First off the NBA is by no means struggling as in my opinion I think it has become the most interesting Major sport year round of any of them. The NBA has grown globally and its players are some of the most recognizable faces in sports and around the world. Adam Silver has done a great job growing the NBA however the game has some major issues that could halt the growth as a league overall. Whether these issues end up halting the growth of the league or not remains to be seen but right now it is hurting the integrity of the game and the fans of any small market team. So let’s go over the issues and I am going to provide a concept that could fix all these issues.
Problem #1- Winning Regular season games is meaningless to half the league for half the season:
The start of the season is great, teams have hope and the good teams are trying to establish themselves. Everyone is trying to win and then around the All Star Break it becomes clear regular season wins are not a priority for the majority of the league. One half of the league is in the playoffs and is now on cruise control until the playoffs and the other half of the league does not mind losing in order to gain draft position. Basically only the teams fighting for the last couple playoff spots are truly playing to win every night and even some of those teams will send away there best players to free up cap space. We have to make the regular season important from start to finish. Not only does this help the integrity of the overall game but it gives fans who spent thousands of dollars on season tickets value for their dollar. Could you imagine being a New Orleans Pelican or Los Angeles Clipper season ticket holder this season who spent thousands on season tickets only to have your teams giving up on winning by trading away their top players or sitting their star playing when the playoffs are in reach? I would be furious and I would think long and hard about making that type of commitment to the team in future seasons which leads to poor attendance which leads to cities losing their teams.
Problem #2- Resting Players randomly:
This ties into problem one because since the regular season night in night out is not that meaningful for most teams why not rest your star players so they are fresh for the playoffs. Penalizing teams 100 grand does nothing and that can be circumvented by saying the guy is hurt. As the rules stand the teams are being smart but we have to have something in place to make the regular season games night in night out more important to the teams. Again this sucks for fans, imagine the 10-year-old from a lower to middle class family who idolizes Steph Curry and his parents take their hard-earned money which they don’t have any extra and get that kid a ticket to a game. Game Day Comes the kid is thrilled to see his hero and they get to the game and Curry is out due to Load Management concerns. Its one thing to be hurt it’s another to be rested for no reason with the salaries they make and the money it cost to go to game. This also hurts rating overall since nationally televised games mean nothing to teams so when the Spurs bench their entire starting 5 vs the Warriors on national TV it hurts the league.
Problem #3- Tanking:
Teams intentially doing what they can to make sure they have the best shot to lose a game is not good for the competitive balance of the sport. I have seen many theories on how to fix the NBA draft lottery but honestly for the bottom hand full of teams it’s not going matter what you do. The major problem for me in terms of tanking is a team like the Clippers who are actually in the playoffs trading away their best player in order to free up cap space and lose games because as it stands right now if their first round pick is 15 and up they lose the pick to the Celtics. It’s the middle ground teams that should be fighting for a playoff spot even though they are going to get swept in the first round that we can not have giving away season. There needs to be a system in place that penalizes a team for giving up on the playoffs and not making it, not rewarding them with Cap Space and better draft picks. So the teams who truly suck are going suck nothing you can do about that and they deserve to get the top picks in the draft to rebuild but its the teams that are close and can build something that just tear it down because honestly as it stands now keeping your best players and making the playoffs as a 8 seed and being swept by a super team actually can hurt the team in the long run so why bother ? The incentive to making the playoffs as any seed needs to be tangible for every team not just the handful of teams that can win the championship.
Problem #4- The Star player holding their team hostage:
This problem is relatively newer than some of the others but it’s becoming a major issue. The Anthony Davis situation is not good for the NBA. You have a small market team in the Pelicans who could make a playoff run with a great player more worried about him not getting hurt because they need to trade him. How is Anthony Davis sitting out a close game for the entire 4th quarter last night vs the Timberwolves good for the NBA as a product ? The answer is it’s not and that’s just one issue with the situation, the other is it makes it impossible for small market teams to build anything. You have a bad year, get the top pick and draft a Franchise player. By the time that player is developed and the team has anything around him to win the player is ready to leave. Leaving as a free agent is one thing and a players right but being under contract and saying I am leaving so trade me to team X, Y or Z with a year and half left on your deal is a bad look. The team knows they can not offer enough to keep him so they are force to make a move. It hurts the team because now they are faced with either losing the guy for nothing or accepting a low ball offer from one of the chosen teams. It’s not fair to the teams and the fans of those teams and completely messes with the competitive balance of the NBA. Sure Stars get traded away because sometimes that is what is best for the team and that’s a decision to be made, the player should not be the one to dictate this because it leaves the franchise powerless and at the end of the day the team is paying these players huge sums of money to perform for them.
