A new NBA season is on the way, and with it, a season chock full of fantastic plays, broken records, and hopefully an NBA championship for your favorite team (if they happen to be the Warriors). But along with all these great things come a host of issues we’d love to forget. Each year, the NBA comes in with the same mentality: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Even in a financially lucrative sport like football (say what you will about Goodell), the sport is constantly trying to improve itself. Why is basketball so stagnant? It’s not like there isn’t an outcry for changes. What to do about watching a Clippers/Hornets game, where both teams put the opposing center to the line 40 times a game, in hopes they will be subbed out? How about eliminating teams the ability to stack themselves so high with talent, competition becomes obsolete? Commissioner Silver has so far avoided even a fraction of the scrutiny David Stern encountered during his reign, but that doesn’t dismiss the fact he has allowed these issues to fester in the minds of casual and hardcore hoops fans alike.
Introducing, Commissioner Dan. My resume speaks for itself. I’ve been watching professional basketball under a microscope for 20+ years, I own and operate a basketball blog, and I’ve already held the title of commissioner for my fantasy football league for 6 years running; Moreover, I’m not going to sit on my laurels and wait for you to tell me what’s wrong with the current state of the NBA. I already know the problems, and I pledge to resolve them, in three easy steps.
Before I get to my Three Step Solution, let me begin with tackling the Hack-A-Jordan/Hack-A-Howard/Hack-A-Drummond issue: LEARN HOW TO SHOOT YOUR FREE THROWS! You’re a professional basketball player, being paid millions of dollars to do what we all expect you to be able to do when no one is guarding you. Put the ball through the freaking hoop. That’s like if someone hired an accountant and they asked him what 2+2 is and he replied, “Sorry bud, I don’t do math.”
If you can’t make an unguarded shot from 15 feet out, as a professional, you deserve to be embarrassed. If the fans start to get bored, make a game out of how bad a free throw shooter is at the line. Say, depending on what side of the iron the player hits the most, that side of the audience gets free tacos. An air ball nets the entire arena free tacos. Don’t underestimate the power of free tacos. Fans love free tacos.
Now, back to my Three Step Solution:
Step 1 – Speed Up The Pace of the Game
What? We’re still talking about basketball, right? Am I sure I didn’t get baseball confused with basketball for a second, you’re asking? Damn right I’m still talking about basketball, now allow me to bring you, the reader, up to speed. Basketball is a game of runs. A game where momentum can dictate how far behind a team can play to steal a victory. And it’s awesome to watch, until the final seconds, that is. This is when teams start calling timeouts to slow down the other team. When referees suddenly can’t tell their knees from their elbows, and need a brief half hour interval to view exactly what happened right in front of their face.
My solution: Adopt FIBA rules regarding timeouts, and remove video replays. Back in 2012, Henry Abott from ESPN actually wrote a great article about this idea here, if you care to read it. In FIBA basketball, timeouts are not allowed while the ball is in play, and the team without the ball cannot call timeout. Now, while I acknowledge some of the best plays have come out of a timeout, I will also argue just as many have happened right after the opposing team attempted a shot. Then there’s the argument, “But Dan, great coaches need to draw up a play for their team.” How about a well-coached team knows exactly what to do in the last two minutes of a highly contested game? Overseas, basketball is played in this exact manner, and, although the talent is obviously not on par with the NBA, the speed of the game cannot be ignored. In a typical NBA game, the final two minutes can take about 15 real life minutes. FIBA games’ final two minutes can take less than half of this time. That means more basketball and fewer commercials for everyone. The NBA is already adopting logos on jerseys, I think they can spare us half of the commercials we’ve grown accustomed to watching.
Referees are yet another speed bump the NBA permits to slow down the game and contain excitement. I’m all for the right call being made, but at what cost? How many times have we witnessed a terribly refereed NBA playoff game, causing Commissioner Silver to acknowledge his referees affected the outcome, even with the aid of video replays? The fact is, referees still screw up calls, causing players, coaches, and fans to all still collectively call for their heads. Video replays, while helpful by design, are only slowing down the flow of the game. They are not factoring out a bad day from the boys in striped shirts.
