Twelve Ways to Fix the NBA

It goes without question that the NFL is the premiere pro-sports league in America.  The NFL has by far the largest and most rabid fanbase, it makes billions and billions in revenue each year, and hosts the nation’s biggest television event in the Super Bowl.  It’s managed to captivate the American public like no other league.  Face it, on Sundays from September to January, the collective attention of the country is focused squarely on the NFL.  The league has become such a dominating force that it’s likely no other sport will ever rival it.

[ad2] You can take that last sentence two ways, as either a compliment to the NFL, or a slap in the face to the NBA.  Honestly, it’s probably both.  Because while the unparalleled success of the NFL is a testament to the league being a well-run organization that’s everything a fan could ever want, it’s also glaring example of the shortcomings of the NBA. 

I’m not saying that the NBA, if run at its peak level, would surpass the NFL. But I do believe that if it was maxing-out its potential, the league would seriously be giving pro football a run for its money.  As good as the NFL is, there are some inherent weaknesses which just happen to be things that are the NBA’s strengths.  In the NFL, fans are clearly more removed from the game than they are in the NBA.  You won’t find anything close to a courtside seat in the NFL, well, unless you’re willing ot shell out ridiculous money to sit on those sideline seats which still leave you a solid 15-20 feet off the field.  There also seems to be less catering to the fans by both the players and the league itself in general.  As a personal example, creating a flash movie about the Timberwolves got me an all-expense paid trip to the Wolves first playoff game in 2004.  Creating a flash movie about the New England Patriots got me an angry letter from the NFL’s lawyers threatening to sue the pants off me.  I guess the NFL is banking on the fact that they’re the best game in town and people will keep coming back to them no matter how they’re treated.  For example, I’m still shelling out $200 bucks a year for my Sunday Ticket subscription.  But taking a more FAN-tastic approach like the NBA has certainly wouldn’t hurt their cause. 

Also, NFL players don’t hold a candle to the diverse group of personalities that make up the NBA.  For the most part, football players are either politcally correct and somewhat boring like Peyton Manning or my personal favorite, Tom Brady, or they’re arrogant loudmouths like Warren Sapp, Terrell Owens, New England’s own, Randy Moss…  You get the idea.  Where’s the NFL’s version of Gilbert Arenas?  Ok, that might be stretching it.  There’s only one Agent Zero.  But you just don’t see personalities like Shaq, KG, Cassell, Sheed, Iverson, Dirk, or even Kobe in the NFL.  Some of what they bring is good and some is bad, but it’s all entertaining.  Also, NFL rosters are made up of 53 players, most of whom are rarely seen with their helmet off.  It’s just hard to get attached to someone who’s one of 6 wide receivers and who you wouldn’t be able to pick out of a lineup.  With the NBA smaller rosters and lack of metal grids covering the players’ mugs, it’s a lot easier to get to know your team.  I feel like every single Minnesota Timberwolf is one of “my guys”.  I know their stats, their personalities, and their backgrounds.  I can’t say the same about the Patriots, even if you reduced the roster to only the top twelve guys, and I’m definitely above the 90th percentile when it comes to supporting the Pats.

Basketball is also a much more universally attractive sport.  Any idiot can follow what’s going on in basketball, while it takes a thorough explanation before any newbie can follow the complicated rules of football.  You want to play basketball? All you need is a ball and a hoop.  You want to play football?  Better find at least seven other people before you can get any type of legit game going.  Basketball also lends itself to more drama than football.  How many times are basketball games won on a last second shot?  How many football games are won on a last second touchdown?  Sure, there’s always the last second field goal.  But there’s something about a kicker, who barely plays, winning a game based on an action that is, for the most part, unrelated to the basis of the game that just isn’t as satisfying as a last-ditch buzzer beater. Don’t get me wrong, Adam Vinatieri has blown my mind more than a few times.  But I can’t say that either of his Super Bowl winning touchdowns left me with that “I don’t believe what I just saw” feeling that I got when Derek Fisher nailed that last second three vs. San Antonio in the ‘04 playoffs – and I despise the Lakers. 

