Adam Silver is one of the most forward-thinking commissioners we’ve seen among the major sports leagues in the modern era.
Silver is always willing to consider ways to make the NBA product more competitive and marketable. Last Friday the league ﬂoated a plan under consideration with the Players’ Association and media partners to implement signiﬁcant changes for the league’s 75th anniversary season in 2021-22.
Let’s start with the idea of re-seeding the last four teams standing in the playoﬀs. The NBA would love to get the past possible finals match-up, so instead of going with the traditional East/West conference ﬁnals format, the league would seed the remaining teams one through four based on regular season records and have one play four and two against three with the surviving teams moving on to the finals.
Some would argue this proposal doesn’t go far enough, that the NBA should seed the top 16 teams regardless of conference and go from there. But the league is concerned about the travel issues that could come into play in the early rounds and is advocating the more modest proposal of seeding the Final 4.
The idea to hold an in-season tournament for all 30 teams comes from a format used in European soccer leagues. Basically, the plan is to hold the tournament between Thanksgiving week and Christmas when most of the country’s attention is focused on the NFL and the college football conference championship games.
It’s hard to say whether this will generate a great deal of interest from sports viewers, but it certainly won’t hurt, since the tournament games will count as part of the regular season schedule. And, it gives teams another chance to hold up a trophy and hoist a championship banner.
Speaking of the schedule, the league is also considering reducing the amount of regular season games from 82 to 78 to make room for a playoﬀ play-in for the ﬁnal two spots in each conference. Under the proposal, the teams that ﬁnish with the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference would play one game at the end of the season to be awarded the seventh seed, while the ninth and tenth seeds will play each other for a shot at taking on the loser of the 7-8 game.
The winner of that game would earn the eighth and ﬁnal seed.
The league is hoping that letting two more teams in each conference have a shot at the playoﬀs will add excitement in several cities, create more fan interest and reduce the incentive for teams to tank late in the season for better draft lottery odds.
Major League Baseball has had success with the drama and excitement created by the winner take all wild card format, and the NBA could beneﬁt as well, although one could argue since 16 of the 30 teams already qualify for the playoﬀs, is there really a need to try to get more teams involved?
The bigger ﬂaw comes from the idea that giving four more teams (two in each conference) the chance to experience post-season excitement will reduce tanking.
I think the league should be more aggressive in battling the problem. My proposal would be to take the bottom ten teams at the All-Star break (five in each conference) and have them compete for spots in the draft order. The team among the bottom ten that ﬁnishes with the best record after the All-Star break (approximately 25-30 games) gets the number one draft pick, the team with the second-best record gets the second pick and so on.
This would provide incentive for teams to play their regulars for the remainder of the season and have a tangible reward for winning games. Instead of seeing non-playoﬀ contenders embellish injuries and limit minutes of key players to have a better chance at losing, we would see all 30 franchises trying to win games all the way to the ﬁnal day of the regular season.
And, if one of the bottom ten goes on an incredible late run to the make the playoﬀs? Fine, let them have the number one pick and the playoﬀ spot.
The league probably wouldn’t go with this proposal because it would penalize teams that suﬀer signiﬁcant injuries early in the season and can’t put their best players on the court after the All-Star break. But for all of us who have watched the Bulls play meaningless games over the last two seasons with G-League call-ups in the rotation, the idea of playing for something over the ﬁnal two months is deﬁnitely an improvement.
Plus, eliminating the lottery system that awards the top picks to teams based on blind luck has clearly outlived its usefulness. The new and improved 2019 lottery didn’t work, with the worst teams dropping in the draft order, and the New Orleans Pelicans rewarded with the top pick following an ugly stand-oﬀ with franchise star Anthony Davis after the trade deadline that improved their lottery odds.
Adding the play-in chance for the ninth and tenth seeds is a good ﬁrst step to reduce tanking, but if Silver really wants to ﬁx the system he should let teams earn those precious high draft picks by winning games late in the season.
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