Don’t get me wrong, I love the NBA but sometimes it’s painful to watch. You know what I am talking about; momentum killing timeouts, mind numbing free throws, meaningless games and other nonsense. Watching an NBA game has become an exercise in patience, to the point where I’d rather watch it on replay than live so that I can bypass all the BS.
As is seemingly the case in the United States money is the driver for everything, and in the NBA it’s no different. But in the pursuit of profit you often lose sight of the big picture, and to me that’s what’s gone on here. The farce that was the 2011 NBA lockout is a prime example of this, where billionaire owners – who were crying poor!! – almost crippled the league in a shameless money grab.
Over the years the NBA has fattened itself up and become complacent, whilst failing to recognize what’s holding it back. But if they could look past the dollar signs, move beyond some of their long held beliefs, become leaner and just generally wise up, the NBA could vastly improve its product.
Put me in the Commissioner’s chair with ultimate authority and this is what I would do:
* I would lop off 20 games to the regular season schedule without any hesitation. The current 82-game format is ridiculous, and that was beautifully highlighted by Gregg Popovich’s (costly) decision to send his star players home from a nationally televised game in Miami on the back end of a long road trip.
This 4 games in 5 nights stuff, or in the Spurs case 6 games in 9 nights, has got to go because it’s detrimental to the game. It results in poor quality basketball, often a lopsided result and an increased injury risk to players, and how anyone can support it is beyond me. Yes, NBA players get paid a ton of money, but they’re human; to expect them to perform at their peak in these situations is completely unrealistic.
It always perplexes me when some segments of the media work themselves into a lather trying to over-analyze a loss or two by a team like Miami. The reality is it means nothing; they can generally be chalked up to a ‘schedule loss’ (i.e. playing too many games in a short space of time) or just a lack of motivation for that particular game. And considering the unrelenting schedule, who can really blame them? In fact, it should be expected.
Imagine if every game actually meant something? Sadly, that’s all we can do, to imagine what it would be like, because the chances that the powers that be would ever change it are slim to none. In their mind, there’s too much at stake in lost revenue at the gate. (But in reality, if they had a better product where every game was meaningful, that in itself would drive up revenue from TV deals and the like. Just look at the NFL). Quality over quantity should be the focus here. And you know what, I think we’d survive if an NBA game wasn’t scheduled every single day.
* How many times have you said this – “honey, there’s only a few minutes left to go in the game” and thirty minutes later you’re still sitting there? Plenty, I bet. Timeouts suck the life out of a close game and kill momentum, but they also deny us the chance to watch the game’s great players make decisions on the fly, especially in crunch time. And that’s a shame.
But the big thing that I keep coming back to with timeouts is this: why should anyone (coaches and players) be able to stop the game whenever they like? Basketball should be an exciting free flowing sport, but far too often that isn’t the case.
Currently, each team gets six full (100-second) timeouts per game, plus one 20-second timeout per half. Three full timeouts can be taken in the fourth quarter, with two of those in the last two minutes.
Obviously, I would reduce that number, but the better idea I’ve heard is to eradicate the timeout as we know it and replace them with a certain number of TV timeouts per game at specific intervals (ex. at the 9/6/3 or 8/4 minute marks of each quarter). This way the league could still generate income from ads, coaches would still have an opportunity to talk strategy etc. and the players could get a breather throughout the quarter. But crucially, under this system the final few minutes of a game would go uninterrupted (apart from the usual stoppages). And how awesome would that be?
You know, these guys have been playing basketball their whole lives and they don’t need some schmuck with a clipboard telling them what to do on each and every possession (ok, maybe J.R. Smith does). Late game scenarios can be drilled in practice (and there would be more of that with 20 games lopped off the schedule) and if worse comes to worse the coach is still right there on the sidelines where he can signal a play.