If this article sounds like I’m trying to bash football, I’m not.  I love the sport and actually enjoy watching it much more than basketball.  The point that I’m trying to make is that there are a ton of reasons why the NBA should the Pepsi to the NFL’s Coke. Unfortunately, as things stand at the moment, the NBA is more like Red Bull – loved by a few while spit out by many.  On the bright side, I believe that with the right changes, the NBA could become the #2 league in America and give the NFL a reason to sweat.  So without further ado, here are my suggestions on how to fix the NBA.

 

Suggestion #1 – Refrain From Having Refs Rig Games for the Mafia.

I know I’m really thinking outside the box on this one, but it just might work. 

 

Suggestion #2 – Relocate Some Franchises.

A few months back, Bill Simmons suggested that the league contract down to 26 teams. I believe that he wanted to get rid of the Grizzlies, Hawks, Bobcats, and the Sonics.  Maybe it was the Hornets instead of the Sonics?  Anyway, while I completely agree that 30 teams is too many and we’d be much better off with twenty-six, contraction is just not happening.  It would cost way too much to buy the owners out and you’d be souring four cities on the league. However, I do think relocation could go a long way. 

Personally, I feel the Sonics should remain in Seattle.  They’ve got a long history there and the city is more than capable of supporting both an NFL and MLB squad.  There’s no reason the NBA shouldn’t be able to flourish there.  I realize there’s the whole stadium issue, but Stern should force the two parties to work something out. 

Same thing goes for the Hawks.  If the city can support the Atlanta Thrashers, they should be able to support the Hawks.  Stern should be doing everything he can to work our the mess that is their ownership group, but the Hawks should remain where they are.  Although I would totally be all-for a return to red and yellow instead off sell-out, unoriginal red and blue. 

I also think that Charlotte is a viable NBA city.  College basketball is big in the Carolinas.  Once the Bobcats get competitive, I think you’ll start to see some real attachment coming from their local fans. 

The two franchises that I’d move would be the Hornets and the Grizzlies.  New Orleans is a city in turmoil.  While I realize it’s not very politcally correct to bail on a city that’s faced a major tragedy, there’s no way you’re telling me that the people of New Orleans are anywhere near as attached to the Hornets as they are the Saints.  Taking away the Saints from them would be a crime.  But how many die-hard local fans can the team have at this point?  Send them to OK City where you’d get a small-city rabid fanbase similar to the Kings in Sacramento or the Blazers in Portland. 

Where should the Grizz go?  The only logical non-NBA city remaining – Vegas Baby!  Yeah, the NBA is in the middle of a major betting scandal, but all accounts thus far indicate that Vegas was completely uninvolved.  If anything, Vegas is probably the safest of all NBA cities gambling-wise because of the high level of scrutiny the team would be under.  If you were going to rig a game, would you rig one involving the team from Vegas or Detroit?  Anyone with half a brain knows you’d have a much easier time getting away with the cheating if you involved the team from Motor City. 

 

Suggestion #3 - Shorten the Season.

You know why I can’t get into baseball?  I have a hard time getting emotionally invested in a game that will alter my teams final record by less than 1%.  That’s what happens when you play 162 games.  You get down 10 games in the standings in April?  Who cares?  With only 16 games, every single one is a big deal in the NFL.  With an 82 game slate, the NBA falls somwhere in the middle, but I think trending more towards the NFL side of things would improve the league. 

I’m not going to get too radical here.  My ideal number of games would be 60.  Every team would play every other team twice – once home, once away.  That gives you 58.  The way the remaining two games would be decided would be an NBA.com vote by the fans.

Fans can vote on which team they’d like to see come to their city for opening night.  The NBA would then honor the requests in the reverse order of the standings.  So if your team finished last, at least you’d get to pick your home opener next year.  Tell me this wouldn’t be a fun way to kick off the season!

60 games would also be the perfect number to eliminate the dreaded back-to-back scenarios.  I personally hated it when the Wolves would lose to an inferior team because they had played the night before and their opponent was fresh.  With 60 games the contests are more fair, players will get less fatigued, and every game will count that much more. 

 

Suggestion #4 – Ditch the Divisions and Conferences.

Here’s one I borrowed from Bill Simmons… 

When you have the best two remaining teams playing in the Western Conference Semi-finals, that’s not a good thing.  No matter how the league tries to tamper with the division and conference rules, there’s no way to guarantee that the best remaining teams won’t meet up until the end.  The only way to permanently fix this is to drop the pointless conferences and just seed the teams by record. 

