The NBA unveiled a more player-friendly regular season schedule. What other changes could it make to grow the game?
The NBA appears to have heeded the advice of its players, fans, and perhaps most importantly, its corporate partners in its drafting of the 2017-2018 schedule. The new season will include more rest days, fewer back to backs and a massive reduction in the dreaded “four games in five nights” gauntlet that players have endured for the past few seasons.
The NBA has realized the errors of its scheduling ways and made such a move in the hopes of presenting a better product for its high paying customers – which are, of course, the television networks. The poorer customers – the fans – will also benefit from the potential of better basketball. Call it altruism. Call it good business sense. Either way, this is a move that should benefit the game.
With the NBA tackling the schedule this season, there are some other improvements it can make in the future to grow the game. If Commissioner Adam Silver is to realize his dream of rivaling the NFL in terms of popularity and revenue, he needs to think outside the box and promote ideas that improve the product on the court. Here are a few ideas for Commissioner Silver’s consideration:
Realignment based on Geography
The next evolution of NBA travel is to realign the league into more geographically friendly divisions.
Last year, ESPN NBA writer Tom Haberstroh penned an article on NBA travel and its negative effects on players, impacting everything from rest patterns to mental health. Despite the evidence that supports a shorter season, it is unlikely that NBA owners will be willing to reduce the number of games played.
As we proposed last season, geographical realignment will reduce the amount of frequent flyer miles accumulated and help improve the product on the court. The proposal also reduces the season from 82 to 80 games, which is not much, but a step in the right direction.
Continued Investment in the G-League
This summer I streamed an AAU game featuring prep sensations LaMelo Ball and Zion Williamson via a Facebook feed provided courtesy of BallisLife.com. The NBA Summer League posted record attendance with games televised on ESPN and a who’s who of NBA stars regularly making appearances courtside.
The modern NBA fan is becoming more and more like its baseball counterpart: enthralled with sabermetrics, draft picks and prospects. There is an appetite for information on the next big thing.
The NBA should feed this appetite by continuing to invest in the development of its minor league system, the newly rechristened G-League.
The NBA continues to add affiliates to its minor league, with a record high 26 teams scheduled to participate in the 2017-2018 season, and the Washington Wizards’ affiliate debuting the following season.
As the league expands, more investment should be geared towards marketing, television buys and advertising to promote not only the league but also its future stars.
In conjunction with this, both owners and players must agree to do away with the “One-And-Done” rule, which requires that a player be at least a year removed from high school graduation to be eligible for the draft.
The need to do away with the “One-and- Done” rule is its own topic that merits more examination, but in terms of its relation to the G-League, the point is this: for the G-League to operate as a legitimate farm system, it needs stars. There are only so many underdog stories the NBA can promote as a reason for fans to invest in the league.
Expanding the dimensions of the court
Admittedly, this suggestion is a bit wonkish, but it will improve the game. The NBA court dimensions have been 94 by 50 feet since before the Truman Administration, but this is not your grandfather’s NBA.
There are modern day pterodactyls like Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis roaming the court. Players are bigger, stronger and faster in today’s NBA. And the basketball they play in today’s NBA is unrecognizable from just a generation ago, with all five players expected to defend more than 30 ft. from the rim – your favorite NBA Jam center could never.
The court’s dimensions should be updated to align with these trends. There was actually some consideration to do such a thing, according to an article posted by Uproxx in 2014. In it, long time NBA executives Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe hypothetically discussed the idea with ESPN’s True Hoop TV.
The fervor was over before it started. The idea was squashed by an ESPN spokesman a few days later, and the conversation has not really been taken up since. It is time to revisit.
A wider court would help ease the physical pounding basketball inflicts on the 21st century player. Back in 2014, Thorn believed lengthening the court might be a possibility, but cautioned against a wider court due to premium courtside seats that come right up to the floor, essentially making a money argument.
But that argument was shortsighted then, and it is now because those seats are at a premium due to the entertainment presented while a patron sits there.
It’s why courtside at a Los Angeles Clippers game was cheaper before the invention of “Lob City”. It’s why you pay more to see Beyoncé than you do the Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden. And it is why television partners tend to get upset when they pay billions of dollars to see LeBron James in a suit for the ABC Game of the Week.
The value is in the product.
The NBA’s appeal has always been – and will always be – correlated to its stars. The modified schedule is a great step forward for the league, but Commissioner Silver should continue to promote ideas that help to ensure that the best players are healthy and ready to play during the regular season.