Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Repairing the NBA

I love basketball. I like the pace of the game, I like the team oriented aspect, the athleticism, the strategies used. However, the business aspect of the professional sport has changed basketball.  Expansion has diluted talent. The talent is spread out over 30 teams with plenty of subpar players gaining contracts to fill out rosters. How does Brian Scalabrine still have a contract? Free Agency has made it nearly impossible to keep a team together long enough to gel, putting money over team loyalty, and competition.

If you look back at the 1980s, largely called the best decade for the NBA, there were only 23 teams until 1988 when Miami, Orlando, Charlotte, and Minnesota entered the league. Only one of those expansion teams has won a title, basically being useless franchises that drained talent away from the others. The only reason to have franchises in these cities would be to make money in these markets. Wouldn't it be easier to promote an already existing franchise close to these cities, rather than cannibalize the nearest existing market, dilute the talent pool, and then piss off all your new fans in the new market when this new team is perpetually terrible? Instead of having an awful Charlotte team in Charlotte, why not market the already existing Wizards and Hawks who are close by, and already have a history and identity?

Any way, this post is much like this post I already wrote. And also I read Bill Simmons, who has been saying stuff about how the NBA could help itself for quite some time, most obviously in his The Book of Basketball. Steve Kerr recently wrote an article too about changing the draft age requirement, and how much this ought to solve several issues with younger players. I also have a few ideas, some stolen from Simmons.

1.  Collapse bad franchises.

The NBA will never do this. They are so concerned with keeping markets in every viable city possible that they would rather leave poorly managed franchises where they are and open brand new ones in new cities. Sometimes teams move cities. Like when Seattle lost their franchise and Oklahoma City received the Zombie Sonics in the shadiest business deal in sports since the Celtics stole Larry Bird. The reason the '80s were so successful, with Magic and Bird and young Jordan, and Isiah Thomas was due to fewer teams with a higher concentration of talent, and superstars being happy where they were.

Why would well paid athletes want to leave the cities where they made names for themselves and have a huge fanbase during their prime? This is a huge trend recently with Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and soon Dwight Howard leaving teams in their prime to go to another city to play with other superstars. The stars of the '80s would never do that. However, there are now 7 more teams in the league to compete for star players, so instead of having two or three star players on a team, some franchises are lucky to have one.

Some fans can't understand why the Celtics of the '50s and 60's can be considered special, since they competed against other teams with 6 hall of famers. Doesn't seem fair, until you consider that the NBA in the 50's and 60's fluctuated between 14 and 8 teams for that 20 year span. Every team had multiple star players. and the Celtics hardly had a monopoly on the best talent in the league. Imagine what current rosters would look like with only roster spots for 100 players instead of 450. Lebron would have never left Cleveland, the odds of him already playing with three or four other stars would have been very high.
This could be the Lakers vs the Bulls
I thought about what sorts of moves the league could make in order to collapse things for the good of competition. I decided that if a team has ever won a championship, the franchise deserves to be allowed to stick around, no matter how long it's been. The team at one point earned a spot in League history by winning a title. Therefore, the Celtics, Lakers, Pistons, Hawks (in St Louis), 76ers, Knicks, Kings (as Royals in Rochester), Warriors, Bucks, Wizards (as Bullets), Trailblazers, Thunder (as Sonics in Seatle), Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, Heat, and Mavericks are all protected. In addition, the other 3 ABA teams ought to be protected also, if for any other reason than they represent the merger, and were already saved once from being folded (unlike the unlucky Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St Louis). That brings the league to 20 teams. A good league size would be an even 24, 12 teams per conference. So, the league would have to look to close 6 teams.

With this said, Charlotte should be folded. They already had a chance with the Hornets franchise, and now the Bobcats are looking to be the worst team in league history. They have no significant history for fans to be proud of and loyal to. The last expansion team ought to be the first to close.

Minnesota should be folded, along with the Toronto Raptors. Both these teams can't entice good players to come play there, and quickly lose the good players they get in drafts to free agency. They are small markets with cold weather and no history of winning. Boston has trouble selling itself to free agents and it's the most winningest franchise ever. Fold both these teams and market the regions to closer franchises, like Milwaukee and Detroit.

The Utah Jazz had the best chance to win titles in the '90s and could not get past Jordan and the Bulls, understandably. But before and since the Malone/Stockton era, the Jazz have been non contenders. When the Utah franchise folds, the Jazz name needs to go back to New Orleans where it belongs.

