Commissioner Adam Silver discusses potential reforms at All-Star Saturday
NEW YORK -- NBA commissioner Adam Silver is approaching his second year on the job with an eye towards modest reforms rather than wholesale changes.
In his annual address at All-Star Weekend on Saturday, Silver laid out a series of potential tweaks to the league's schedule, draft lottery and playoff format, among other issues, but he did not fully commit the league to any substantial action in the short-term.
"Going into my second year, I recognize it's time to take action on a lot of the things that we've been discussing extensively," Silver said. "My focus is on the game. ... I believe we can improve."
Here's a rundown of Silver's key talking points from the press conference, which ran for more than half an hour before the All-Star Saturday night festivities began.
The biggest structural change of Silver's first year on the job was the lengthening of the All-Star break to a full week. That move was made after consulting with numerous players, including LeBron James, who pushed for the extra rest during the midseason grind. Because the NBA did not meaningfully alter the start date or end date of its season, lengthening the All-Star break compressed the same number of games into fewer days, thereby creating more back-to-backs and four games in five nights.
Silver said that the NBA would like to "eliminate" four-in-five scenarios and that the 2015-16 season could see a "drastic reduction" in this area. As for back-to-backs, Silver said that there should be fewer back-to-backs in 2015-16 as the league opens up "additional television windows" by loosening up the Thursday night and Sunday night schedules. The NBA is also pushing its teams for greater flexibility regarding available dates to schedule games.
"There's nothing more important than the health and welfare of our players," Silver said. "Ultimately we want to see players getting appropriate rest and playing at the highest level. It's something we're very focused on."
A potential solution to eliminating a compacted schedule is to trim the time of the preseason, which currently covers roughly eight games over three-plus weeks. Silver said he has spoken to "basketball people" around the league, and the consensus is that the preseason could indeed be changed.
"While [the basketball people] still feel a training camp and a fairly long training camp is still critically important," Silver said, "they don't think the preseason games are as valuable as they once were, in terms of the conditioning of their players, in terms of getting a chance to truly observe players in game conditions. I could see a scenario where while we'll continue to have a fairly lengthy preseason, we may be able to shorten it a little bit, and that will help with some of our scheduling issues, and we may be able to reduce the number of preseason games."
The NBA tried and failed to institute a new draft lottery structure last October. The failed reform effort would have decreased the odds that the very worst teams draw the No. 1 pick. Under the current system, the league's worst team has a 25 percent chance at the No. 1 pick and can fall no lower than No. 4. Under the proposed new system, which was rejected by owners, the worst team would have had a 12 percent chance (the four worst teams would have these same odds) and they could wind up picking as low as No. 7, according to Yahoo Sports. The thinking behind the change was obvious: encourage teams to put competitive products on the court by eliminating their incentive to pursue a complete teardown.
Silver said the NBA's Competition Committee is in the process of taking up the issue again and that the Board of Governors would be addressing it in April.
"We're going to need to take a fresh look at the Draft Lottery," he said. "I don't think the system isn't as broken as some may suggest, but it's going to require a tweak. ... I believe [this] is largely a perception issue. We want to ensure that our fans know that our teams do not have an incentive to lose games. That it may not be in any given season that you can ultimately have a winning and playoff‑bound team, and it's a multi‑year task, but we want to ensure our fans that our teams are always undergoing a process to try to field the best possible team on the floor."
In recent weeks, the discussion of scrapping the longstanding playoff format to place more emphasis on record and less on conference affiliation has gained steam. As noted at SI.com recently, one proposed playoff setup would allow the West's No. 9 and 10 teams (Oklahoma City and New Orleans) into the postseason instead of the East's No. 7 and No. 8 teams (Charlotte and Miami) because they have better records.
Silver has indicated he is in favor of a system that is more fair to all 30 teams than the current model, which has suffered for many years due to a Western Conference field that has been far deeper than its Eastern Conference counterparts. Silver didn't advocate for a specific plan on Saturday, but he did lay out some possible options and made it clear that the Competition Committee would be investigating its options.
"If there was a simple solution, we would have made it long ago," he said, noting that balancing the regular season schedule between the conferences would require significantly more travel than the current system, which sees teams play 52 games inside their conference and 30 outside. He also raised a possible concern about long playoff traveling issues if teams from opposite coasts faced each other.
