LAS VEGAS — With just one year left before a potential work stoppage, commissioner Adam Silver nixed the idea he is celebrating the formation of Golden State’s so-called “superteam,” instead emphasizing that the NBA continues to pursue improved competitive balance.
Addressing reporters at a press conference following the NBA’s annual Board of Governors meeting, Silver said Tuesday that he “absolutely respected” Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors in free agency, but added he doesn’t believe that a competitive landscape comprised of a few star-laden favorites is best for basketball.
“I’ve read several stories suggesting that that’s something that the league wants, this notion of two super teams, that it’s a huge television attraction,” Silver said. “I don’t think it’s good for the league, just to be really clear.
“There’s no question, when you aggregate a group of great players, they have a better chance of winning than many other teams. On the other hand, there are lots of things that have to happen. We’ll see what happens in Golden State. You had a great, great chemistry among a group of players and you’re adding another superstar to the mix, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens. But just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that's ideal from a league standpoint.”
The new-look, super-charged Warriors run counter to Silver’s off-stated vision of a league in which all 30 teams have the chance to be competitive. The NBA took steps during the last lockout to make building superteams more difficult by increasing luxury tax and repeater penalties. Nevertheless, an unexpected spike in the salary cap this summer, coupled with preexisting team-friendly contracts, set up the Warriors to add Durant this summer without sacrificing any of its most important pieces.
Next year, the Warriors will start four All-Stars and the last three MVP winners in Durant (2014) and Stephen Curry (2015 and ‘16). Oddsmakers view Golden State and Cleveland, which itself is built around a core of three All-Stars in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, as strong favorites in the Eastern Conference. As SI.com pointed out last week, the league’s 30 teams combined to hand out more than $3 billion in contract agreements, and yet only a small handful of those teams meaningfully improved their championship outlook while the very rich got richer.
Although Silver is quick to point out that a number of teams have made the conferences finals in recent years—including the Raptors, Rockets, Thunder, and Hawks—it’s hard to argue that the league has made significant strides toward a truly healthy competitive balance if the Warriors and Cavaliers become the first teams in NBA history to square off three straight times in the Finals.
There’s little doubt the competitive balance issue will again be at the heart of the next round of labor discussions. During the 2011 lockout, the NBA made noise about instituting a hard salary cap that would, in theory, force superstars to take serious pay cuts if they wanted to team up together and force teams to break up developing star cores if they became too expensive. Silver chose not to discuss specific proposals at his Tuesday press conference, but acknowledged that the NBA plans to address the subject in upcoming negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association.
“In terms of creating a league in which every team has the opportunity to compete, I think we do need to re-examine some of the elements of our system so that I’m not here next year or the year after again talking about anomalies,” Silver said. “The good news is that we are in a collective bargaining cycle, so it gives everybody an opportunity, owners and the union, to sit down behind closed doors and take a fresh look at the system and see if there is a better way that we can do it. My belief is we can make it better.”
Here’s a quick roundup of other discussion topics from Silver’s press conference:
The NBA announced changes to its “Hack-a-Shaq” rules in hopes of reducing, but not eliminating, the instances of away-from-the-play fouls.
Under the old setup, players fouled away from the ball were awarded a free throw and possession when they were fouled during the last two minutes of the fourth quarter. Otherwise, hacks went unpunished. Under the new setup, the “free throw and possession” rule will be deployed in the final two minutes of all four quarters.
Additionally, the NBA has moved to eliminate away-from-the-play fouls that occur when one plays jumps on another’s back during free throw attempts. Under the new rules, such fouls are now deemed flagrant. The league also eliminate fouls that occur on inbounds plays prior to the release of the ball by giving fouled players one free throw plus possession.
After previously hinting that the league’s “Hack-a-Shaq” fouls might be overhauled, Silver referred to the new rules as a “compromise,” adding that the NBA projects the changes could reduce intentional fouling by as much as 45%. For example, fouling at the end of quarters simply to gain an extra possession, or a 2-for-1 opportunity, will no longer pencil out.
Silver pushed back against criticism that the NBA should have simply extended the “last two minutes” penalties to the entire game.
“There is a part of me that would have preferred to have done something that was more holistic and impacted the entire game,” he said. “[Let’s see] if we can deal with roughly half the incidents and then … re-examine it and see where we are. … It’s extraordinarily difficult to predict coaches’ and players’ behavior, and we’ve also realized that there are seemingly always unintended consequences every time you make a rule change. This isn’t a full step, but I think it’s a serious half step that’s far from cosmetic.”
Moving the 2017 All-Star Game?
The NBA has not yet made a decision on whether it will move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, N.C., in response to the state’s HB2 law, which limits anti-discrimination protection for gays, lesbians and transgender people.
Silver continued to express his disappointment with North Carolina’s failure to repeal the law.
“We feel this law is inconsistent with the core values of this league,” he said. “The question for us becomes in this situation, given the controversy, given the amount of discussion, given how hardened the views are there: Is this the place we should be in February 2017 as the epicenter of global basketball where we can go and celebrate our game and our values?”
The NBA is running out of time to decide the location of the game, which is currently scheduled for Feb. 19 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“This is a very difficult issue for us, and we’re trying to be extremely cautious and deliberate in how we go about making the decision,” Silver continued. “We’re not trying to keep everyone in suspense. We recognize this decision needs to be made fairly quickly.”
Players speaking out
After multiple officer-involved shootings made national news in recent weeks, members of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx made headlines by wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts before a game on Saturday. That protest prompted multiple police officers working the game as off-duty security guards to leave their posts.
Silver tried to strike a middle ground between supporting his players’ free speech while avoiding a “slippery slope” when it comes to in-game protests, adding that the NBA and WNBA would be going down a “dangerous road” if it had to determine which protests were appropriate and which were not.
“I’m absolutely in favor of players speaking out and speaking from the heart about whatever issues are important to them,” he said. “It’s how this country operates. I actually think it demonstrates that these are multidimensional people. They live in this society, and they have strong views about how things should be.
“I would greatly prefer that the players use the platform they’re given, social media, press conferences, media in locker rooms, however they want to do it, to make their political points of view be known.”
Reiterating comments made at previous press conferences in recent years, Silver said the NBA has no plans to expand past its current 30 teams. Fans in Seattle, Las Vegas and other empty markets will need to keep waiting.