Problem #5- Super teams:
This is also a newer phenomenon really starting with Lebron James bolting for Miami to join Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. Now we have one super team in the Golden State Warriors with others putting themselves in cap space position this summer to create one like the Knicks and Clippers. Is this bad for the NBA ? In one regard no, because who does not want to see dynasties but on the other hand is it really good to have 1 or 2 teams only with a real chance to win a championship. This creates problems because it kills small market teams in which guys are not going to come and join up with their current star player and that leads to your star player wanting to leave knowing the only way to win a championship is to team up with other stars. Great teams can still be assembled but something has to change in the way teams go about doing that which gives every NBA team a chance to reach the top of the league.
I have formulated a plan to fix all of these issues and improve on some other areas of the game. This concept puts a lot of things into play but I feel the 2 things is does most is address the competitive balance issues the NBA has right now and it gives both big market and small market teams a shot to compete and build teams from the ground up or add to the existing framework of your team to create a great team and a potential dynasty. Some areas here can be tweaked but this concept works for the Fans, Teams, Players and growth of the NBA as a whole. Here is the summary of the concept and then I will go into where and why this overall concept helps or corrects the existing problems listed above. So if you do not feel like reading this entire article this is the baseline of the concept.
The Concept Summary-
Regular 82 games season and 8 teams from both conference make the playoffs with the 6 division still in place. The playoffs are seeded 1-8 in both conferences with the top 2 regular season records having byes in the first round with the best records having home court advantage. Division winners get home court advantage in the first round automatically.
The 14 teams who did not make the playoffs will make up the draft lottery which will have the same lottery systems but the change is the draft will only be 14 teams in snake format with each team netting 4 picks of their own and a max of 7 picks a year if a trade happens. The only way a playoff team could have a draft pick is if a team slotted to draft that season traded their pick to them. The draft will go 1-14 and then snake back with the 14th seeded lottery team getting the first pick in the second round followed by team 13-12-11 and so on. Any traded for picks a team has will be added to the end of each round with 1 extra pick per round per teamif it is from a current playoff team that season. If the trade occurred between 2 teams in the lottery that year the team who owns the pick will take the spot of that team in the draft for that pick. It is the teams choice on whether to use any extra picks they have acquired or they can carry over these picks waiting for the current playoff team whos pick they have to miss the playoffs in which then taking their draft spot that year whether you are a playoff team yourself or not. If 2 different teams have draft picks from the same team the team whos trade happended first get first shot at taking the lottery position. So lets say for instance the Knicks end up with the 2nd overall pick in the draft and have 2 extra picks accrued from a trade with a current playoff team. They decide they want to use on of those picks this year and save the other. The Knicks picks would be #2, #15, #28, #31 and #55. If they decide to wait until that team is in the lottery themselves and take that pick they can. So potentially the Knicks could make the playoffs in a year and have the Spurs picks let say rolling over and the Spurs miss the playoffs that year the Knicks can swoop in at take their first pick or add a pick to the end of the rounds. Anyone who plays fantasy sports is familiar with the snake draft format. So now the teams who made the playoffs do not get a draft that season(Unless it’s a traded pick) but they do accrue 1 pick that rolls over to the future seasons. So lets say the Warriors make the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. They will have 10 extra draft picks to trade or save until they miss the playoffs and they can start using them with a max of 3 extra picks a year. So making the playoffs take you out of the draft but it gives you a big edge in my new free agent format.
Any team who makes the playoffs will be able to offer any player or players the Max amount of salary cap space they have available. So from July 1st to the 14th the playoff teams will be able to offer any player whatever they have available up to the the max allowed contract for that season. The lottery teams will not be able to offer a max deal to anyone no matter how much cap space they currenlty have. Clearly not every player who is a free agent is a max guy and you need to fill out the rosters of all the teams so after the July 1st to 14th max period is over any team can offer any remaining free agent a contract but will be capped at 12 million a season Max for any player with 7 or more years in the NBA and 8 million max a year for anyone else.
Rookie contracts will be for 5 years with a team exclusive option to offer their own players a max deal at any time even if it goes over the salary cap with no one else involved whether they are a playoff team or not which eliminates restricted free agency. If the player does not sign an extension he becomes an unrestricted free agent year 6 which allows him to sign a deal with a playoff team for whatever amount they have available or sign a 8 million dollar 1 year deal with a lottery team that can escalate to 12 million a season if they decide on a multi-year deal.
Since the lottery teams will be drafting sometimes for a few years in a row with up to 7 picks a season I would make the G league a true minor league system where teams can stash guys and have them develop over time with the ability to call up and send down players with options without risk of losing them. This would create a nice buzz for the G League with true NBA prospects playing in the league. I would also allow the NBA to draft players who are fresh out of high school again with the caveat being if you are not one year removed from your senior year of high school you must play in the G league for a full 2 season before you can be called up. This Gives the player the option to play in college for a year, go overseas for a year or go to the G League for 2 years out of high school.
