|I've got some ideas, David. Interested?|
As negotiations between NBA league officials and NBPA officials heated up a couple weeks ago, I stepped out and made it known that I thought a deal would get done. I wasn't kidding. It was unfathomable to me that the league could simply discard the type of momentum they built last season as if it were one of the $12 collectible cups they hawk in their concessions stands. The 2010-2011 NBA season was the most important season since Michael Jordan last wore the #23 Chicago Bulls jersey. It brought in all kinds of casual fans and elevated the league to the type of rarified air not seen in two decades. With this level of success and excitement still very much in mind and an unbelievable playoffs punctuated by one of the best Finals of my lifetime still close in my rearview mirror, it seemed totally logical and reasonable that the two sides would figure this thing out in time to capitalize on their success.
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. More wrong than I could have ever imagined. Dumb too. Dumb, dumb, dum...well, you get the picture.
The NBA screwed up. Badly. It doesn't take a Pulitzer Prize winning sports journalist to draw this conclusion. It doesn't take a top level ESPN personality to figure this out. Anybody with half a brain, dial-up internet access, and some way of typing could write this blog post and pretty much come up with the same thing. After David Stern's ominous, "Doomsday"-type announcement last night, I'm sure that's exactly what you'll see. Thousands of sports journalists, beat writers, internet writers, and bloggers will take to their medium to crucify what has to be the most masochistic professional sports league in existence. They deserve every word that will be written.
In 2011, there are some cold, hard facts that nobody can deny.
1.) The economy sucks. You can feel free to argue the politics and the whys/hows of what's going on in the U.S. Suffice it to say that money is at a premium. Everday people like me don't have a lot of discretionary income. As a sports fan, I'm willing to spend a decent portion of that on sports related things. This year, like every year, I'll buy ESPN Full Court so I can watch every Kentucky game. This year, I switched to DirecTV so I could get NFL Sunday Ticket. The point is, there's only so much people can spend on their sports and they're going to prioritize that spending. With the economy being what it is, there's a lot less money to be spread around on sports.
2.) In American, the priority on sports goes something like this.
3. College Football
5. College Football/NFL
To be totally honest, I'm not sure how badly I overstated that...if at all. Football is king in 2011 and everything else falls in line behind it.
Now, if we combine those two facts, we can easily see how badly this could end for the NBA. Even despite the amazing 2011 season, attendance was pitiful in several previously solid markets. How do you think that's going to go now?
Fact is, people don't want to hear about rich owners and players squabbling over their millions. Whether it's reasonable or not, the idea that millions of Americans are struggling through tough times makes this labor dispute seem unequivocably repulsive. With two weeks of regular season games being already being cancelled, and many more on the way, the NBA has already begun the process of pushing away all the casual fans it previously brought in. They have essentially thrown away all the progress they made over the last half decade.
Let's say the league starts up in January. How many people come back? How much discretionary income has the league lost? How bad will attendance be? I don't know the answers to all of those questions...I just know I'm mad. Really mad.
Since the NBA has already decided on a course of self-destruction, it better darn well get this thing right. Coming out of their second labor dispute in 13 years, the league can't afford to implement another flawed, broken system. No matter what, the momentum is dead. Gone, bye-bye, murdered. Still, there ARE some major problems in the current system and fixing those problems is the ONLY way for this lockout to be redeemed.
At this point, most of you are familiar with the major sticking points. Contract lenghts, BRI splits, and guaranteed contracts are all key points in these negotiations. While I think all are important, they aren't the issues that interest me. Since the owners are locked and loaded for battle, and seem to be in it for the long haul, there is only one possible outcome that would make me deem the lockout "worth it."
I've long since held that the NBA suffers from over-expansion. Simply put, there's too many teams and too little talent to adequately fill those teams. Take a look at some of the teams and you'll see exactly what I mean! The NBA isn't like any other sport. It's highly individualistic and one transcendant player can singlehandedly lift a team to success. Don't believe me? Ask the Cleveland Cavaliers!
It's a superstar league and if you don't have one, then you're going nowhere. The problem is, there's not many superstars! Certainly not 30!
Beyond that, there are several markets that have proven unable to support an NBA franchise. By eliminating those franchises the NBA can dramatically improve their product. Not only that, but eliminating un-profitable franchises would greatly improve the league financially. How does that not solve the NBA's problem?
Realistically speaking, the NBA could probably only contract two franchises. That would be a great start...but let's imagine what would happen if I were commish and I had autonomous power to do as I wish.