Silver added: "I believe in the conference system, although I think there may be some tweaks."
The biggest stumbling block to reform on this issue would be owners who stand to lose postseason gate revenue as well as the glory and benefits of making the playoffs. Charlotte, Miami and other middling East teams be convinced to vote against their own best interest. Silver tried to downplay this angle, suggesting that the league has a big picture view that can balance the short-term lost money versus the long-term impact of potentially missing out on playoff exposure for, in the case of this year, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.
"I think we have a group of owners who are willing to take a long-term view ultimately," Silver said. "They understand over time that we're in a highly competitive marketplace. That we want to put our best foot forward. That we want the best product on the court. That's been the way they've approached all our issues. ... It's early days but we're going to take a very hard look at it."
USA vs. World All-Star Format?
The NBA experimented with a "USA vs. the World" format for the Rising Stars Challenge this year and some have speculated that a league with constant global aspirations might try the same gimmick in its official All-Star Game. Both the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer have experimented with similar formats in the past.
Silver more or less dismissed the idea based on the potential for shortchanging deserving All-Star candidates in years that might see a talent imbalance. This year, for example, only four out of the 28 total All-Stars are from outside the continental United States (Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki). Evening that split by adding non-American players would require cutting 10 American players and adding 10 international players. Not only would you be opening up a giant can of worms from a snubbing perspective, you would also be diminishing the talent base that plays in the All-Star Game.
"It ultimately may be unfair to U.S. players, or to the World players, depending on the pool," Silver said. "It's something that I'm open‑minded about, and I'm sure it will come up in other contexts here on how exactly we select the All‑Star team. Ultimately we want to ensure we have our best players and most deserving players on the court."
The NBA's salary cap is headed for a massive jump in 2016-17 thanks to a lucrative new media rights deal inked by the NBA and its television partners back in October. Silver has floated the possibility that the salary cap increase could be "smoothed in" by bridging the gap between the current system and the future system by raising the cap more than usual next year. Phasing in the increase would prevent a one-year spike that could, theoretically, alter the league's competitive landscape.
The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) and new executive director Michele Roberts have taken a stance against such a move, believing the players should be entitled to a system without artificial constructions. Silver said he was aware of the NBPA's stance and that he expected discussions on the issue to continue.
"It's like a lot of things in business and in sports that you sort of you deal with this situation as it's presented to you," he said. "I don't want to act like it's a terrible problem to have, where we're thrilled that based on the interest in the NBA we're able to command these big increases in the television market. And we will live with our deal."
The NBA has advocated for increasing its age limit from 19 to 20 since before Silver took over the commissioner's job from David Stern. However, no meaningful progress has been made on the issue over the last few years, even as Silver continues to stress the importance of improving the league's youth basketball pipeline. The NBPA opposes the idea because it would require potentially qualified players to spend two years at the NCAA level or overseas before entering the league.
"I think it would be much better for the game if the minimum age were 20 instead of 19," Silver reiterated on Saturday. "Having said that, I do understand the other side of the issue. While the Union has stated its view that they want to keep it at 19, we haven't entered collective bargaining. We haven't sat across the table and discussed it with them. We haven't had an opportunity to present our side of why we think it would be beneficial not just for the league, but for the players as well. We'll see."
The next potential collective bargaining agreement negotiations could take place in July 2017, if the NBA or NBPA decides to exercise an opt-out from its current labor deal.
Future All-Star Sites
The 2016 All-Star Weekend will be held in Toronto. After that, future games remain up in the air, as Silver did not announce any new sites on Saturday. Asked specifically about Portland's chances, Silver suggested that the city might not be able to accommodate the ever-growing midseason extravaganza.
"One of the issues historically for communities like Portland is frankly the number of hotel rooms," he said. "We have 1,800 credentialed members of the media alone in need of hotel rooms. Then we have thousands of guests who come to town as well. I would love to end up having an All‑Star Game in Portland. It's really just a function of ensuring that we can fit in town."
Back in January, the Hawks' ownership group announced that the franchise was for sale. Silver had no specific update to report and he did not reveal the names of any potential buyers, saying only that the sale process "is moving along on course" and that the process has been "very deliberate" and "methodical."