People are wondering what the heck is going on with the NBA. Didn't they fix things with the new collective bargaining agreement? I mean, the NFL seems as strong as ever after their labor battles; baseball has made some changes that promise to enhance things as well; and even hockey has seen its brightest days since missing a few games back in 2004-05. So why if, just as owners and players were shaking hands and ratifying a new deal did the sports world start shaking their heads at the league?
Apparently, one team was out of line in thinking they can make a trade. A TRADE!!! How dare New Orleans try to better its team?! Well, the league quickly put the kibosh on that. It's simply another droplet in a bucket filled with questionable actions and incidents for a league that should be doing everything it can to repair consumer confidence, assuming there are consumers left. This one, sadly, may be the last straw.
But you're in luck as I have a simple seven-step process to fixing things that does not include the Scotch tape remedy the league seems to like using in order to fix things. Consider it my Christmas gift for opening on Christmas Day, when the games resume. Of course, I'll enclose the receipt in the event you'd like to exchange some items, but try them out. You might like them better than what you have now.
1) Start Fresh
David Stern is 69 years old and has not been at the top of his game for the past two or three, or 15 years. It's time for a new vision to take the league to new frontiers -- namely, up.
After eight years, the country gets to choose a new president, even after four if things aren't working. Every piece of news concerning the league these days, save for one exciting Finals series last year, is about a player, coach, or owner complaining about the officiating, the draft, the trades, free agent signings, the food selection in luxury boxes, etc.
Stern has been in charge of two work stoppages. How many more before people realize that he may not be the best guy to have at the top? Now, if he was a Wall Street banker, then we could make a case for him to stay, and get a bonus ... and probably a statue too.
Say goodbye to six teams. That's right, six! Let's revert as close to pre-expansion levels as possible. I suggest we use this abbreviated season to decide which teams go. And just as an added twist, we won't plainly eliminate the worst six, but we’ll get rid of the worst three and the best three -- regular-season records only. That will allow for parity. Of course, we’ll leave one team in New York and one in Los Angeles. So if the Clippers are the worst team and the Lakers are the best, we'll have coin flip to decide which one goes. Or maybe spin that big drum and pick their card out in front of a television audience. The NBA likes to televise these events.
3) Free Agency
Free agency is a tricky subject. Obviously, it needs to stay, but the days of players holding teams hostage to go where they want to go before their contracts are up should end. I think a system similar to what MLB used to have would be best for starters.
A team that loses a free agent gets a draft pick in return, or a player from the acquiring team. Each team can protect, let’s say, three players; everyone else is fair game. If the Heat want to acquire Dwight Howard, they may have to give up one of their own players. They can protect Bosh, LeBron, and DWade, but everyone else could be swiped by Orlando.
4) Incoming Players
College players must play at least three years of college or junior college ball or be 21 years of age. This will be a tough one to install, but it's for the good of the NBA game. As a side effect, it will make the college game better as well. Look how well Butler did last year, simply because they were playing with most of their team intact from the previous year.
5) Playoff Scheduling
The playoffs need to be two games in a row, an off day for travel, and then two more games in a row. As it is right now, they last nearly 30 months (rough estimate). I don't know, but I lose count by the time they reach into the month of Abijaba in the ancient Gezer calendar.
As my former English teacher used to say, "Chop chop, boom and go." Let's get to it. If players can't take back-to-back games, they shouldn't be in the playoffs.
The question of whether or not the referees are calling games on the up and up has long been an issue that the league and fans sweep under the carpet. Yes, it sinks to conspiracy theories, but just because it's called a "conspiracy theory" doesn’t necessarily mean it's not true. And that cloud is still hanging over the league to some.
It's like when, as a kid, you sat on Santa's lap and realized that Santa smells of rum and chicken just like your fat uncle Dusty, but for some reason, you were still convinced it was the real Santa. It's just too jarring not to believe that.
It's gotten so bad that the main role of color commentators such as Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson seemed to be to offer a critique of all referee calls. I think the new commissioner (point one) may instill a better policy of integrity, but just in case, there needs to be a system of checks and balances put in place so we can be sure what we're watching is legit.
Now, I'm just spinning here and am open to suggestions, but what about a challenge flag system, coupled with a booth replay official? AND a booth replay official supervisor! (See that, I'm creating jobs! "Vote Wasif 2012 for President!")
The reason for this is that you figure a referee in the replay booth is going to be looking out for his colleagues down below. But a supervisor, whose job is to sit around all day playing Farmville, until someone cc's him with a useless memo to which he replies, "Sounds good," then, every now and again, he will check on his underlings to make random suggestions that seem to contradict what he said before, will make sure to keep the booth replay official on his toes and reverse a few calls for good measure just to protect his own cushy gig.
Consistency, that's what we're looking for.
7) Draft Lottery
In 1985, the league instituted a draft lottery. It didn't take long before cries of "The fix is in!" began when New York, a large market team, conveniently won the rights to Patrick Ewing, a franchise center.
Just go back to a system like the NFL has -- worst team gets first pick. If a team wants to tank it, fine. That's on them. It's not like it will improve their fan base. Sure, if they tank it for a LeBron-type player,
they'll sell some seats the next year, but it's a gamble. Give them the right to take that gamble.
8) The Fans
In the interest of returning fans to the game, the league needs to improve its marketing. I just read a new parody of the NBA's slogan that read "Where Amazing Happens ... but sometimes it un-happens."
The league has a few diehard fans, but not enough to bring the game back to prominence. A recent poll I read ranked it sixth among major sports ... behind auto racing! My solution to this is to rebrand basketball as a reality show, and have judges instead of commentators.
Now, here me out for a second: It's a bold new move, yes, but basketball isn't getting any better without a bold new move. Imagine Simon Cowell criticize a dunk by Blake Griffin because he was appalled by the lack of originality on it. Perhaps we'll even give the former "American Idol" host the power to deduct points. Now we're talking!
So I'm not saying that these solutions are the gold standard, ready-to-go winners, but they are a launching point. Let's start a discussion. Er, and we probably shouldn't invite those parties from the NBA lockout. We all saw how "well" they got along. That’s how we ended up in this place in the first place. How about we ask those NFL and MLB negotiators to help us? We might be done by tip off.