How to save the NBA

Back when I was Tyler’s colleague (and Alex’s professor), Tyler and I shared a pair of season tickets to the then Washington Bullets. We’d sit in the stands and discuss how we would run things if we were the general manager. Now older and wiser, I’d like to offer suggestions for how to improve the league.

1. Re-seed after each round of the playoffs. I’m pretty sure the majority of other pro sports  do this and it makes sense. Keep the best teams in the longest, save the best match-ups for last. I know it might cause some extra days off and lengthen the already long playoffs but……

2. Shorten the regular season. Modern NBA basketball is a brutal sport. 82 games is a grind and a half. What shall we say? 60? 70 at the most. This leaves room for the extra time re-seeding might take, makes the games that are played more important, and reduces the potential for injury.

3. Make the draft lottery a true lottery. The tanking in the Greg Oden derby was hideous. Let every team that misses the playoffs (or better yet, every team in the league) have an equal shot in the lottery. Eliminate the lottery-created incentives to lose. And regarding the possibility that the rich would just get richer, that would actually be a plus.

4. Make the finals 2-2-1-1-1 not 2-3-2. Again, the shorter season gives us more time for travel days and the current 2-3-2 is just unfair. Stat boy can check me but I am pretty sure no home team has ever won all three of those middle games.

Am I missing anything?


Everything but number 2 might happen, and should happen...Though I like the idea of the 5 worst teams being in a lottery, there are rarely five tank-worthy talents in the draft. 6-13 can be seeded according to record.

2 won't happen because there is 0 incentive for the owners to change it.

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Make it so salaries are not guaranteed. The term "contract year" is the surest sign that an NBA player is gonig to have a great season. Go all out for 9 months, then get a guaranteed gazzillion dollar contract. The NFL only guarantees signing bonuses, salary and incentives are not. Many NBA players (cough, Vince Carter, cough) try hard once every 4 or 5 seasons when they are up for a new deal.

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To prevent the late season tanking for draft picks, they should do what the English soccer leagues do and make it so the two or fourteams with the worst records lose their spot in the NBA (and are replaced by the best two or four teams in some minor league or Canadian league or something).

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Every team in the league is making money selling tickets to all of those regular season games. Cancelling them would be trading millions of dollars for a pig in a poke. Everything else makes perfect sense.

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You missed the most important potential improvement: enforce the rules.

Many years ago there were rules in the NBA, no traveling, no carrying the ball (AKA palming, turing the ball over), no fouls. They have all gone out the window. The NBA today is sloppy basketball; nothing like the fluid game of the past

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I heard an interview with David Stern in which he claimed that NBA refs do call the games correctly and that their refs are the most reviewed for mistakes and bad calls, when compared to refs for other pro sports.

But there is an undeniable sloppiness to NBA play that you don't see in the NCAA, which makes me wonder if the NBA rules are just more lenient by design.

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Reseeding means reseeding: give out new seeds after each round of playoffs, the way the NFL does.

My proposal: relegation, a la European football leagues. Parity improves, there are huge disincentives to tanking, and the Atlanta Hawks of the world have something to play for in March and April, and the playoffs to join the top league from the second league add their own excitement.

Indeed, I would adopt other European-football conventions: have multiple champions, a regular-season champion, a playoffs champion, and throw in a mid-season single-elimination tournament and call it the Stern Cup or something.

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"Make it so salaries are not guaranteed."

Coase teaches us that this solves nothing. NFL salaries aren't guaranteed, so the result is that contracts are effectively front-loaded with signing bonuses (and back-loaded with illusory big-money years for publicity's sake even though no one expects those terms to be fulfilled). Teams that make bad decisions still take a huge financial hit.

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I would go for all of KG's suggestions, but here's an impossible set of changes that would raise the level of basketball that would make [get ready for it] every regular season game actually watchable--and maybe even compelling:

Lose six teams, putting the total at 24; shorten the season to 66 games; let ten teams in the playoffs, with the top two seeds in each conference getting a first-round bye; shorten the first series back to five games; raise the age minimum to 20.

