As you know there is no one more qualified to be NBA Commissioner than yours truly. However, for some reason, the league office has not called upon me to take the job – yet. While I’m waiting for my phone to ring allow me to preview three changes to the NBA I would make once installed in Adam Silver’s seat.
Change #1: Even the U.S. Army Doesn’t Have a Draft
The first of my three changes to the NBA I’d make is to end the draft.
Approximately forty percent of NBA players are foreign born. The league no longer needs to rely on the parochialism of U.S. colleges supplying talent. In eras past the NBA needed to sell the sizzle produced by four year college stars in order to get customers. Now, young players spend one season on AAU traveling teams disguised as college basketball teams before they are off to the league. There is no sizzle to sell.
The product suffers because one and done college players are not ready to play at a high professional level for three or four seasons but they are paid like productive players right from the jump. This arrangement does not benefit the player, the organization, or the fans. A Commissioner Talley regime would let teams sign any 16 year old rising star it wanted so long as it provided for his education up the age of 18. Wise teams would groom young talent so that by the time a player is 19 or 20 he is NBA ready.
A team with a player in its organization from a young age can create its own sizzle. It can give fans glimpses of the talent in the pipeline. The team can prepare the young player for professional life on and off the court. College programs are merely waiting rooms. NBA programs would be apprenticeships.
The Draft Makes Losers of Us All
The draft is a mechanism that prioritizes losing. The worse a team is the better its draft position. What good has the NBA draft done for the Sacramento Kings, for example? They are draft lottery stalwarts but they haven’t made the playoffs since 2006.
In order to have a league that places a premium on organizational excellence the crutch of the draft has to be removed. Front office talent would be at a premium: scouting, recruiting, coaching, development. Teams that don’t excel at those aspects would flounder. Owners would have to have shorter leashes. No more Oklahoma City Thunder 50 year rebuilding plans. No more selling the false hope of lottery picks.
Ending the draft would make every NBA team prioritize winning now.
Change #2: The Kings Couldn’t Screw Up 30 Players (Could They?)
The second of my three changes to the NBA a Commissioner Talley would make is to expand the rosters to 30 players. With no draft I would allow teams more flexibility in building rosters and developing talent. Each team would have 15 active players and 15 players on an under 22 team. 22 year olds who have not made the active roster would automatically become a free agent. Again, this would put the pressure on teams to select and develop the right talent.
The Under-22 teams would constitute what is today called the G League.
“This will kill the college game,” my critics would cry.
My response would be, “I don’t care. Let Duke or Stanford or Harvard use some of their billions in endowments to buy an NBA franchise. We’re accepting applications.”
The NBA is an international game. The talent pool is only going to grow. I would give teams the chance to grab as much of that talent as possible.
Change #3: Make the NBA Faaaaaan-tastic Again
The last of my three changes to the NBA would be a simple one. I would decree that every company with naming rights to an NBA arena or whose name appeared on the uniform or floor has to make 2,000 tickets available to its employees who make less than $50,000 per year. Good tickets all over the arena, too, not just the nosebleed section. If there are not enough employees to use all of the tickets then the tickets would be dispersed by lottery to any city residents with household incomes under $50,000.
Most NBA teams are located in high cost of living areas. Many times the most avid fans are priced out of tickets. I have worked for companies with luxury boxes in pro arenas. It was frustrating to know those seats only went to the C- Suite executives while the rank and file die hard fan whose company was helping bankroll the team would only be able to scratch out a cheap seat every now and again. The league should prioritize people who would attend the game to, you know, watch the game and cheer the team over the use of the game as a backdrop to a sales pitch for a client.
I often hear a well known sports personality with a couple hundred M’s in his bank account urge fans to go see certain players when the player is in town because the player is so extraordinary. I think to myself that’s easy for him to say but hard for a family of four to execute as they typically don’t have $500- $1,000 socked away for good tickets to a basketball game.
Call Me Lord High Commissioner or Commissioner Talley For Short
The ultimate goal for all three changes to the NBA I would make is to cement the NBA as a fans league. Winning. Earned player loyalty. Fan participation. That is what you can look forward to when the league office finally gives me the top job. I have ideas on how to improve the regular season, too, but I’ll keep those secret until I’m in the Olympic Tower at 645 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York.
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