willingness to think outside the box, so I thought I’d help him out and suggest some (perhaps more practical) ideas, that could make the second-best professional league in the world (after the Champions League… of women’s volleyball) even better.
Forget the FIBA World Cup, the Olympics is Where You’ll Build Your International Brand
When FIBA announced its plan to re-brand the quadrennial world championships as a ‘World Cup’ of Basketball two years ago, I think it’s fair to say the news generated less excitement than front-row seats at a Sixers game. Apparently, the intent behind the change came from the NBA’s wish to move the focus of international ball away from the Olympics to a tournament over which they could exert more control – something which is hard to see as anything other than a cash grab.
The thing is, it’s a cash grab that is unlikely to pay off. Pushing all the big-name players towards a month-long, 32-team tournament is asking a lot on the back of an 82-game season (which, if it includes playoffs, is closer to 100). Unless the NBA wants to cut its own schedule, that puts far too much demand on the players, and if they did cut their schedule, that would defeat the purpose of a cash grab in the first place.
On top of that, the NBA is missing the essential ingredient to a successful standalone World Cup – a widespread, national passion for the sport. Rugby and Cricket work because they take too long to fit into an Olympic schedule, but more importantly because they have passionate fanbases and unique cultures in multiple countries. Football is of course the best example of this, where the culture is a matter of national pride (previous examples being the ‘Samba boys’ in Brazil, or ‘Total football’ in the Netherlands). These World Cups don’t have to manufacture prestige to fight for, it’s already there. Even in countries that aren’t traditional football strongholds the World Cup is an attractive proposition because there’s an established, multi-directional network to insert themselves into. It’s not just a question of ‘how good are we compared to the US?’, but ‘where do we stand as a sporting culture in a very competitive global community?’.
Basketball is the exact opposite. Its import at the Olympics comes from it being at the Olympics, not from the sport itself – which is why the majority of the ’08 Olympic team skipped the 2010 World Championships, and the same will happen this year. The truth is, basketball is at best, a secondary sport everywhere outside the US, one with no real local flavour, and somewhat ironically, the only fan culture overseas is tied almost always to the fandom of football clubs. People aren’t going to start magically caring about the World Cup just because it has a new name. And don’t forget, the end goal is more dollars in the NBA’s pocket – the best way to do that is take the opportunities at building a fresh audience the Olympics gives you, not insulating the viewers you’ve already got.
Once He Retires, Appoint Kevin Garnett as Head of NBA Global
Let’s face it, the Big Ticket’s time as an NBA player will soon be coming to an end. And while it’s going to suck not to have his passion and intensity on the court anymore, it’s going to suck even more if we can’t hear stories about his incredible smack talk game. KG is particularly well-known for going after ‘European’ players, so what better way to keep our regular dose of KG coming in than to put him in business with all of them? I dare you to disagree with this idea.
Fix the Draft, Eliminate Tanking
For a country that possesses such an outspoken aversion to socialism, America’s major professional sport leagues have an awfully egalitarian way of distributing talent, in giving the best draft picks to the worst teams. Particularly in the NBA, it’s obvious that this system doesn’t work, with half the league right now attempting to shoot itself in the foot. It’s insulting to the players and the fans that NBA GMs have to intentionally put out an awful product for years at a time, merely in the hope they can land someone worth building around. If Adam Silver is going to address one issue in his tenure, this is the problem he needs to fix.
Solutions like the draft wheel are interesting, but I think they’re somewhat missing the forest for the trees. Instead of trying to curb tanking, we should be encouraging teams to build a competitive roster – containing a star or not – and reward them for that with the best picks in the draft.
For instance, you could simply order the non-playoff teams in order of their winning record – best team not to make the postseason gets the number one pick and so-on, or use that same order for lottery purposes. A less punishing variation would have the three best non-playoff teams get the top three picks/most ping-pong balls and the rest ordered by losing record (4th-best team is last, worst team is fourth). Regardless of how you do it, the end result would be – from a competitive standpoint – a much better league. One which protects the talent distribution of the current method while also increasing the number of competitive teams with borderline playoff teams adding to the number of serious challengers each year.
Now the reality is, when you incorporate in free agency, this probably means big-market teams like the Lakers, Knicks and Celtics will always be good. So what? The league is better when its most famous and storied franchises are winning, and the truth is you can’t buy your way to a championship, you’ve still got to draft well, but at least it keeps casual fans of non-contenders from being turned off the game completely.
It’s Time We Fixed the Other Talent Distribution Problem in the League, Let’s Have a Draft for the Groupies
Let’s face it, for all the complaining we do about superstars looking to jump ship to the nearest big market, the biggest problem with these cities is the disparity in quality of the groupies. If you think the reason Atlanta has the best home-court advantage in the league, it’s not because there’s something in the water, it’s because Atlanta is a place where you can find girls named Candy to pleasure you with “six to 10” of her friends simply for being in the league. How the hell is Milwaukee supposed to compete with that? The best they can offer is a bunch of booty-less white girls who are ‘saving themselves for Aaron Rodgers’. This is an imbalance that needs correcting – get Draya Michele on a plane to Wisconsin ASAP.
Allow Front-Loading On Max Contracts
When it comes to max deals, the reality is that many do more harm than good (see Stoudemire, Amar’e). It’s not necessarily the fault of the player, but injuries and father time happen to everyone, and predicting such things is more futile than trying to decipher a Matthew McConaughey acceptance speech. And while front-loading (FYI: means paying players in decreasing instead of increasing amounts annually, for the same amount of total money) max deals won’t necessarily alleviate this problem, it can allow teams built around a superstar to extend their window of contention without any drastic moves. Case in point: Kobe’s mammoth deal isn’t quite so cap-unfriendly if the older he gets, the cheaper he gets also. Pay him $30 million dollars when he’s 35, not 37. Each year, the Lakers get a bit more wriggle room to add some complementary pieces, and remain competitive even as they lessen his workload. The end result is teams not being punished for committing to their franchise cornerstone even if he’s on the wrong side of 30, and keeping them competitive as well.
Award the Dunk Contest Winner $1,000,000 – or a Pass on Their Next Drug Test, Whichever is Preferable
I don’t know about you, but I think we’ve waited long enough for LeBron James to finally get his ass in the dunk contest. Each year the NBA struggles to make a competition with (usually at best) one star and several benchwarmers the highlight that it should be of All-Star Weekend. If there’s two things I know about NBA players, it’s that they love money and smoking weed – so what better way to get the LeBron’s, Griffin’s and Westbrook’s of the league to not only participate, but keep coming back, than to offer them exactly that?
So there’s six ideas for Adam Silver to consider. In case he’s reading this, I’d just like to say that sir, you’ve come a long way from your days at Greendale Community College, but there’s more work to be done. Keep thinking outside the box, the NBA will be better for it.