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As a European fan of basketball, I'd say: make NBA more European. As for now, NBA sucks.

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I have the exact opposite preference to #3. "The rich get richer" is exactly why I no longer follow baseball.

If a team wants to lose to secure a draft pick, let them.

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The reason the 2-3-2 playoff format isn't fair is because the less deserving team will get more home games in a five game series. I don't think the difficulty of winning three home games in a row is significant.

Grant, your proposal would require an interconference series before the finals. If you have 5 teams from each conference in the finals, with two of them receiving byes, there are three other teams per conference that need first round opponents.

The reseeding wouldn't be difficult or confusing at all. It only happens after the first round, and only if a 6, 7, or 8 seed wins a series.

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Steve R: Thanks for correcting that for me. I should have just said: NFL-style, meaning, 12 teams, six per conference, with first round byes for the two two seeds. (Although that has the less-than-ideal result of having exactly half the teams make the playoffs, it's still better than 16 out of 30.)

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Everything, except for the shortened season, is done by the NHL.

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While 're-seeding' is the term used, the teams aren't actually given new seeds. The term, as used by the NFL, means the brackets are not fixed. The highest seed will play the lowest remaining seed. If you want, I suppose you could call that 're-seeding', but it can be confusing, because the relative order of the remaining teams does not change. 'Re-bracketing' would probably make more sense.

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As far as the tanking for Oden - what about teams on the fringe of making the playoffs, tanking (realizing that they'd likely not make it out of the first round) to get into the lottery knowing that they'd have a chance to add a player like oden or durant to a .500 team.

If a team just misses the playoffs its chances of getting the first or second draft picks are very very low.

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Instead of the lottery, have all of the non-playoff teams complete in a "bracket" tournament to see who wins the rights to the top pick.

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1. Reduce the first round series to best of 3, and all subsequent rounds to best of 5. No reseeding.

2. Eliminate the silly age limit and dress codes imposed in recent years.

3. Remove luxury tax and salary cap restrictions altogether. Eliminate the draft (let's hear it for the highest bidder).

4. Increase the importance of the regular season title by eliminating leagues and divisions.

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If the lottery becomes a true lottery, with every non-playoff team having an equal chance, then you would face the problem of borderline playoff teams tanking at the end of the season, because they have a better shot at a great player. Eighth-seeded playoff teams rarely have a chance to make any noise in the playoffs anyways.

I think the NBA should make their draft order based on the past two seasons' records. That way, truly crappy teams would get the top players that they need. Any team with the foresight to tank for two years in a row, alienating fans and losing ticket revenue, probably deserves the top draft pick.

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I like the idea from "Page 2" on ESPN - leave the lottery as it is BUT give the lottery odds out as off mid-March rather than the end of the season. That way, the REALLY bad teams who are already out of the playoff picture have the best chance of the pick, but the rest of the teams that are still in the hunt for the playoffs will still be fighting to make the 8.
Keeping the lottery is good because, not only does it add a little mystery to the process, but it also means there is no guaranteed benifit to tanking.

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How about an 'NIT' type tournament for the top 4 (or 8) draft picks. 3 game series (or even one) and playoffs to run concurrently with the big playoffs, but the worst teams in the league fighting over the right to get the pick. Rather than travelling, the seeding decides home-court (worst team has home court throughout).

I would like a relegation system but the CBA or NBAD or whatever it will be called next year sucks. This gives them something to fight for and you know the owners will go for it because it means more money. The only problem is having mid-level temas tanking it to get in just under the wire of the Loser-Playoff (yes, it would need a different name).

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In the last two years, the NBA instituted two major in-game rule changes: (1) calling hand checks and bumps much more aggressively; (2) calling Technical fouls when players complain to the refs. This allowed teams like the Suns, and Wizards (before the injuries) to thrive playing aggressive, up-tempo attractive basketball and it cut down on the annoying whining. In the playoffs, though, the league just removed these two rules, allowing all the bumping (e.g.. bowen's molesting of nash in SA-PHO) and complaining (see every player on both teams in that series). If the league enforced those rules consistently, the fast paced teams would do better in the playoffs and the game would be much better.

