Welcome to the role of NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver. On Feb. 1, 2014 you get to succeed your 20-year mentor David Stern as the most powerful man in basketball. Before you hang the paintings in your office, however â€” actually, do this now, before you even choose what you want on the wall â€” this won’t be a situation where you can step into the league’s golden years. You will be only four years removed from the last NBA lockout and its cries of financial instability, and even more issues face you. There are many, of course. Here are our picks for the top five.
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5. THE NBA’S PLACE IN THE OLYMPICS
Want to increase revenues? How about ripping out the NBA player from the Summer Olympics, creating a league-owned tournament, selling TV rights and sharing the revenue? That’s not my idea, though, it’s the league’s â€” and one that had nearly every U.S. Olympian opposed to it this summer. The option of an age-limit, which is a not-so-sly way of having your Olympics cake and reaping in the revenue of a World Cup, too, is just as unpalatable for players now, though I believe we could all get used to it quickly. But back to whether you want the NBA involved at all in the Olympics. Now, the NBA acts as a gracious if suspect owner in loaning out its talent for the World Championships and Summer Olympics. The revenue they see from it is tangential â€” jersey sales, not TV. But that lack of monetary reward is what is precisely so great about the Olympics â€” well, outside of the host organizing committee â€” and why it’s seen as not just a diversion or national pride, but a celebration. Silver will have to decide whether to sever the Olympics cord by 2020 after an age-limit consideration was nixed for Rio de Janeiro. What makes it hard is that cutting off that connection means doing so to a basketball channel that became so popular because of the NBA’s own involvement in 1992. We’ve always known Stern was not in favor of loaning NBA stars even before Barcelona, instead smiling graciously and praying no star was massively injured. Would Silver pull the plug?
4. UNIFORM ADS
The Board of Governors has tabled the discussion of uniform ads to April, but it’s a topic Silver has been open to before but Stern has not favored. Two estimates have pegged the revenue at either $100 million annually or nearly $160 million annually â€” for a league that claimed it lost $300 million annually just one year ago, it would seem that cashing in is a no-brainer. The patch itself is only 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches, and yet Silver has to face the issue as his first, literally visible stamp on the league. Sure he could increase revenues, but that decision would be the first by the Big Four leagues to do it. If he does it there would be no turning back. Ripping off sponsorship patches if fan reaction isn’t positive, and taking that money out of the bank, is harder than just switching back to the old basketball.
3. COMPETITIVE BALANCE
Small market vs. large market dynamics reach back to the first commissioner, Maurice Podoloff, as do concerns about super teams (Minneapolis Lakers, anyone?). Silver does have the advantage of working within a new CBA that penalizes teams with a higher tax at a one-to-one level, one that tries to act as a deterrent to paying over the salary cap. But, if the Lakers keep this roster together they could pay $85 million in 2013-14 in taxes alone â€” and with one of the best chances at an NBA title, you can bet they’ll consider it a price of doing successful business. That “deterrent” did not keep L.A. from bringing in Dwight Howard, so why should the rest of the league be persuaded the CBA has worked? It’s not a problem that players want to play with the best and restricting player movement should not be a priority. Admittedly, I’m not Larry Coon, an NBA financial wizard who has written the CBA Bible. I do know that Silver must reinforce to small-market fans with limited earning potential why the the Thunders and Spurs of the world are not exceptions, but closer to the rule.
Rewarding teams with the worst records the most chances at a top draft pick is not the natural order of the world. The best seek the best, in any line of work, and have the freedom to do so. In sports, of course, that’s not the case and it creates teams that tank. Teams that know their shot at the playoffs has passed them by in January either make the decision to get even worse (trade away players, perhaps) or at least not actively try to get better. The system as it is guarantees that it’s smart strategy to forget about winning once a spot in either conference’s top eight is gone. Perhaps of all of these issues facing the NBA, this is the one that rubs me the wrong way the most. There must be a way to ensure competitiveness till the end by adding an incentive to win, and not just lose. You want to know why apathy reigns in half the NBA markets come March? All those fans know their teams are more interested in where a Ping-Pong ball will land than its team in the standings. You can argue that few teams that have the most chances have actually landed the No. 1 pick, a fact that should dissuade tanking. In fact, I believe it makes it more prevalent for teams on the fringes of the Lottery to get even worse.
I want to put a fifth issue as team movement, and the disgusting trend of holding cities hostage over outdated arenas before loading taxpayers with costs to create a new stadium. Seattle is a victim of this, and Sacramento will be, too. But the larger problem is the consistent move toward work stoppages under Stern starting with the first-ever lockout in league history in 1995. Then in 1996, a lockout of only hours happened. In 1998-99, teams could only play 50 regular-season games. Last season 66 were played after a “nuclear winter” was threatened by Stern. This is a two-way conversation and I’d CC this letter to union president Billy Hunter if I could. More work must be done, more time must be spent talking about potential problems, in the time between agreements. What is done in “good faith” is subjective to each side, but the fans must believe whoever is saying it. The No. 1 priority under your reign as commissioner should be to never cancel a regular-season game. Can this be done? I want to believe so.
(Welcome to the job.)
What is the biggest issue for Adam Silver?
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