Yesterday, we started looking at ways to fix the tanking issue, which has turned into a grand plan to forever alter the way the NBA operates. We looked at ads on uniforms, a new minor league system that involves potential relegation for teams that underperform, and the effects that could have on a player’s salary.
Here is where things get a little more interesting. At the end of each season, the bottom two teams from the NBA would drop down to this second level, while the top two teams from the NBA-2 would be promoted to the big time. So, after last season, Charlotte and Washington would have been relegated, while two other teams would have joined big time.
Sounds crazy, right? After all, these two teams were the recipients of the #2 and #3 overall draft picks, so surely we don’t want to force high-profile rookies into a lower tier level of competition right off the bat, right? Well…..that’s where this joyride really takes off.
The thing is, I don’t think teams should be rewarded for being bad. That’s what the central issue of “fixing” the tanking problem is all about, right? Therefore, those bottom two teams will be excluded from the draft lottery. That’s right — they will have no shot at the top three spots. In my new draft setup, they’ll also have no shot at the top 14 spots either. Instead, the non-playoff teams who are not going to be relegated, plus the top two teams from the NBA-2 will all have an equal shot in the lottery. We’ll go back to the good ol’ days of one envelope per team if that’s what it takes. Then, after the top 14 spots are set, the relegated teams will pick, then the NBA-2 teams, and finally the playoff teams will follow in order of record, just like they are currently. That makes for a 44-team draft, which is why the draft will only last one round now. Only the top 28 picks will receive guaranteed contracts.
Confused yet? Fantastic.
There are numerous interesting twists that this system would create. Such as…a team trades for a future draft pick, thinking the other team will be bad. However, that other team is bad enough to be relegated, making the pick only decent, rather than a potential top 5 selection. Or a team that is a playoff (or even title) contender one year suffers a run of bad luck and/or injuries, and then finds themselves in danger of being relegated the next. Imagine if the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs had been relegated after David Robinson’s injury ruined their season, rather than giving them the magic Ping Pong balls that resulted in Tim Duncan joining the squad. Obviously, that Spurs team would have been promoted the very next season, but Tim Duncan might have wound up in Philly or Golden State as a result.
The biggest issue that I foresee in terms of acceptance of a system like this is the reaction of fans, players, owners, media, and everyone involved concerning having “their team” sent down to the second tier. After all, think about what this could do to the small market teams in Charlotte, New Orleans, and Sacramento — all teams with bottom of the barrel records last season. This is certainly true. However…let’s not forget that the Celtics and Bulls have had the worst record in the league in the not-so-distant past, as well — and would be subject to the same fate as any other team if they fell amongst the dreaded bottom two. So, it is a fair system in that it will not discriminate, no matter what your market size or franchise history happens to be.
Another source of concern is scheduling, since teams would be joining and leaving every year, putting divisions and conferences in a state of constant flux. This is an area where I throw tradition out the window. If I’m going to blow it up, I’m using all of the TNT in my pouch. I’ve long disagreed with the notion of a below-.500 team in one conference making the playoffs while a 50-win team sits at home in the other. So, the top 16 teams will make the playoffs…period.They will be ranked and bracketed just like in March Madness: 1 – 16. We’ll get to see the best vs. the best in the Finals then.
The scheduling will also change greatly, as the season will shrink from an 82-game schedule to a much more manageable 66 games. Each team will play the 4 teams in their division 4 times, and will face everyone else twice. I’ve proposed this part of my plan multiple times before — and I still believe it is the best option in cutting down the NBA’s bloated regular season schedule. There are too many back-to-backs, which lead to too many subpar efforts by tired players suffering from jet lag. The Grizzlies are slated to play 18 back-to-backs this season. Having 16 fewer games should eliminate nearly all of those. This helps make the regular season more important to everyone.
The other tweak to the schedule is an obvious one after this lockout-shortened campaign we just witnessed: begin the season on Christmas Day. Start two months later on the NBA’s banner day and let the regular season run through the end of May. Start the playoffs in June and move the draft to August. Summer League becomes Fall League, and training camp doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving. Who would be against this? And why?
Divisions, divisions, divisions. Oh yes, that’s right — one spot in each division will be determined by a random drawing. I’d like for all divisions to be determined that way, similar to pool play in international tournaments. Then your favorite team might end up with cushy opponents like Phoenix, Toronto, Detroit, and Sacramento or they could end up in a “group of death” scenario with OKC, Boston, Dallas, and Philly.
However, I think it will be fine if the team with the worst record in each division goes into a pool with the two promoted teams and they are sent to their new divisions by drawing. New Orleans could find themselves in the Atlantic Division, while they are replaced in the Southwest Division by Sacramento or Cleveland or one of the new teams. That makes fitting in the promoted teams a lot simpler, as well as giving teams further incentive to avoid being bad, even if it does away with some of the traditional divisional rivalries — which I have always felt were overrated anyways. Rivalries are made in the playoffs in my opinion. Who are the Grizzlies biggest rivals? The Thunder, Spurs, and Clippers — because of their playoff battles the past two seasons.
The final change: revenue sharing. This will prevent this from becoming a league of haves and have-nots when dealing with two separate levels that are somewhat interchangeable. The teams in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago will still have plenty of advantages when it comes to attracting players — but being able to grossly outspend them shouldn’t be one of them.
So, to recap: Win games or you could find yourself in an unfamiliar division, or even worse, without a top tier draft pick because you’ve been relegated to the lower level NBA-2. Tanking will become a thing of the past as teams become desperate to avoid creating unhappy fans and players. Revenue sharing will help even the playing field between the large and small markets. Finally, we will see a return of professional basketball to cities like Seattle, Vancouver, and Kansas City, as well as branching into new markets that should help the NBA continue to grow and become stronger as they look to the future.