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I don't know what happened, but when I was a kid in the 80s, basketball was the best thing on TV. Somewhere in the 90s it got to the point where I simply couldn't watch it anymore. Even with teams like Golden State, Phoenix, Cleveland, etc. playing now, I just can't get back into it. I've watched about 10 minutes of the playoffs, tops.

- Josh

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I have put alot of thought into it myself, and have only one suggestion on how to fix the NBA.

Personally, I think the NBA overreacted way back in the day with the emergence of Bil Russell, etc, who were obviously some of the tallest men to ever play the game. NBA's response was the goaltending rule to eliminate these new generation gargantuans from just standing under the bucket and hopping up and blocking shots....

But, what if there was an amendment to the rule that a player could legally block any shot, from anywhere at any arc IF, the player doesn't touch the paint, backboard, net or rim BEFORE he touches the ball.

In essence a "leaping save".....I think that would change the game for the better. The modern NBA player is too talented for the rules (which were written with smaller players in mind) and the more they try to adjust the offense (which isn't working) the more they need to look at the rules for defense.

119-116 scores, two points at a time in the shortest regulation game in all of USA sports is ridiculous. An entire NBA game is only 3 minutes longer than a half in soccer.......think about it......

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Some ideas:

1. Instead of seeding the playoffs, let the team with the best record choose their opponent, then second best chooses etc. Would increase strategy and add a psychological element.

2. Get rid of the draft altogether. Just treat them as free agents. The guy who said 'rich get richer' put him off baseball must not have noticed that WS titles are shared around much more than NBA ones. Maybe he lives in Milwaukee.

3. Don't shorten the season. Depth of talent should matter more not less. Maybe even lengthen it.

4. An extra free throw for defensive fouls so it's not worth it.

5. Incentive-based contracts

6. What has already been said about calling travelling and offensive fouls. No zones though.

7. If nothing else works, fund cloning research until we can make more Jordans, Birds and Magics.

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The lottery needs to change but I don't think an even lottery is the answer, they should just re-weight it (like in the old days) so teams with worse records aren't at that great an advantage. I think the Wages of Wins guys did some analysis showing that teams didn't tank until they shifted the weighting in the early 90's. I've got a longer proposal on my blog from a few days ago.

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Heres my idea:

The regular season does not mean anything because there are too many teams in the playoffs. The number of teams in the playoffs should be reduced from 8 per conference to 6: The three division winners and three "wild card" teams seeded 1-6 based on record regardless of division affiliation.

In the first round #1 and #2 would get byes. There would be a best of 3 with #3 vs #6 and #4 vs #5. the series would be in [1-2] format with game 1 two days after the season ends and games 2 and 3 four and five days after the season ends, respectively. (e.g. if the season ends on wed. game 1 would be fri. game 2 sun. and game 3 mon. and the second round would start wed. - This would be the only back to back in the playoffs and it would be done only to avoid the top seeds from having too much of a break)

The second round and conf. finals would be the same as they are now. ([2-2-1-1-1] format, no re-seeding)

The finals would switch to [2-2-1-1-1] format

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The best two teams should have the shot to play each other in the finals whether they are in the same conference or not

Cross-match the teams in the first round and have the 1 seed in the east vs. the 8 seed in the west, 2E vs. 7W, 3E vs. 6W, etc. Make the first round best of five to avoid travel time. It would also create interesting match-ups that are not seen as often during the season. If it were used this year, there would have been Lakers-Cavs and Jazz-Bulls in the first round.

Use a straight bracket (no reseeding) for the rest of the playoffs. one half would have the odd-seeded west teams and the even-seeded east teams. the other half would have the odd-seeded east teams and the even-seeded west teams. this ensures that the two best teams are on opposite sides of the bracket whether they are in the same conference or not. All rounds except the first round would use best-of-seven (2-2-1-1-1).

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