We always argue, “The players should be allowed to win the game.” Well, what better way to let them do just that than to eliminate all stoppages in play? With no coaches to ask, who is really clutch when it matters? How much of Pop’s voice and lessons can the Spurs really remember? Players, after all, are the reason we pay top dollar to watch these games. In a back-and-forth match, I think we’d all want to see who the best players really are.
Step 2 – No More Trading of “Conditional” Draft Picks
This past season, I watched my LA Lakers finish with an abysmal 26-56 record. But this is exactly what I, a diehard Lakers fan, wanted. They needed to lose as many games possible to ensure their draft pick didn’t go to Philadelphia. You see, had my Lakers finished outside the top 3 in the NBA lottery, all of the losses would have been for naught. So, it was their duty to go out every night, be competitive, but still lose every game. As a fan, when I tuned in to watch them, this is exactly what I was looking for.
I remember talking to a casual fan about the Lakers trade of Lou Williams. It went like this:
“Did you hear the Lakers made a trade today?”
“No, who did they get?”
“Well, they didn’t get anybody. They traded Lou Williams for a draft pick next year.”
“Was he not playing well?”
“He was actually having one of the best seasons of his career. Just they need to keep losing and the Rockets could really use him.”
“So, the Lakers made a trade to get worse? And you’re OK with this?”
Everything to do with this scenario is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I should not be rooting for my team to do horrible, nor should I want the best players on my team to be traded away, so that they can be worse off. But, this has been the story for every Lakers fan the past 3 years: They need to lose or Philly gets their picks. You know what I would have been OK with, and my solution for this problem? No more adding conditions to the trading of draft picks!
If the Lakers just traded their picks outright, they would have had to do better every year so that Philly’s pick would be the absolute worst they could make it. They would still suck, but I could have a reason to root for my team again. Granted, the Lakers have come out of this mess smelling like roses in the current scenario. They kept all 3 picks, and the mistakes of trading for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, although still damaging, are not as catastrophic as they could have been. But, while I am glad they kept their picks, I’m not proud of my behavior the past 3 seasons. I died a little bit inside. The purple and gold blood pumping through my veins doesn’t look so vibrant anymore. And I’m not sure the dirt will ever come off.
If my team finishes last and adds a couple more ping-pong balls to their chances of landing a number one pick, so be it. They really stunk, and they obviously need it. But I don’t think it’s healthy as a fan for you to be angry when your team starts winning games. Asking your team to tank is sad; however, when you’re facing the reality that all of the pain and losses could come with no help from the league’s draft, you do what you have to do: You go home everyday and kick your dog because the Lakers actually won. So, please, remove conditions from draft picks. My dog will thank you.
Step 3 – Contraction
Super Teams have been a hot topic ever since Lebron James left Cleveland the first time (sorry ‘Land, there will be a second) for the Miami Heat, where Dwyane Wade and newly acquired Chris Bosh were waiting for him. How could the NBA let this happen? How can the rules be changed to prevent this? David Stern had a short-term answer for when the Lakers tried to get Chris Paul, but it didn’t go over too well.
We’ve now seen Kevin Durant leave the OKC Thunder to join a team that not only thwarted his championship dreams, but also had already advanced to the Finals twice, winning once, without him. So, Commissioner Dan, what to do about Super Teams? I’ll give you my answer, but a few NBA cities are not going to like it: Contract the league back down to 27 or 25 teams.
NBA purists are not wrong when they say the game was much more enjoyable to watch back then. Even I, as a youngster with a serious basketball jones in the ‘90’s, enjoyed the ugly brand of basketball the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, and Indiana Pacers all played with. What purists have wrong is not the style of basketball being boring today, or players not playing as well. I think players now are better than they’ve ever been. Gone are the days of players like Rick Mahorn and Charles Oakley, whose possession of a reasonable jumpshot was permission enough to level players into the hardwood. They were basketball’s version of an enforcer in hockey; however, in today’s NBA, if you’re seven feet tall, you can’t simply block shots and grab rebounds. Can you handle the ball? Do you have a jumpshot? Can you find open teammates? You have to be able to do it all now, regardless of your height. The game is that much better today.
