Okay, let's be clear about one thing before I begin my hypothetical restructuring of the league: The NBA's in a pretty good place right now. Before David Stern took over, during the medieval tenure of Larry O'Brien, the Finals were on tape delay (if Summer League games were on tape delay now there would be a riot) and the league had a major public relations problem. And of course, with a major public relations problem comes major financial problems.
But almost 30 years on from the start of the Stern era, the league is thriving. NBA teams and their stars are instantly recognizable from Beijing to Rio, L.A. to London. The NBA is a multi-billion dollar business and according to Forbes, the average NBA team is now worth a whopping $509 million.
And just to underscore the league's financial growth, those much-loved Maloofs almost killed basketball in Sacramento, and still made a profit of close to $200 million when they sold the team. And we all feel so happy for them...ugh.
So yeah, the league's in a pretty healthy state. It probably doesn't need a presumptuous know-it-all like myself taking the reins and ruining all that hard work in 24-hours of impulsiveness and megalomania. But, if Stern did hand me the nuclear launch codes (I'm assuming he's nuking the offices of any upstart NBA rival), and showed me that red button, there are a few things I'd tinker with.
The first thing I'd do as Commissioner is shorten the regular season from 82 games, down to 58. I love basketball, but the season just is too long. By March most fans are counting down the days until the start of the playoffs. I'd like to say that everything about the last lockout was brutal and soul-destroying - and a lot of it was - but in some ways the 66-game season was refreshing. Games just meant more. Teams couldn't afford to take as many nights off. Of course, in my hypothetical 58-game season there would be a training camp, and it would be spread out over a longer period of time than the 66-game, lockout-tarnished season was-so the quality of the games would remain high and players wouldn't start the year overweight (well, some probably still would).
So, why 58 games?
Well, I'm scrapping the divisions and conferences entirely (the megalomania has begun) and each team is going to play every other team twice-once at home and once on the road. No team's going to benefit from being in an easier division, or conference - beating up on crappy teams multiple times a year - and no one's going to sneak into the playoffs six games under .500 (I'm talking to you, now defunct Eastern Conference!). The top-16 teams will make the playoffs, and the top seed will play the 16th seed, 2nd will play 15th, so on and so forth. Oh, and the first round of the playoffs will revert back to a best-of-five format.
Of course, the main problem with shrinking the season is that it'll cost the league a lot of money-more games equals more cash from television deals and gate receipts. But, seeing as I'm currently occupying a fantasy world in which I'm the NBA Commissioner for a day, and I can do whatever I want, I'm just going to pay each team an undisclosed amount of money to shut up and deal with it.
Okay, so now that I've completely changed the format of an NBA season, on to the actual games.
Well, basketball's a pretty awesome game and over the years the NBA's done a good job of tweaking the rules to make the game more entertaining and accessible. If I was writing this article in the early 1950s I'd like to think that I'd be ranting about instituting a shock clock, (Thanks, Danny Biasone!) and If I was around when Jerry West hit that half-court shot in the ‘70 Finals, I'd probably wonder whether it should've won the game, instead of just sending it to overtime. Nothing in today's game is as egregious as having guys dribbling the ball around for 5 minutes, or not rewarding players for being able to score from 25-feet; but there are a couple things I'd still change.
Firstly, if a game goes to overtime, each player that hasn't already fouled-out gets an extra foul to play with. Six fouls is fine for 48 minutes of basketball, but not for 53. I'm not a fan of giving certain players the star treatment, but at the same time, I'm not a fan of seeing star players foul out at the beginning of an exciting overtime period.
Secondly, because the NFL knows what they're doing (for the most part) I'd follow their lead on the challenge flag system. I'd allow each coach the opportunity to challenge a decision once in each half. They could stomp their feet, make that crazy ‘Are you kidding me?!' coaches' face, and throw the red flag (maybe I'll make it blue for the hell of it) on to the court, and the refs would have to review the play. And just like in the NFL, if the referees' decision stands after review, the team challenging would be charged a timeout. This system would go some way to eliminating my least favourite aspect of the post-game press conference: coaches complaining about the officiating.
And on the subject of timeouts, my final adjustment to the rules would be preventing coaches from being able to call a timeout in the last 24 seconds of a game if their team is down by more than 6 points. I realize that crazy things can happen late in games, but nothing's more annoying than a coach calling a timeout in a game that everyone knows is dead and buried. If Tom Thibodeau wants to discuss dinner plans with his players, he's going to have to do it in the locker room, and not 10 seconds before the game finishes. I like to be able to tell my girlfriend that those final 20 seconds of a mid-February NBA game are actually going to be 20 seconds, and not 10 minutes. That way, my relationship with her will last longer.
And now on to the really frivolous stuff...
I'm going to make half-court shots worth four points because making a half-court shot is really hard and it should be rewarded accordingly. Oh, and because I want to see J.R. Smith snare a rebound, dribble the ball up the court, and jack up a half-court shot five seconds into the shot clock. It would also be amusing to keep track of half-court shooting percentages, once there's more incentive for players to take them and they become more frequent. What would be a good percentage from half-court? Five per cent? Three per cent? And who would be the first player to attain the coveted 50-40-90-5 shooting split?
And finally, if I were NBA Commissioner for a day I'd make some changes to All-Star weekend. I'm scrapping the Shooting Stars and Skills Competition because...well...most people would rather watch paint dry, and I'm starting a one-on-one tournament for Friday night. Over the years we've heard numerous stories about how Kobe's never lost a one-on-one game (mostly from the mouth of Kobe, of course), or how Michael Jordan's schooling rookies in the gym at age 50, but it's all empty rhetoric until we see it live. Eight players will take part (Michael Jordan will be invited to participate every year) and each game will be the first to 11 points, each basket being worth one point-win or go home. Who wouldn't want to watch this?!
Oh, and I guess I should make sure that Seattle gets an NBA team before handing the keys back. I'd set the wheels in motion, and it would be irreversible; but I'd leave the all-important decision of which team was going to be moved to Stern or Adam Silver.
I don't want to be booed if I ever make a guest appearance at the NBA Draft.