I know that David Stern has mentioned that he likes the rivalries that are caused by division matchups.  But honestly, how many big-time rivalries are there?  I honestly can’t name one that would even be named in the same sentence as the Yankees/Red Sox feud.  Spurs/Mavs?  Maybe?  I really think losing out on “rivalries” is a small price to pay for a Finals that people actually want to watch. 

Honestly, the four division format is probably the worst part of the NFL.  With the four division winners guaranteed a spot and only two wildcards, if a division was crappy enough, you could send a 7-9 to the playoffs while a 10-6 team sits at home.  The only way to ensure that the best teams get the best chance to go the farthest is to remove any type of division or conference.  By ditching this worn out and pretty-much pointless tradition, the NBA would be making some real strides. 

 

Suggestion #5 – No More Seven Game Series.

While a seven game series is good for ensuring that the best teams have every opportunity to advance, they basically suck the life out of the NBA playoffs as there are very, very few upsets.  Sure you may get the stars to align every now and then with a Warriors/Mavericks miracle, but those are extremely rare.  When the first round of the playoffs had the best-of-five format, it felt a little more like a crap-shoot.  Yeah, you would occasionaly see one of the better teams get knocked out, but at least it was exciting for everyone.  The way things stand right now, if you’re a fan of the 7th seed, you can pretty much count on your team getting eliminated 

Would converting the entire playoffs to five game series make it much more likely that one of the best teams wouldn’t walk away with the title in the end?  Probably.  But I think it’s a small price to pay to get people to actually care about the playoffs again.  With five game series, the six seed actually has a shot at the Finals.  You think that wouldn’t energize that team’s city? 

Look at the two most popular playoffs in sports, the NFL playoffs and March Madness.  Both of those are single elimination tournaments!  And you know what?  They’re by far the two most exciting events of the sports year.  I don’t think single elimination would really work with the NBA as you’d only have to win four games to become the champion of a sixteen team tournament, but moving to best-of-five would definitely help get back that “anything can happen” mentality that makes the casual fan tune in. 

 

Suggestion #6 – Re-format the Playoffs. 

Giving credit where credit is due, this idea is mostly based off of Bill Simmons’ idea for the playoffs.  It was practically perfect and would make the post-season so much more entertaining.  Here is my slightly tweaked version…

The problem with the playoffs is that over half the teams in the league make it that far.  Is qualifying really that big of a deal when you can reach that mark being in the 47th percentile?  I think we should shrink down the number of playoff qualifiers to twelve.  Remember, we’ve ditched the conferences, so it’s just the top twelve teams seeded by record.  With the second half of this idea, the numbers would really work better if the top 14 qualified.  But again, I think it would be best if making the playoffs was an actual accomplishment.  Somehow being 14th out of 30 doesn’t really seems something to be proud about. 

So what about the remaining 18 teams?  Well I think that they should participate in the tournament that Bill Simmons came up with.  This is why having the top 14 automatically qualify would have been better, as it would leave you with a field of 16 competing for the last two spots.  However, for competitiveness’s sake I think going with 12 qualifiers and 18 teams competing fo the final four spots makes it much more rewarding to be one of the top teams. 

How do we deal with the odd number of 18?  I’ve got two suggestions.  One, you can have the bottom four teams play each other to get into the qualifying tournament.  Personally I think having a playoff to get into a playoff for a spot in the playoffs is a bit much.  The second idea, which I like more, is that the bottom two teams are autumatically eliminated from contention.  I’m pretty sure this would permanently eliminate tanking.  Plus, the shame that finishing in the bottom two would bring to those organizations and their fans would be amazing! 

So the bottom two teams are eliminated at the start, teams finishing 28th-13th compete in a single elimination tournament for the 13th-16th seeds, and then the playoffs commence with seeds 1-16 facing off in five game series.  Tell me that’s not ten times better than the way it is now!  Again, thanks to Bill Simmons for the awesome idea. 

 

Suggestion #7 – Adjust the Lottery.

The problem with assigning draft position by record like they do in the NFL is that teams would tank.  In the NFL, every coach is so fearful of losing his job that he’ll never mail it in.  In the NBA, tanking has become an art form.  In fact, things are so bad that having a lottery for the top three picks and making losing less advantageous still doesn’t work.  My solution?  In addition to the bottom two teams being eliminated from the playoffs, every team that doesn’t make it into the final 16, gets exactly one ping pong ball.  That’s right, the team that finished 17th has just as much chance at one of the top three spots as the team who finished 30th. 