Trades will remain the same system allowing teams to trade any assets they have (draft picks, players, future draft picks and accrued draft picks). T
hat is the summary of the concept now I will go over how these changes can fix some of the problems listed above the NBA is currently facing.
Problem # 1- Winning Regular season games is meaningless to half the league for half the season:
First the top 2 teams in each conference gain a bye and home court to the top overall seed through the playoffs so the top of the league is going to be playing to get that bye all the way to the end of the regular season because now there is a true reward for winning as many regular games as possible. Second, the middle ground teams close to a playoff spot who have cap space are going to be pushing like hell to make the playoffs even though they may not be capable of a championship run it puts them in play for the top free agents. Every regular season game will have an importance whether you are pushing for a bye or pushing to get into the max free agent pool.
Problem #2- Resting Players randomly:
Again due to the reward of a top seed it will be much more costly to rest a star player especially in a big game. Also again teams close to the playoffs are not going shut down guys and rest players or limit minutes because if you miss the playoffs now you miss out on any potential star free agents.
Problem #3- Tanking:
The bad teams will still be bad but the decent teams will be less likely to trade away their already good players in order to free up cap space sacrificing wins as a result. The Clippers this year would have no reason to trade Tobias Harris because if they miss the playoffs they can not sign the top player to max deals anyway. Also due to the draft having fewer teams the value of the number 1 pick still remains high but having the 14th pick is now much more attractive because with the snake format you are getting 2 picks inside the top 15 which in deeper drafts lacking that 1 or 2 star players at the top might prove more valuable over time.
Problem #4- The Star player holding his team hostage:
This system is designed to help the small market teams build and sustain good teams. If you draft a star now you get 5 years out of him to build around and and you get to offer a max deal to your own guy which is this system can be much more lucative than it is now and go over the cap. The reason this gives the small market teams a chance is the fact in a given year the playoff teams may not have that much cap space to offer your player. The decision then becomes about big pay differences for guys. Lets say the Cavs draft a player like Zion Williamson this year. They now have 5 years to build around him can extend him a max deal. Of all the playoff teams capable of signing Zion Williamson that offseason the max amount of money could only be 15 million a year over 5 years. Meanwhile the Cavs since they drafted him can offer him 38 million a year over 5 years. The other option would be for Zion would be to sign with any other team he may like but the max he could get is 8 million followed by 12 million a year if he wants a multi-year deal. He could also sign a one year deal for 8 million and play for whoever he wants. Clearly taking option A and signing with a playoff team could cost him a substantial amount of money. Option B affords him the most money by a wide margin and Option C could offer even less money and the risk of not having a long-term deal and going year to year waiting for your desired team to be in the playoffs and have more cap space at the same time. Clearly this would give the original team a much bigger edge in resigning their own guys than currently in place. The fact they can go over the cap and max out a star they drafted while the pool of teams able offer your guy a max deal is smaller and potentially has less money to offer as well. Guys will still get traded but since the system of playoff teams accruing picks and not being able to draft until they are bad is in place it makes trading first round picks and future picks much riskier. The value of the picks is higher because we know the pick will be a good pick since either its a deep draft and you want more players from that draft so you can use them at the end of rounds or you can just wait until the team you traded with is in the lottery and take their pick. Basically right now what do the Celtics care offering all these picks for a guy like Anthony Davis knowing if they get him the picks they trade are all going to be in the 20’s. So the cost of trading for a star is much steeper and the chances of resigning your own guy is much greater.
Problem #5- Super teams:
Super teams can still be assembled but it will be much harder. Since trading picks is more costly that may deter a team from doing it jeopardizing their long-term health. The ability for the small market team to draft and resign a guy is higher now also so less guys will be available to join up on the same team knowing they would have to take a massive pay cut potentially. It stops teams from the quick fix of trading all their current players throwing away seasons at a time in order to free up cap space to sign 2 or 3 guys because if you are not good you can not offer those guys top dollar. It also makes the pool of teams that can even offer 1 guy a max deal smaller which makes it harder for guys to join up. The only true way to build a super team is to draft your own guys win and then add via free agency and trade. Cap management becomes crucial for every team and smart moves are the only way to sustain success. As opposed to now a team can be awful forever and since they play in New York or LA add 2 or 3 guys who are worried about branding and like each other and be rewarded with a quick fix.
This is the initial concept and bottom line is I think it’s on the right track to fix problems the NBA has currently and avoid future problems in for the NBA to continue to have the talked about sport around. Let me Know what you guys think!