Christmas Day came and went and with it was another impressive slate of NBA games that was set to showcase some of the league’s best and most talented players. The NBA has done a phenomenal job over the years of bringing their superstars to the forefront and really selling these elite talents as the reason to watch their league. This Christmas was no different. We got to see Giannis and the upstart Bucks take on the Knicks, Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden, Kyrie Irving vs. Joel Embiid, Lebron James vs. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and the Warriors, and Damian Lillard take on Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz. Giannis delivered with 30 points and 14 rebounds, Harden was even better with a 41-6-7 line, Irving had 40 points and 10 rebounds while Embiid had 34 points and 16 boards. Overall it was another highly successful Christmas day of NBA action.
Yet, around this time of year, it’s still really difficult to really get into the NBA season. With an 82 game season and 16 of 30 teams making it to the playoffs, the regular season still feels uninteresting at best. Teams that try to tank so they have the best odds of acquiring Zion Williamson don’t help things either. As of the writing of this article we are already starting to see the haves and the have nots start to separate themselves.
In the East it’s clear to see that there are five good teams. The Raptors, Bucks, Pacers, 76ers and Celtics will look to battle it out to see which teams get seeded 1-5. The rest seems fairly meaningless. The major goal will be to avoid the 4th and 5th seeds so that you don’t have a really difficult first round matchup.
In the West it’s much more competitive. Only two games separate seeds 4-10. Everybody but the Suns still has a realistic chance at the playoffs. The Houston Rockets, who are expected to compete for a championship, are currently the 7 seed and only a ½ game up on the Kings and Grizzlies. In one night they could move to 10th place and out of the playoffs.
Even still, there’s this endless feeling that there are maybe a handful of teams that could ultimately win the championship and it’s really pointless to begin getting excited for the NBA until the playoffs start. We live in an NBA era where there are too many games, not enough good teams, and too much incentive to lose if you aren’t a championship contender. Today, I want to outline how I would go about changing the NBA, and making a better all-around product for the entirety of the season.
So without further ado, here are my top five ways to make the NBA better:
1. Reform the Schedule and Structure of the Season
The biggest issue right now for the NBA is the sheer amount of games, without the appropriate reward for a successfully completed regular season. Having an 82 game season is daunting enough in and of itself, but when you couple it with the fact that over half the teams make the playoffs at the end of it, it seems rather pointless. Point being, it doesn’t take 82 games to figure out who the top 12ish teams are in the NBA, and the reward of having a higher seed isn’t that great.
Here is how I would restructure the schedule and playoff format. First of all I would expand the NBA by two teams. Part of the goal would be to redistribute the wealth and hopefully break up some of these Super-teams. More on that in a moment. The other goal would be to make for a very symmetrical season and schedule. With the addition of two teams, there would be 32 teams total. I would completely abolish conferences and divisions. Every team plays each team twice, one home and one away.
This would lead to each team playing 62 games throughout the course of the season, and every game would have significant meaning. You only get to face each team two times and everyone would ultimately have the same schedule. The best 16 teams, exactly half, would make the playoffs at the end of the year.
This helps in a variety of different ways. It makes each regular season game more valuable, it provides the players with the adequate rest that they need throughout the course of the season, you no longer have more than half of the teams making the playoffs, and you have equal scheduling for every team. It should also get rid of back-to-back games where teams have a major disadvantage.
With only playing each team two times I think it adds interest and intrigue to the matchups. You would get to see every superstar come to your favorite teams’ arena every year and it gets rid of the major issue that the East has this year where three teams with potentially below .500 records may make the playoffs. At the end of the day the best 16 get in.
Besides the obvious fact that the NBA would never approve 20 less games per season, this is a winning formula all the way around. Adding two new franchises and additional games would help offset that a bit. It would also add value to the ticket for each home game as you only would see that opposing team and their given superstar(s) once per season.
2. Completely Renovate the Salary Cap Structure
If the biggest issue is too many games and not enough value in the regular season, the second biggest issue is by far the salary cap system. Right now super teams have taken over the NBA. Whether it was Lebron, Wade and Bosh for the Heat, or Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green for the Warriors, these super teams keep coming together to try and form championship contenders.
What you end up with is a huge disparity of have’s and have not’s in the NBA. You end up with 4-5 teams who could win a championship and a huge chunk of teams who are just trying to get better draft positioning. Especially late in the season you end up with two teams playing each other with very different motivations. This results in a lot of lopsided and uninteresting basketball. That has to change.
The reason these super teams are happening so readily is because of the limit set on max contracts. Not to get into the minutia of NBA salary cap structure too deeply, but right now the NBA salary cap is set at $102 million. The maximum that a player can sign for is determined by their years in the league and whether or not they are signing with their own team or a new team. But take a player that’s been in the league 6 years and compare the two options. If the superstar who has been in the league 6 years and stays with his own team, he can make about $38 million more over the course of the deal. The main reason it’s more is because it adds one more year to the deal, not because you make significantly more money. In the first four years, this player only makes about $5 million more by staying with their own team.
The point being is that there is very little incentive for a player to remain with their own team and if a team wants to sign them away, this player doesn’t take that much of a financial hit by signing with a new franchise. Even more importantly than this, is the idea of the max contract in and of itself. When Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are all limited to the maximum amount that they can get on the open market, they are more than likely to take less to stay with their cohesive super team.
