10 ways to improve the NBA
No. 1: Abolish the guaranteed contract
Nothing hurts the NBA more than the guaranteed contract (just ask Knicks fans). And in the NBA, it’s double trouble for owners. It would be bad enough to just have to pay out the contracts for underperforming players, but in the NBA it also counts against the salary cap. I’m for an NFL-type system that serves up a little more security for the players in the form of partial guarantees or signing bonuses. For example, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein only $1.9 million of Drew Gooden’s $4.5 million salary this season was guaranteed, and the Mavericks had until January 6th to decide whether or not Gooden would remain with the team for the season. Gooden has played well, and thus has earned the remainder of that contract. Why can’t more salaries be structured this way?
For longer-term deals, the guaranteed money should come in the form of signing bonuses or maybe the first three years (maximum) could be guaranteed. This would give guys like Eddy Curry, Tim Thomas, Larry Hughes, Marco Jaric and the many other wastes of big contracts in the NBA incentive to actually, you know, work on their games and their bodies for fear of never seeing that money again. Moreover, the Tracy McGradys and Shaquille O’Neals of the NBA world would stop jerking around with their surgery schedules and get themselves taken care of in the offseason rather than during the season.
Owners shouldn’t be punished for bringing in free agents in an attempt to win championships and reward their fans’ loyalty. And under the current system, that’s exactly what guaranteed contracts do.
No. 2: Cease all back-to-back games
I’ve been particularly sensitive to back-to-backs this season because my beloved Nuggets were rewarded with a Western Conference high 22 of them (compared to the Lakers having 19). Additionally, I’ve sat through a number of snoozers at Pepsi Center (including a 26-point victory over the Lakers) because Nugget opponents were playing the second of a back-to-back. Through games as of last weekend, NBA teams playing the second of a back-to-back had collectively lost 147 times compared to just 73 wins. And in those losses, the average point differential was 12.7. In other words, these games are usually blowouts and a waste of fan money. As you can see, it’s not just NBA teams who suffer from too many back-to-backs; the fans suffer, too.
Not only are back-to-backs tough on players and fans, but they’re not spread evenly among all 30 teams. I recognize that arenas have scheduling conflicts and eradicating all back-to-backs may not be a reality. But I’m sure with the sophisticated tools available to schedule makers these days, the NBA could at the very least limit the number of back-to-backs to 10 per team and only two per month, with a variance of no more than one more or one less back-to-back per team (Houston head coach Rick Adelman recently lashed out at the NBA schedule makers for giving his Rockets three consecutive pairs of back-to-back games in December). All we as fans ask for his an earnest effort on the floor and a semi-fair fight, and eliminating back-to-backs would greatly help in this area.
No. 3: Shorten the regular season by 10 games
The NBA has to come up with a way to make regular season games more meaningful, and cutting the season by 10 games would be a good place to start (I’d also slash the preseason by at least five games). The devil’s advocate argument here is that NBA teams will lose money with 10 less games, but with the exception of a few teams – like the Lakers – that argument doesn’t hold water. In fact, a number of NBA teams (like the Timberwolves this season) lose money by simply opening their arena doors because the money paid to the concessioners, janitors, security guards, cheerleaders, support staff, utilities, etc. isn’t covered by what they bring in revenue-wise on a dead night. Furthermore, attendance would be better if there were less games for fans to attend, making for more raucous arenas, which is always a good thing.
To pull this off, the NBA would need to preserve the two-home, two-away games within divisions and the one-home, one-away game with teams from the opposite conference. From there, the schedule could be sorted out in a weighted fashion based on previous season records to ensure some competitive balance.
No. 4: Simplify trades
Under the current collective bargaining rules, to make an NBA trade teams must swap salaries that are within 125% of each other plus $100,000. Including the various trade exceptions and other loopholes available to GMs, completing NBA trades have become absurdly complicated and takes too long to complete. Kind of like passing health care legislation.
Salaries having to match up within a certain dollar threshold isn’t a bad idea, but the difference needs to be greater than 125% plus $100,000. Simply put, GMs need more flexibility to get deals done. I propose allowing traded salaries to be within 200% of each other and scrap the trade exception stuff altogether. Again, the fans would win here because trades are a fun part of following the NBA.
No. 5: Abolish the minimum age rule and expand the NBDL
These two go hand-in-hand, because you can’t have one without the other. First off, the one-and-done rule doesn’t work. Frankly, it should be called the one-semester-and-done-rule. This NBA provision that a player can’t join the league until the equivalent of one college year has passed or he has turned 19 only encourages NCAA basketball programs to be more sleazy and corrupt than they already were. The kids get no value out of school whatsoever (how many classes do you think O.J. Mayo attended at USC for the one semester he was actually on campus?) and the NBA still inherits raw talent that’s not properly developed. It’s lose-lose on both sides.