I really think this is the only way to eliminate tanking while still preserving some form of fairness.  With the original lottery system where every team had an equal chance, the worst team could end up with the worst pick.  With this system, only the top three picks are determined by lottery, but since every team has an equal shot, there’s no reason to tank for more ping pong balls.  The saving factor is that unlike the original system, the worst team would never pick lower than fourth. 

I don’t see how this isn’t an improvement over the current system.

 

Suggestion #8 – Restrict the Trade of Draft Picks.

The beauty of the NFL is that at the start of every season, fans of every team believe they have a chance of making it to the Super Bowl.  That’s absolutely not so in the NBA, as at least half the teams in the league are a good 4,5, or 6 years away from title contention.  This rule and the the next ones following it are all an attempt to keep teams from destroying themselves for years with bad front office moves.  With these rules in place, any team is no more than 2-3 years away from a title.

Remember the “Allan Houston Rule”?  Well, let’s call this the “Kevin McHale Rule”. 

When a team is struggling and doesn’t have many players that are tradeable assets, GM’s often turn to trading draft picks in hopes of improving the team.  The problem is that if these trades aren’t big successes, they often bear devastating consequences and leave the struggling team even worse off.  (See Sam Cassell and a 1st rounder for Marko Jaric, or a 1st rounder to add Marcus Banks to a trade) In some ways you can’t blame the GM’s for doing these deals. Their teams aren’t winning, and as a result they’re in danger of losing their jobs.  If you’re a GM on the hot seat, are you really going to consider the long-term effects when you make a deal, or are you just going to make a move that will hopefully remove some of the pressure for the time being? 

Unfortunately, it’s the fans who end up paying the consequences of these transactions, and they end up paying for years.  To remove the threat of any backfire, GM’s frequently put some level of protection on a pick so as not to trade away the 1st pick overall. However, when these protections kick in, traded picks can delayed for years on end.  Does it really make sense for the fans of the 2012 Timberwolves to lose a draft pick over something that happened in 2006?  It’s a little ridiculous. 

My solution: Teams can only trade picks for the upcoming draft.  That way, when a GM makes a bad deal, they bear the consequences right away and a black cloud isn’t hanging over the franchise for years.  I think we’d see teams holding onto picks a lot more tightly if their GM’s would be accountable right away. If a team wants to put “Top 3″ protection on the pick and the other team agrees, that’s fine.  But if the pick lands in the “Top 3″, then the would-be recipients get nothing.  This will also prevent teams from owing multiple picks that will damage the team long-term. 

Having teams get put in a hopeless situation for years is a bad way to keep a city interested in the NBA.  Hopefully, this rule would give losing teams a chance to stay competitive. 

 

Suggestion #9 – Contracts Can be for No Longer than Three Years.

Nothing kills a team’s chances more than having a sea of bad contracts.  Believe me, I’m currently experiencing the scenario first-hand.  When mediocre players sign big deals for long-term, it can keep a team from becoming competitive for 5-6 years.  Those players eat up cap space and roster space, are next to untradeable, and can push a team into luxury tax territory.  The problem is, in today’s league, it’s nearly impossible to win a bidding war for a free-agent without locking him in for half a decade.  However, if the signing doesn’t turn out the way everyone had hoped, the franchise becomes strapped with an anchor that weighs them down for years.

Making the three-year deal the maximum length allowed will prevent teams from handicapping themselves for years with a bad deal.  Sign a bad player for too much money?  He’ll be gone in two more seasons.  As an added bonus, players like KG, Kobe, Duncan, LeBron, Wade, etc. will be free-agents every three seasons, making for incredibly interesting off-seasons and lots of internet message board hype.  Tell me that’s not good for the league!

 

Suggestion #10 – Increase the Average Salary.

In order to appease the players who will undoubtedly be unhappy that they can’t play hard during a contract year and then mail it in for five seasons, player salaries should be increased across the board.  After all, there has to be some compromise or the players will strike.  Increasing salaries should appease the players as they’ll all be making more money long-term.  Would you rather have a six-year, 20 million dollar deal, or two three-year 12 million dollar deals?  You can argue that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, but the majority of NBA players have proven that they aren’t capable of staying motivated when the next payday is 5 seasons away.  They’ve abused the system to the point where this has to be done. 

