This Could Save the NBA

03.23.09 8 years ago 50 Comments

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Though March brings out some of the best in basketball – everything that you love about the Tournament – it also inspires annual criticism of the NBA. Sports talking heads get on the League for a number of things, some valid and some not.

SI’s Ian Thomsen outlined five arguments that he’s heard from college hoops fans against the NBA: (1) that defense is better in college than the League, (2) that the NBA is “all about money” and college isn’t, (3) that NBA players can’t shoot, (4) that NBA players don’t care, and (5) that coaching doesn’t matter in the NBA. I generally agree with Thomsen that these are largely bogus.

However, I think there are some legit issues with the League, which have become more evident in March.

* There’s a real financial crisis happening in the NBA. Though nobody really wants to hear about this at length given the monetary troubles everywhere in the U.S. today, it’s undeniable that the NBA is suffering from financial issues that NCAA basketball doesn’t have to deal with. Attendance is way down in six markets. Though Stern’s office said that attendance is actually up across the board, that doesn’t account for people actually showing up to games – it’s just tickets sold. No one actually believes that more people are at games than in the recent past. Stern’s office borrowed $175 million on behalf of 15 teams. Even the Magic – a team with a bona fide superstar – have to get in on a $10 million loan.

More on a solution to this in a bit…

* Esquire, SPIN, and all-around genius writer Chuck Klosterman recently spoke about his preference for college ball in this podcast. He argues that he would rather watch a game of basketball played at a high level of intensity than a game played at a high level of skill. He says that he can’t sit through an entire non-playoff NBA game because players don’t put it all on the line every night.

Now I don’t think that Klosterman means he’d rather watch a group of four-year olds getting after it on every play rather than an NBA game. Nor do I think that he means he’d rather watch Wisconsin-Northwestern than Lakers-Celtics. But in general, a college game between two high-major teams is more intense than a regular season NBA game.

* This is of far less consequence than either of the aforementioned problems, but it’s worth mentioning. There is arguably less parity in the NBA today than in college hoops or any of the major sports. The Tournament is the great equalizer. Year-to-year literally any team in the NFL can make the playoffs without making any blockbuster trades (re: the NFC South). MLB doesn’t have quite an even playing field, as there are teams in MLB who pretty much never see the post-season. But with teams like the Rockies and Rays having a lot of success in the playoffs in recent years, teams can turn things around in a single-season without huge roster moves here too.

Is there anything that the NBA can do to account for these things?

There are some solutions which won’t change the way that we experience the game now. Nate Jones of Jones on the NBA proposed that the League strengthen its revenue sharing so that it more closely mirrors the NFL’s. Right now the NFL shares 75% of revenue among all teams, while the League shares 25%. This could help the financial straits, as teams like the Knicks who seem capable of weathering any financial storm would be able to help out other franchises. More money for more teams could help to address the issue of parity in the League.

But there’s another idea out there.

Contraction.

Fewer teams means fewer regular season games, which would naturally ramp up the intensity of every single contest. Fewer teams means that the last guy on the bench has to compete harder to hold his spot, and that teams will be stacked with more than one standout per. Fewer teams means that college kids will have incentive to stay in school longer to groom their games so that they’re really ready for the League. Fewer teams means that if the League decided to share revenue, they wouldn’t have to spread it as thinly as they would otherwise. Fewer teams means that the franchises currently requiring loans wouldn’t be weighing things down anymore.

Dave from Blazers Edge proposed this idea recently, and suggested that the League trim down to 24 teams, in which the Kings, Grizzlies, Pacers, Bobcats, T-Wolves, and Thunder hit the cutting room floor. That would mean that Kevin Martin, Andres Nocioni, Kevin Durant, Al Jefferson, Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, D.J. Augustin would be available to stack other rosters.

If you want to make this league better–if you want to take a shot at making it great and entertaining and tense and relevant and reportable again–consider streamlining it. Chowing down on everything in sight isn’t the healthiest plan. It’s time to step away from the buffet and doing some targeted eating instead. One filet mignon is a more satisfying experience than all of the Grade D beef product you can eat.

Do you think that NBA contraction is the answer? Or do you think that the League will get through these issues without needing an overhaul of any sort?

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