Florida is a pretty big place with many lucrative sports markets including Miami, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Orlando, etc. However, I've noticed the fan bases for sports not named Football are not very reliable. Heat fans, for instance, arrive late to games and leave early; and that team is successful. The Orlando Magic ought to be folded. They went to the finals twice since their inception, and both times failed to win a title. They possessed two of the biggest (literally) stars in the game since Wilt Chamberlain and were unable to keep them from leaving for other teams (Shaq went to the Lakers, and although he hasn't left yet, I'm predicting Dwight Howard is on another team next season). Florida seems to be barely capable of handling one franchise in each sport (aside from football), and the Heat market should be extended to all of Florida. Plus, Atlanta is pretty close by.

The Clippers need to be closed, sacrificed for the betterment of the league. I know they have significant history in the league, but aside from longevity, this franchise has done nothing but move three times (Buffalo, San Diego, Los Angeles) and the franchise mismanagement is legendary.  

2.  Do something to make pre-season more interesting.

Pre seasons are super fun, if you're the sports equivalent of a nerd. For everyone else, it's boring. Especially in basketball, where the fanbase is pretty sure who the starting lineup will be during the real season, and although it is like a mini tryout for fringe players to try and get a roster spot, most of the spots are already guaranteed. The competition is light, most of the stars don't play more than half their normal minutes, and wins and losses are meaningless. The only good use of the pre season is giving rookies and young talent time to play and develop, and letting fantasy nerds get a look at things.

That all being said, I have a few ideas to make things more interesting, develop young talent, and bring in more revenue (which is really what the NBA is excited about).

A: play pre-season games in other places.

there are plenty of local schools with gyms
When the NBA collapses those franchises, they're going to need to start promoting another team from another city in its place in order to keep the market. The NBA already knows how good exhibition games are at selling the game. There is a reason there are so many Celtics fans in Eastern Europe. Cultivating larger fanbases is easy when you showcase your games in other neighborhoods.

Some teams already do this. The Celtics, for example, play games in Hartford, CT, and Manchester, NH. I propose doing this more and in other cities. Expand the NBA market to other places, play for the small town fans who can't travel to the big cities or afford regular season tickets along with travel expenses, etc. The NBA talks often of giving back to the communities. This is a very public way to show that commitment.

B: Tournament.

I borrowed this idea from Bill Simmons. The teams can play their pre-season games in those neighboring cities, showcasing their stars, and developing new talent and building team chemistry. However, pre-season is still pretty boring. So...  at the end, one city will host a pre-season NCAA style tournament. Host cities should be cities without an NBA franchise (like St Lious, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Kansas City, etc) in order to showcase the NBA in those markets.

Single elimination means one win moves a team on, and the losing team is done. This will go by pretty quickly. The NCAA tournament lasts a few weeks and includes 64 teams. The NBA only will have 24 teams, so it could last a few days. 24 teams is a weird number for a single elimination tournament, but I'm sure NBA people could figure out how to make it work, maybe give byes to last season's Finals contenders or something. This is a good way to end a pre-season and gear up for opening day. Stars don't have to play, and the young players get exposed to a play-off style atmosphere.

The problem with this is how to get teams interested and eager to play well enough to make the tournament not a joke. The All-Star Game has the same problem. My solution: the winner will actually win something.

The team that wins the tournament would secure the All-Star Game for their city and will host the weekend in the upcoming February. Right now, cities have to lobby to get the All-Star Game, which brings business and tourism to the host city. That's a pretty good incentive without making the tournament super competitive. And since cities like Las Vegas, without a franchise, will be allowed to host the pre-season tournament, they won't be attempting to take the All-Star hosting duties away from an NBA franchise.

3.  Expand the NBDL

Right now, there are two other professional leagues that use extensive, successful farm system minor leagues and one other professional sport that uses the NCAA as their farm system. The NBA has been having issues with young players not living up to potential and ending their careers prematurely, having not developed in ways the league had hoped. A lot of this has to do with poor development early on. There isn't much incentive to stay in college when there can be so much money to be made as a pro.

The NBDL was a step in the right direction, but cannot seem to be profitable or create quality fanbases with strong, sound label recognition. There are some players recently who have come out of the NBDL, developed enough to be quality players in the NBA, but not enough.

More money needs to be funneled into the NBDL in order to advertise, expand, and attract television deals. The NBDL should expand while the NBA itself collapses, in order to give each franchise its own minor league system. Currently, the Lakers are the only NBA franchise that owns its own NBDL franchise, more teams need to invest to give the minor league permanency. Not only is a minor league franchise a good way to develop new talent, like baseball, it also gives a place to rehab injuries, and it puts the NBA in smaller markets. Those 6 cities that lost their franchises several paragraphs ago would all be good places for NBDL franchises. Once again, expanding the NBA market without diluting the NBA talent.


  1. The only real comment I have for you is that you have absolutely no idea what the term "Round Robin" means.

    1. Thanks. I corrected my mistake. I appreciate it.