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Shortening NBA games? Nice idea. Shortening NBA season? Better idea.

Adam Silver

Adam Silver


You’ve got to give Adam Silver’s NBA credit — under him the league is not a slave to the status quo, it will experiment with things. The latest example is trying out a 44-minute game as a preseason experiment when the Nets host the Celtics Sunday. Each quarter will be 11 minutes long rather than 12, and the second and fourth quarters each will have one fewer mandatory television timeout.

It’s an interesting idea, reducing the length of games and, along with that, the wear and tear on players. It’s an idea worth experimenting with (although it’s not your average NBA regular season game that is too long, it is the playoff games with longer television timeouts, and good luck getting the networks to give up advertising dollars then).

But it’s not the best answer.

If the goal is to both to reduce the stress on players bodies and improve the level of play in the league, there is a superior alternative.

Shorten the NBA season.

Go from 82 games t0 72. Or 66.

It’s the volume of games — and particularly the volume of back-to-backs and four games in five nights — that really both wear down players, making them more prone to injury, and it is the wear that reduces the quality of play. If you have ESPN Insider, go read Tom Haberstroh’s brilliant bit of work on how just giving the players a week off around the All-Star Game this year increased the number of back-to-backs around the league, and the dips in quality of play and increased injury risk that come with those back-to-backs.

“A study looked at 13 seasons’ worth of data and found that teams that play a back-to-back on the road perform 1.5 points per 100 possessions worse than if they had had a rest day in between. It might not seem like much, but a 1.5-point decrease is roughly the equivalent of playing the Dallas Mavericks compared to the Minnesota Timberwolves last season.”

Which means I’m not suggesting the league adopt what was done in the 2011 lockout year with 66 games crammed in after Christmas. Rather, my plan would be to reduce the schedule to 72 games yet start at the season around Halloween as always. Spacing games out could reduce the number of back-to-backs and the league could still start the playoffs one to two weeks earlier. Which means they can end the playoffs and Finals a week or two earlier — the NBA has looked for a way to create more space between the Finals and the draft to hype it up, this can add time into that part of the schedule.

Of course, this is about as likely to happen as Ted Nugent winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Because of the money. It’s always about the money.

First off, good luck getting team owners to go for losing five nights of gate revenue at home. And with 10 fewer games there would need to be adjustments in regional television contracts, team sponsors would want to pay a little less because they don’t reach fans as often, and on down the line there would be a little less money flowing into the system.

Plus, the NBA just inked a massive new television deal with ESPN/ABC and Turner, they would have to be brought in on the discussions. (Although the key for the networks is the playoffs and if those don’t change the television revenue shouldn’t change that dramatically.)

If you think the players automatically would be for fewer games, guess again. Any drop in revenue — gate, television, sponsors, etc. — impacts the gross “basketball related income” number that gets divided between the owners and players as part of the CBA, the calculations of which impact the salary cap. Basically, to get fewer games the players are going to have to give up some money. Good luck selling that idea.

My argument would be there is still a lot of money in the system, enough for the owners and players to divide up and still get quite rich on this as a business, but the game itself would improve with 10 fewer games for each team each season.

I’m just realistic enough to know we will never see that.