What the NBA should do is fold the WNBA (sorry, ladies), and instead of subsidizing that money pit, subsidize a true farm system with each NBA team having its own minor league club located in the nearest large city until those teams pay for themselves. And if they really want the NBDL to thrive, impose the one-and-done rule on themselves – i.e. no one can join the NBA until they’re 19 or have played one year in the NBDL. Imagine LeBron James playing for a full season for the Columbus Cavaliers before joining the Cleveland version of the franchise? Or Tyreke Evans playing for the Reno Bighorns last season instead of the Memphis Tigers? You couldn’t sell tickets fast enough and the Versus network would have paid a hell of a lot more for those NBDL TV rights they just acquired.
This would have a number of benefits for the NBA: teams could develop their own talent with their own coaches in their own system (rather than share NBDL teams as we see now, leading to NBA GMs squabbling about playing time for their prospects), second-tier – and maybe some first-tier – cities could prove to NBA Commissioner David Stern whether or not they’re ready for their own franchise, almost NBA-quality basketball would be affordable and available to hundreds of thousands of more fans, and valuable roster spots in the NBA would be given the veterans who can still play rather than raw rookies who need to develop in the NBDL. By 2020, I want to see NBDL sub-franchises in San Diego, Las Vegas, Seattle (better than nothing), Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbus, Cincinnati, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Pittsburgh and the many other decent sized markets missing NBA teams right now.
And to not totally jerk with the NCAA, a la MLB any kid who decides to go to college must stay in college for three seasons, making NCAA basketball a much better product…and less corrupt.
No. 6: Reformat the playoffs to be a 16-team, pan-conference tournament
With the Eastern Conference – sans a few top teams – being a long running joke for the last 15 years, fans and pundits alike have been screaming for a 16-team playoff tournament based on the top 16 records, rather than split the playoffs into two conferences. I’m all for this. And for those concerned about the 2-2-1-1-1 format being problematic due to geography, this will only come into play in the rare scenarios when a far west team is matched up against a far east team. Had the playoffs been formatted this way last season, here’s what the first round would have looked like: 1. Cavaliers vs. 16. Bulls, 2. Lakers vs. 15. 76ers, 3. Celtics vs. 14. Heat, 4. Magic vs. 13. Suns, 5. Nuggets vs. 12. Hawks, 6. Spurs vs. 11. Jazz, 7. Blazers vs. 10. Hornets, 8. Rockets vs. 9. Mavericks. We’d all have been better off not having to watch the 39-win Detroit Pistons participate in the 2009 postseason only to get swept. I know I’d like those hours back.
No. 7: Institute a "No Ticket Left Behind" campaign
With the technology available to us, there should never be an empty seat at an NBA game. Not one. I recently asked a high-level NBA executive why unused seats aren’t sold at a substantial discount at the very last minute before games, and he told me that their franchise’s "research" had shown that season ticket holders don’t like it when someone sits next to them for half the price. As a season ticket holder who never participated in this survey, I don’t buy this for a second and just think that NBA ticket sales offices/marketing people are lazy.
First, on the rare occasion when I can’t give away my seats and have to sell them, I never get face value and am lucky to get half my money back (because those rare occasions mean it’s a game against a bad team). Second, as a fan I want to sit in a stadium filled-to-the-brim with fans. It makes the experience better for everyone and improves the home team’s chances of winning, too. And third, I buy season tickets because I want a guaranteed good seat for big games, games I’m available to attend and playoff games, and I’m willing to pay more for that guarantee.
Here’s how this campaign would work. If a ticket holder knows he/she can’t attend and is unable to give the tickets to someone else, they should be able to contact the team through an online service and get at least half their money back in the form of applied funds for playoff tickets or next season tickets. The unused tickets then go into a pool and are priced at a steep discount for fans to purchase at the last minute online or directly at the stadium. Any upper level tickets not used/sold by the ticket holder should be sold for one dollar just to get asses in the seats. A campaign like this would not only fill arenas (that NBA teams have to pay labor and utility costs regardless of attendance numbers anyway), but would encourage younger and middle-to-lower class Americans to come to games, fostering more fan enthusiasm for the NBA. So to my aforementioned NBA executive if he’s reading this: how would this be a bad thing?
No. 8: Salaries must be slashed
As mentioned to kick off this column, there’s something wrong when I’m paying almost $150 per ticket and yet my team’s owner is rumored to be losing in the tens of millions of dollars annually to keep our franchise together. What’s wrong with this picture? Simply put, the players make too much money. I’m not sure how to rectify this as there will always be an owner(s) willing to overpay to improve his team. But the owners can’t have it both ways: overpaying for players and burdening their fans with ridiculously overpriced tickets. The NBA has already implemented salary restrictions, which is downright un-American but somewhat preserves the league’s competitive balance making it a better business for all involved. But something more must be done. Maybe my "No Ticket Left Behind" campaign would bring in enough ancillary revenue from parking, vending and merchandise to get the rest of our season tickets down a bit. I’d have to see the hard math before knowing for sure.
Suckers like me will always pay for season tickets, even if it breaks the bank unfortunately. But sanity is desperately needed to get ticket prices down and it starts with player salaries needing to be slashed.