Now if you look at the overall picture, you might be wondering how I plan to cut eleven home games, over 25% of the current number and increase player salaries.  If you look at the numbers the way things currently are, it would be a disaster.  The tickets from home games, concessions, etc. are some of the main way teams generate revenue.  However, when you consider the laws of supply and demand, you could increase the average ticket price to partially compensate.  Hopefully less games would equal more sell-outs and these new rules would generate more interest in the league and help to increase attendance as well.  I’m certainly no economist, but I don’t think this would be an impossible task.

 

Suggestion #11 – Remove the “Soft” Cap and Luxury Tax.

The NBA’s current luxury tax system simply does not work.  When you have teams like the Suns trading Kurt Thomas and two first-round picks for a second-rounder to avoid paying the tax, it’s a real problem.  How can you expect Suns fans to remain passionate when their team is mortgaging their future like that?  If they fail to win a title, you’re going to have some pretty bitter fans once the Nash-era is over and they have no youth.  On the other hand, can you blame the Phoenix owners for not wanting to pay a dollar for dollar tax on the 30th pick in the draft who may not pan out?  It’s a bad system all around. 

The soft cap is set way too low, which means most teams can only use the MLE to lure free agents.  This means that 95% of the teams in the league can all offer the same free agent the exact same amount of money.  So how does Team A convince the player to sign with them instead of Team B?  They offer him the five year deal when everybody else will only offer four. And what happens when that free-agent doesn’t pan out?  See Suggestion #9. 

Fans often complain that their teams don’t do enough in the off-season.  But after a lot of playing with ESPN.com’s trade machine, I’ve come to the conclusion that about 70% of NBA players are overpaid.  The other 30% are either vets playing for near the minimum, rookies still on their first contract, or the handful of stars that are worth their large paychecks.  This disparity makes it next to impossible to pull off good trades, unless one team is willing to mail in a ton of draft picks, which brings us back to Suggestion #8.

The luxury tax system is one that financially rewards teams for making bad basketball moves.  It’s also a system that forces GM’s into offering players bad contracts, which then backfire, forcing them to make more bad basketball moves to once again avoid the luxury tax.  It’s a vicious cycle that has to stop or the league will be destroyed. 

My solution: Set a hard cap - a team salary that absolutely cannot be exceed under any circumstances. Find a number that will allow small market teams like the Kings to compete with the Knicks and Lakers, but keep it high enough to where teams have the flexibility to still make moves.  With the maximum contract being only three years, it shouldn’t be too hard for teams to stay under the cap when yearly raises are taken into account. Also, the restricted free-agent rule should remain in effect to encourage players to stay with their current team.  I don’t have the complete specifics for all of this, as again, I’m no economist.  But this type of system should keep teams from making awful moves just to save a buck and allow for a lot more player movement in trades. 

 

Suggestion #12 – Remove Trade Restrictions.

With the soft cap and luxury tax removed, it no longer makes sense to force teams to match salary on trades.  With the current system Theo Ratliff’s corpse is a hot trade commodity because it’s a large expring deal that can be used with a youngster’s smaller deal to get a higher paid superstar.  How does this make any sense? 

If a team has the cap space to absorb Kevin Garnett’s 22 million dollar contract, and they’re willing to part with their up and coming rookie who’s making $3 million a season to get him, go for it.  Teams should make trades based on needs and a player’s skills, not simply the number that’s attached to him.  Anybody should be able to be traded for anybody.  That’s how teams can make move that will better themselves.

 

So there it is – my twelve suggestions to fix the NBA.  As I hope you can see, I’ve put a lot of thought into this post. Do I have all the answers?  Of course not.  I’m just a fan who has no idea as to what it really takes to run an NBA franchise or the league in general. But I do know that almost everyone would agree that these rules I’ve proposed would make the NBA a lot more fun to watch.  And more fun equals more fans, which equals more money.  I believe that with these rules, everybody will win.  Now if you don’t mind, I’d love to hear your feedback and any further suggestion’s you’ve got!

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Derek Hanson

About Derek Hanson

Doctor by day, blogger by night, Derek Hanson founded the Bloguin Network and TWolves Blog. He is one of the original Timberwolves fans, hailing back to 1989.

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