How many times do we see this – players have just come out of a timeout, it’s a tied game with a few seconds left and then a player iso’s about 25 feet from the basket and chucks up a difficult contested three? Do we really need to stop the game for that? Fact is they could have probably gotten a better shot without a timeout because the game is in motion and the defense hasn’t had time to set up and strategize.
There are numerous ways you can tackle this problem, but unfortunately, and most concerning, I haven’t heard anyone of influence raise it before as a serious issue that needs to be looked at. It would be at the top of my list.
* There’s too many teams in the NBA, plain and simple. The talent is spread too thin (c’mon, Byron Mullens is a regular starter and seemingly has a green light to do whatever he wants) and some of these markets just struggle to support a team.
Honestly, I would dump four of them. I realize it would be a cruel blow for the cities involved and their (limited) fan base, but it would strengthen the NBA as a whole and go some way towards rectifying the parity issue.
Under my watch the New Orleans Hornets, Charlotte Bobcats, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks would go (I’m assuming the Kings end up in Seattle, which is fine by me). Nothing personal, but it needs to be done.
(Note: under my scenario that’s 3 teams from the east and 1 in the west, so obviously some realignment in the conferences would be necessary)
* There’s too many free throws in an NBA game and they too kill momentum. I would change the team foul penalty rule; currently, for every quarter, an NBA team is allowed 5 team fouls. Once that team gets its sixth foul of the quarter, it’s in the penalty situation and the opposing team gets two free throws. I would increase this number to 6 team fouls allowed, and instead of getting two free throws once the threshold is crossed, your team would be awarded one point and possession of the ball. But, in the final two minutes of the game, it would revert back to being two free throws. (I would also increase the personal fouls allowed from 6 to 7).
This rule needs changing because often the penalty kicks in midway through the quarter (or earlier) and that’s just a bore. And the added bonus – it should also eliminate the ‘Hack-a-Howard’ strategy, which slows the game up.
* I would make the first and second round of the playoffs a five game series, not seven. Let’s be honest, they’re just trying to milk it for all it’s worth.
* I touched on this in the last Roundtable, but I would have a zero tolerance policy on complaining at an official. “But basketball is such an emotional game” they always say (including David Stern), to rationalise it. And that’s absurd – emotions run high in every sport, but I can’t think of another sport where you can go at a referee like you can in the NBA. It’s a bad look.
A civil conversation with a ref to explain your point of view, occasionally, is fine, but anything beyond that (ex. glaring, gesturing, yelling, moaning (Dwight Howard) would incur an immediate T and a fine. No grey area. There’s nothing worse than seeing grown men screaming and carrying on and acting like 5 year olds.
* To me, All-Star weekend is a problem. A year ago I wrote about it in a monthly piece and for the most part I still agree with what I said (not sure on the dunk contest though), so I’ll be lazy here and paste that in:
Geez, how bad has All-Star weekend become? It’s all fluff and no substance. I have no interest in this ‘fake’ basketball; heck, give me a Bobcats vs. Wizards game over this junk any day because at least they’re competing.
“Pay the players more money” they say, as an incentive. Well to me, that’s just outrageous. Putting more cash in the pockets of pampered millionaires is not the answer to anything.
So here’s my fix – the All-Star weekend would be made up of the following events:
• Introduce a Legends Game to replace the assortment of other crap (rookie/sophomore game, skills challenge, shooting stars competition and celebrity game). I am thinking 90’s stars like Penny Hardaway, Reggie Miller, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dennis Rodman, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley etc.;
• The Three-Point Contest would stay as is;
• The Dunk Contest would be made up of one player from each of the following: the NBA, D-League, college, high school and a member of the public (a couple of years ago I watched the college dunk comp and it was the best one I had ever seen). And no props are allowed. Oh, and that clown Kenny Smith can’t MC it;
• Abolish the All-Star Game in favor of an ‘America vs. World’ game. Do you think they’ll put forth some honest effort in this game? Oh, you bet they will. Can you imagine the bragging rights if the ‘World’ wins? Guys like Kobe and D-Wade would be loath to let that happen.”