No. 9: Determine the luxury tax based on market size and/or team revenue
The luxury tax is meant to be a mechanism to allow owners who want to spend to spend (almost) at will, but anything over a certain salary cap threshold gets pooled into a fund shared by owners not willing or able to spend, thus bringing some revenue balance to all 30 NBA teams. The principle of the tax is fine but the threshold is often too low, sending too many teams into paying the tax penalty.
As the fan of a small market team I'm admittedly biased here, but it's not fair for owners like the Nuggets Stan Kroenke to be asked to lose triple what the Lakers lose to put a similar product on the floor (the theory being that small market teams lose money as-is, and then lose even more by paying into the tax to keep top dollar players on the roster). If a small market owner is willing to shell out as many salary dollars as a big market owner, why is he getting penalized so much for it?
If the NBA is truly interested in competitive balance, they’d set the tax threshold per team according to that team’s market size and individual BRI (basketball related income). This would incentivize teams like the Milwaukee Bucks to keep their rosters in-tact rather than being a halfway house for players on their way to a bigger market/richer owner. Since comparing Milwaukee to Los Angeles isn’t apples to apples, why are their franchises compared that way when it comes to the luxury tax?
No. 10: Overhaul the referee system
Like many of my SB Nation colleagues, I wrote at length about the NBA’s referee problem when the Tim Donaghy allegations came to light (which, remarkably, has all but disappeared from the sports news cycle). But it’s worth reiterating my proposals here: we need transparent statistics on every referee, need taller/younger referees who were former basketball players, hire more referees so that individual refs don’t interact frequently with specific players and coaches to foster biases towards them and disallow refs from communicating directly with players during games except for team captains.
So there you have it. 10 ways to improve the best game in the world on the professional level. If these proposals could be enacted upon soon, the second "Golden Era" may last longer than the first.
Oh, and while we’re at it, I’d like to add an 11th recommendation to be implemented immediately. Can we please have a moratorium on all broadcasters, writers and, yes, bloggers from saying things like "score the basketball" and "rebound the basketball"? After all, what else would you be scoring and rebounding with?
im not sure about the cut players pay. the players are the ones who make the owners, toy company. card companies, etc sooooooo much money. i remeber someone did a researh on this and it showed that in the grand scheme of things people are making more money off of them they are are actually making.
i can understand the ticket thing. i know every person i know would just wait untill they cut the prices down 5min before the game or after the first quarter or even half instead of paying full price before the game starst. i liek he farm team thing though because the nbadl games are boring to me. not sure if anyone has been but i go see some of my friends play sometimes and its pretty boring and empty
The 16 team tournament is not worth it because even from what was posted it was 9 teams in the west 7 in the east, really not a significant difference. I am for the first round going back to 5 games rather than 7 games.
I think that NBDL games are pretty boring too haha...I agree with alot of that stuff, except for the schedule length one:
1.) Leave the regular season schedule length the way it is...I think that this would complicate how often teams play each other more than needs be. It also as you said, generates less money, and I know that GM's wouldn't want money to come out of their pockets. It has more to do with how the team is playing instead of if fans show up for games. A team that plays well will generally have the support of it's city, no matter how many more or less games are played....
I would love to see the way the schedule is structured different. Similar to hockey where you play teams in your division and conference more and just play teams in the opposite conference just once.
I agree with the expansion of the NBA Development League. That way the draft picks with alot of raw talent can get a ton of minutes down in the develpment league and have time to improve there game. Rather then having them sit on the bench in the NBA and never really get a chance to play and show off their skills. Ithink players such as Thabeet, Deandre Jordan, and Joe Alexander just as a few examples would really benefit from having almost a "minor leagues" to have time to develop. With this expanding draft picks will not be deemed "busts" so quickly and often.
The NBDL or 3 years in college rule would be AMAZING. This works pretty well for baseball but the dividends that it would pay for basketball would be tremendous. Simply put, projects in the NBA do not work out cuz the players don't have a legit place to play until they r ready for the NBA. The NBDL could provide that if numerous top HS recruits are playing in it, plus I would then go to D-League games. Great idea
1. Shorten the regular season to 72 games would be a great first step, it would make them more meaningful and probably eliminate some injuries because guys play too many minutes.
2. I like the idea of the Conference playoff, but a 16 team playoffs with the best records sounds very intriguing. I would modify it somewhat with the best 4 teams from each conference making up the first 8 teams and then the next 8 teams with the best record. I think this would preserve some semblance of the current conference format and it's rivalries, while also eliminating lousy teams getting in just because they're in a weak conference.
3. Eliminating the minimum age is a great first step in getting away from the stupid "One and Done" player who has no business pretending to be a college student.
4. Lower Salaries? I don't know how you can do such, but anyone with an IQ over 50 realizes most NBA players are paid far too much money for their skill set.
5. I like the idea of eliminating back to back games. This would improve the quality of play and it would be much easier to do if they go with number one above, shortening the season by 10 games.
6. I think they should also lower most, if not all, ticket prices at NBA arenas.