Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Four Steps to a More Perfect NBA

Gimme Gimme
With the lifetime ban of Donald Sterling today, the NBA got a lot closer to a more perfect league... but, well, it made me wonder what steps you'd have to take to get even better. So here's my 4-step Crazy Dream List for Utter Hoop Domination. Adam Silver, give me some of that sweet Sterling fine money, and we'll call it even.

1) Expansion.

The NBA has an increasingly solid D-League, with dozens of solid rotation players having spent some time in the middlings, and that trend is growing. They also have explosive growth and interest in the game in foreign lands, with China in particular being absolutely obsessed with the game. The best players from six continents come here, and there's many markets where the Association has skipped town, and could easily return to solid acclaim. And with the increasing burning oil smell coming from the college game with unionization and one and done players, and public perception of the NCAA going to the sewer where it belongs, I'm just not seeing the league staying at its current size. Especially with the TV business continuing to favor live events, and hoop not having That Concussion Problem that ever-increasing amounts of football can cause. Besides, there are no shortage of players that can give you a watchable product, unlike what happens when you go to second and third tier QBs and starting pitchers.

Where can the game go next? Honestly, there are plenty of green fields. The simple ones are Seattle and Vancouver. Both had good crowds that got their teams ripped by slash and burn owners, and have better regional metrics than when they lost their teams. Putting both in gets local rivalries right back in play, along with more equality for Portland, who have been eating a hardcore travel disadvantage for years now. I'll also happily add Kansas City or St. Louis, which would help us get to a more equitable situation for Minnesota and OKC.

I also want to tap into that explosive interest in Toronto, by giving Montreal, and maybe even Buffalo, a franchise. I'm also ready to have an entirely new dynamic to the SoCal hoop wars with San Diego or Anaheim -- as if the market won't support a third team? Hell, we could probably do both -- and if baseball and football can support teams in DC, Baltimore and Philly, so can hoop, which gives Charm City its own basketball team to keep the Wiz on their toes. If none of these work for you, Pittsburgh could easily become a 4-sport town, and it's not as if the Association has had no luck with single town teams. Put a team in Iowa, they'll go nuts for it for decades.

Oh, and some combination of Vegas, Honolulu, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris, Rome and Berlin. We'll get to them later.

2) Reshuffling.

It's absurd, how much better the West is than the East, and I'm completely tired of waiting for things to balance out.

So rather than ignore geography, let's just change it from East vs. West to North vs. South.

The North has the East (Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philly and DC), the Central (Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago) and the West (Indy, Minny, Denver, Utah and Portland).

The South has the East (Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and New Orleans), Central (Memphis, OKC, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio) and the West (Phoenix, Lakers, Clippers, Dubs, Kings).

See what we've done here? First off, we've balanced the Texas / Florida problem -- two states with warm weather and no state income tax, which attracts the best veteran free agents -- by making them play each other more often. We've kept travel distances down, made Miami actually have to try during the regular season again, and given the beaten-down fan bases of the non-warm West hope for long playoff runs again. Hell, we've even given the Ol' South lovers a reason to NASCAR up the All-Star Game. I'm a giver.

Oh, and when we get to the Final Four, throw the regional demos out the window, and just re-seed by best record. Anything to avoid a repeat of the tomato can row that the Heat will stroll down before they get to the Finals this year.

And yes, I know it's not perfect, but it's also not permanent, because now I'm going back to point one.

3) A Real Summer League... with (a limited but outstanding amount of) RELEGATION!

Remember all of those expansion teams I listed above? They don't get into the Big Boy League right away. Instead, they play each other... and the top four teams go up to the Association in the Fall, while the bottom four teams find themselves down-shifting to all of those new rivals.

Now, look what we've done. We've expanded the season where people care about, and watch, pro hoop. (OK, maybe we've killed the WNBA, but honestly, I'm not sure we have. I just don't see how these markets overlap.) I've killed, once and for all, the tanking insanity that has been the scourge of the league for decades, which made a solid quarter of the league commit fraud this year. And with the rapid expansion of teams, and inevitable dispersal draft that would be required to help staff those clubs, I've leveled the playing field and re-set things away from the star-driven machinations that seems to offend so many casual fans... while also rewarding teams that build deep rosters with spread minutes and actual coaching. I've also created interest in every franchise for every game, since the bottom clubs are going to be desperate to avoid summer school trips that will redefine the misery of jet lag. Oh, and  I've kept the league from having to put up with a long-term prime time Clipper problem, ever again.

4) Shorter playoffs, with actual bye rounds.

Want to know why the regular season seems to long, and the playoffs so good, but damn near random? Because one doesn't matter enough, and the other matters too much. This year shows how futile the high seed home court edge is; the Heat more or less trolled the year rather than put their best players on the floor very often, and next year is going to be worse. The NFL doesn't have this problem, because they've got bye weeks for the top two seeds. Cut the playoffs teams down to six teams in each conference, with byes for the top two, and I guarantee you that we'd get rid of this April Fool season of the last two weeks going to Amateur Hour. Besides, we're going to have to hollow out some space for a Summer League that people actually care about.v

So look what we've got now. A league where no one tanks, every game matters, Summer League isn't just for degenerates and trivia experts. Year-long hoop for those that want it, with a true world-wide league, in a dozen new markets or more. An ever-growing amount of Game.

The possibility that we could, one day, watch the Celtics or Lakers or Knicks or whoever you truly hate get punted off to Brazil and beyond to earn their way back to the Big League.

And the option to never, ever spend months with only freaking baseball, or the ever-spreading mess of all-week NFL, to give us what we really want.

More, and better, Hoop. For more, and better, places.

And vast stretches of time where the games are just as important as what we are getting right now.

A man can dream...

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