The Warriors play basketball better than any other team in the entire world. It’s enjoyably visible, and entirely defensible in nearly every stat sheet you can look at. And before we give Coach Kerr a big pat on the back, can we all admit to the fact that they have 2 MVP candidates teamed with 2 other potential all stars and a slew of crafty veteran role players to deploy off the bench? So, the fact that they play better than anyone else is hardly a coincidence.
Super Teams are going to happen. Bob McAdoo was a more than capable 6th man for the ’82 Lakers, who already had Magic Johnson and Kareem. They later added #1 pick James Worthy. Bill Walton did the same for the ’86 Celtics, who featured Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. They tried to add a #1 pick as well, but it bore a tragic result. Dennis Rodman made an already unfair Bulls squad with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen legendary in ’96. History has shown us you can’t stop a Super Team from being formed. What you can do is ensure that the quality of play doesn’t fall behind by keeping great players playing with good players.
It’s not a coincidence that the Warriors racked up 73 wins in the new watered down NBA, because the Bulls tallied a then record 72, the same season the NBA introduced two new expansion teams in Toronto and Vancouver. That was 6 free wins for the Bulls (although Chicago surprisingly did drop one game in Toronto). And for those two expansion teams to ever get better, they would need to siphon talent from other teams in the league, making them all a little bit worse.
Although the Raptors and Grizzlies are very cool names, you can almost trace back the drop in overall quality of play in the league to that very year. After that, everything seemed too easy. The playoffs were filled with teams that had no business entertaining their fans with dreams of a championship. Star players like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady wasted away some of the best years of their career on bad teams (both actually played for the aforementioned Raptors!). Between ’87 and ’88, the NBA added four new teams to the league. The addition of a mere four more teams opened up jobs for 56 more players who should not be in the NBA. In ’96, 28 more jobs opened up.
Maybe this is why a simple draft pick can no longer save the day for a terrible team? Back in the 90’s, you could have talent and still be the worst team in the league. Now, in a league featuring 30 teams, where only 3 are capable of winning it all, and possibly no more than 8 are any good? You have to be otherworldly awful to win the lottery. Which explains why if your team is ever so “fortunate” to acquire a #1 pick this way, even Michael Jordan and Cheryl Miller’s love child can’t save you. Your team is that bad.
There’s nothing wrong with what the Warriors are doing. They’re making basketball a joy to watch. I personally would love to see another team mimic their blueprint, to then rival them in the Finals. It would be an all time great showdown. Who wouldn’t love to watch potentially 8 or 9 of the greatest basketball players on the grandest stage? The real problem is what is happening across the rest of the NBA. In big cities like Brooklyn, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and even smaller cities like Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas, Denver, and Memphis. Fact is, there are a lot more crappy teams in the NBA than actual good ones, and that’s what needs addressing. The Finals have been great. It’s the regular season and now even the playoffs that need a facelift.
So realize Super Teams are a good thing. It’s the Pooper Teams that need to be abolished from the league. Imagine a league where a whopping 42 or even 70 of your least favorite players are sent to the D-League. Imagine your team being able to suit up perhaps one more all star, because there are that many less destinations for him to choose from. Imagine the playoffs actually seeded 1-16 with talented rosters. This is the league I envision. This is the league I want to watch. This is Commissioner Dan’s NBA. Thank you for reading, and I hope I can count on your vote!
Let the record show that I am not, in fact, campaigning for commissioner of the NBA. I realize the title of NBA Commissioner is not up to a vote that involves any of you. And, I really mean it Cleveland, Lebron is leaving. Come to terms with that right now, and it’ll hurt a lot less this second time.