1. Contract 6 teams. A 24 team NBA sounds great to me. It allows teams to have deep rotations of 8 or 9 quality players and increases overall competition throughout the league. How is that not a good thing? More good games? Yes please! Here's how I would do it: (Note: The problem with contraction is what to do with the players. Do they go in a dispersal draft? Are they free agents? Are they on waivers? What happens to their contracts? These are all major problems that have to be taken into account when discussing contraction. That's why team mergers are a factor as well. Of course, that also presents its own set of problems.)
- Merge Minnesota and Milwaukee. There's not a ton of talent on either team, especially superstar talent. Both teams could theoretically be axed, but there's likely a problem with contracting a team owned by a U.S. Senator (Milwaukee). Besides, Milwaukee isn't a horrible market. Not great, but not horrible. Merging the two would form a nice frontcourt of Andrew Bogut, Kevin Love, and Derrick Williams. Unfortunately, the Brandon Jennings/Ricky Rubio thing could get ugly.
- Contract Sacramento. The franchise is already floundering, their arena is old and outdated, and their owners are out of money. Beyond Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jimmer Fredette; there's not too much talent. All those players are young, so they would work well in the dispersal draft.
- Merge Charlotte and New Orleans and move them to Seattle. I love the dynamic of this one! I love that irony of the former Charlotte team (New Orleans) merging with the current Charlotte team! I love that New Orleans, who briefly played in OKC after Katrina, would be moving to Seattle, who had their team stolen by New Orleans! So great! Since the NBA currently owns the Hornets, this works well in their quest to please Michael Jordan, who would be able to maintain control of the franchise. The NBA could appease a fantastic fan base that they irrevocably angered by giving them a playoff-ready team to once again don the Sonics uniforms.
- Contract Atlanta. This one is a bit of a stretch since the Hawks have actually been good, but Atlanta sucks as a sports city. Nobody shows up to the games even when they're winning, so why allow them to keep their franchise. They've had ownership problems, attendance problems, and have a terribly constructed roster that's about to lose one of their best players (Josh Smith). Just contract them now and avoid having to deal with it in the future.
- Contract Toronto. Really, what's the point? They're never that good and they'll never be able to draw players. Fair or not, American basketball players do not want to go play in Toronto. Doesn't matter that it's a huge market, doesn't matter that it's a nice city, doesn't matter that the fans actually care. It's not an NBA market. They have alarmingly little talent right now, so it's best to just get this one over with.
- Merge Indiana and Memphis. Both teams have fan bases that only show up when the team is good, so it makes sense to just merge them and see if you can get the ball rolling in one city. To be honest, I'd feel horrible about getting rid of a team in basketball's heartland, but Pacers fans gotta do better. I went to a game last year and only 40% of the arena was full. And tickets were dirt cheap! Come on people, show up! Still, Conseco if a beautiful arena and Indianapolis is an awesome downtown. Also, I'd rather keep a winter sport in a place with a tough winter. A merger of these two would produce a pretty darn good team, and would pump up the Indianapolis fan base for a time.
In continuing with my fantasy, here's a couple other changes I would love.
1. Schedule reduced to 40 games. Each team would play a home and away with members of their own conference (22 games), and 18 games against the opposing conference. Like the NFL, the schedules would be weighted based on the previous years standings. Not only would this help create competive balance, but it would dramatically increase interest in the regular season. All of a sudden, games would matter. Also, the playoffs would be better because players would be fresher and healthier.
2. 6 teams would make the playoffs. The top 2 seeds in each conference would get a bye, and the other two matchups would be best of 5 to determine who moves on. Too many teams make the playoffs right now and it annoys the heck out of me. This makes the playoffs more exclusive, gives the top 2 seeds a bigger advantage, and still extends the playoffs enough to fully capitalize on the amount of exposure the league can get during their extended playoffs.
3. The court would be made 6-10 feet longer and 2-3 feet wider. I LOVE the idea of a bigger court in the NBA. The players are so big and so fast at this point that it only makes sense. This would make the game faster, more wide open, and infinitely more exciting.
Basically what I'm saying is that the NBA is screwed. They're just angering their fans and they're going to do nothing to improve the product. Yippee. No, my "solutions" aren't at all feasible, but I'd love for the league to think out of the box for once. Instead, we're going to hear about contract lengths and BRI for the next few months until every last fan is ready to hang himself.
The lockout sucks, but they absolutely can redeem this thing. Now that the two sides have decided to dig in, there's an opportunity to enact wholesale change to fix all the wrongs in the system. Start with contracting two teams! Do it now! It will make the league better! If that doesn't happen, then this whole thing is lost to me.
At this point, I'm all out of optimism. I thought they'd get it done, but it didn't happen. I thought we'd see basketball in November, but it's not going to happen. Bring on college basketball because the NBA season is probably lost.