The retirement of longtime NBA Commissioner David Stern became official Saturday. The new leader of the league is Adam Silver, a man who had served as deputy commissioner since 2006. Silver inherits a league that is in a much better state than when Stern assumed the role in 1984. In Stern’s 30 years as head of the NBA, he grew the popularity and value of the league exponentially. The NBA’s annual revenue soared from $165 million in 1984 to $5.5 billion in 2013. Stern also oversaw the expansion of the league from 23 to 30 teams. Another key element of Stern’s tenure was the growth of the global popularity of the NBA. Thanks in large part to the success of the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics, NBA games can now be viewed in 215 countries in 47 different languages. Above all else, Stern’s impact on the globalization of the game will be the defining aspect of his legacy. Well, that and his struggles with drinking bottled water.
Despite Stern’s vast accomplishments, the league is far from perfect. Tanking, poor officiating and college eligibility are just some of the issues that confront the league. With Adam Silver taking over as commissioner, now is the time to consider ways to improve the quality and entertainment of the NBA. Widely regarded as a fair and kind man, Silver is known as an outside the box thinker who is willing to incorporate innovative ideas to improve the NBA. He is also expected to run the NBA in a much less dictatorial way than Stern did. Thus, the NBA could see new ideas being incorporated to enhance its product. Here are some of the ideas I think would make the league better.
1. Trim the regular season to 66 games
We are now fully immersed in the “dog days” of the NBA season. That period of time between Christmas and the All-Star game that produces uninspired, low effort play across the league. One way to avoid the midseason drawl would be to shorten the season to 66 games. Shortening the season would cause teams to ramp-up for the playoffs sooner as each game is more valuable. Moreover, as part of the schedule change the NBA could eliminate back-to-back games. Back-to-back games are harmful to the quality of the NBA for both players and fans. Players are tired and face greater risk of injury due to fatigue. Fans often miss out seeing star veteran players who are rested on back-to-backs like Dwyane Wade. A 66 game schedule is long enough to weed out pretenders but short enough to keep a quality product from the beginning to end of the regular season.
2. Change draft eligibility rules
The NBA should implement a system similar to baseball. The new draft rules should be that players can enter the NBA straight from high school. However, if they choose to go to school, they would have to go for a minimum of three years. This rule change would allow for players who are ready for the NBA game like LeBron and Kobe to enter the league immediately. At the same time, players who feel they need to gain experience and seasoning in college are provided three years to develop. There are multiple benefits to having players stay in college for at least three years. First, players coming to the NBA after three years of college would be better prepared mentally, physically and emotionally for NBA life. Second, the college game would grow in popularity as fans would be able to watch recruits develop and contribute for longer than five months. Finally, the NBA game would increase in popularity as incoming rookies would have more popularity after being on the national stage in college for three years. Better players entering the league leads to a better product, plain and simple.
3. Create a centralized system for in-game reviews
How is this not a thing? Why do I have to sit through a five minute clear-path foul review during a Bucks-Bobcats game? It seems as if every eligible call is reviewed by officials. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as getting the call right should always be the ultimate goal. However, the NBA should find a way to make reviewing calls a much faster process. To accomplish this goal, the NBA should turn to the system the NHL uses to review plays. They should create a centralized office in the league’s headquarters that acts as a command center for all in-game reviews. No more having the referees waddle over to the monitor and look at 45 replays. Instead, someone watching each game at the LRO (League Review Office) can watch a a handful of replays in thirty seconds and then radio in the call to the head referee. For once, the NHL should act as a template for effective policy.
4. Create a tournament to determine the top four picks in the draft
This idea is an attempt to get rid of some of the tanking that occurs across the league while adding some excitement for fans in struggling basketball cities. Thus, I bring you the Kwame Brown Tournament of Ineptitude. The teams with the bottom four records in the league would face off in a tournament to determine the top of the draft order. If the season were to end today, Milwaukee would host Philadelphia and Orlando would host Boston. The winner of each game would face off in a game for the top overall pick in the draft. The tournament could take place over three days before the start of the playoffs. The final game would be played in the arena where the consensus number one overall pick plays, no matter if its Cameron Indoor or a small high school gym in Arkansas.
5. Allow teams to pick who they play in the playoffs
This is an idea that I have heard discussed in the past, most notably by the great Bill Simmons. The idea is that the top four seeds in each conference would pick which opponent they will face in the first round of the playoffs. For example, top-seed Indiana would get to pick any of the playoff qualifying Eastern Conference teams to play in the first round. Maybe instead of facing the eighth seed Charlotte, they would choose to play the fifth seed Chicago because of favorable individual matchups. The second seed, Miami, would follow with their pick and so on and so forth. Think about the bad blood that would come from naming who you want to play! This idea would create great drama in an often predictable first round.
While these five ideas may not be implemented, let us hope that Silver will pursue innovative ideas to increase the quality of the NBA product.
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