Let’s put it this way. Kevin Durant took less money to play for the Warriors originally then what he could have received if he stayed on the Thunder. He signed a two-year $54.3 million dollar contract at basically $27 million per year. Now let’s say there was no maximum that an individual player could get, but the salary cap was set at a hard $120 million. In that system, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, James Harden and the superstars of this league could arguably be worth about $80 million, or more, of that salary. In that scenario if the Warriors were already paying Curry, Klay and Green about $110 million, there simply wouldn’t be room for Durant.
More importantly, it’s one thing for Durant to turn down a few million dollars to sign with the team that he wanted. But what if the Suns were offering $90 million. Would he turn down $90 million from one team to play on a super team for $20 million? My guess is that he probably wouldn’t. The best way to make things fair for all franchises is to set a hard salary cap with no exceptions, and to get rid of the max contract values. Let the market figure out itself and stop making it easy for super teams to be assembled.
3. Update the Lottery System
Part three is getting rid of the incentive to tank for better players. The biggest issue here is that unlike the NFL, the NBA is generally really good at assessing talent and the true top-end players are drafted in the top 10, usually in the top 5 of the draft. If you want one of these top players you need a top draft choice and the best way to do that is by losing games. As soon as you realize you don’t have a chance at the playoffs it’s extremely beneficial to play as poorly as possible.
The NBA has tried to curb this by installing a lottery system, but the lottery system simply doesn’t do a good enough job. If you are the worst team in basketball, the worst you can end up picking is 4th and you obviously have the best odds of picking 1st. That’s still an incredibly valuable asset. So how do you go about fixing this?
The first step is keeping the lottery. I actually like the idea behind the lottery, it’s not necessary to give the team who does the worst the best asset, not in the NBA at least. In addition I would make three major changes. The first would be to expand the lottery so that every team has a chance to win the lottery, and there is no ceiling or floor to how high or low any team can pick.
Secondly, I would update the percentages. Basically I would use something like this:
So the team that finishes last would get 1500 ping pong balls, the 2nd to last team would get 1400, and so on and so forth. All 30 teams would be entered into the lottery, the first ball picked would get the first draft choice. You’d then eliminate that team from the lottery and continue. Even the team with the best odds would only have a 15% chance at the first pick. It would greatly discourage teams from tanking.
Lastly, I would take out the idea entirely that the record from the previous season determines draft order. Rather, I’d have the teams with the longest playoff droughts receiving the highest priority in the draft lottery.
For example, the Kings have gone 12 straight seasons without making the playoffs. If they were to miss the playoffs again this year, they would receive the highest possible priority in the draft lottery. The Suns would be second, then the Magic, Lakers, Nuggets and Knicks.
Now, you could have some scenarios, specifically with the Kings, in which they would have a decision to make. On one hand they are a ½ game out of the playoffs and missing the playoffs would give them a massive draft advantage next year. On the other hand if you keep winning you gain significant playoff exposure for your young players and increased revenue for your franchise. There could still be benefits to a team in this scenario “tanking” although those benefits are greatly decreased and it only plays out this way for one or two teams.
Furthermore, there’s no incentive to be REALLY bad. Even if you decide it’s best to tank you can still finish ninth in your conference, not make the playoffs again, and have a higher priority in the draft lottery. It doesn’t incentivize you to be terrible. Overall this system would greatly increase the competitive spirit of the game and give teams much less reason to try to lose games.
4. Play Each Game to 100 Points
This is the lone change I’d make to the game itself, although it’s a major change and probably somewhat controversial. There’s a reason I love this change though. In this scenario, every point has value. The worst part about basketball is the end game scenario in which the final two minutes takes 30 minutes real time because we see a ton of fouls and free throw shooting back and forth. To get rid of this, get rid of the time element all together.
We’ve all heard the saying that the first team to 100 wins in the NBA anyway, so let’s just make that the goal. There have been only 34 games this year in which the winning team did not reach 100 points, and the vast majority of those the winning team had 96 or more. There has been only 1 game in which the winning team had less than 90 points, and they were at 89. In the vast majority of instances games will actually go a bit quicker, not slower, while some could take slightly longer if they were defensive struggles.
Making the pace of play quicker should be a goal as well and this should make that happen. While it’s possible that a scenario could unfold where the Warriors unleash 100 points in the about 75 minutes, I don’t think most fans would be upset by this. It could cause issues with advertising but a better brand of basketball creates more viewership, not less.
Simply put, the emphasis in basketball should be on points, not on time. Get rid of the unnecessary game clock and make it simpler. You could still have your “quarters’ and switch sides when the first team reaches 25, 50, and 75 points. Everything could basically work the exact same as it does today, but with point markers instead of time markers.
You also end up with really cool end game scenarios and strategy. Let’s say you are down 98-97 with the ball. A 3-pointer becomes incredibly important. Does the other team foul to keep you from trying a three but knowing you’re in a much better position if they don’t score on their next possession?
Or what if it’s 98-98 and you’re on defense. If the opposing team has Dwight Howard do you foul him and have him try to make two shots, knowing that if he does you lost the game by fouling? The end game strategy becomes much more intriguing.
5. Make Christmas Games More Exciting
This is a bit of a throwaway, but I like the idea nonetheless. The NFL has the lame tradition on Thanksgiving that the Lions and Cowboys get to play at home no matter what. A cool tradition in the NBA would be that the winning teams on Christmas, get to play a home game on Christmas the following season. So for example the Bucks, Rockets, Celtics, Lakers, and Jazz won their respective Christmas day matchups this year so those five would get to host Christmas games next year. The NBA could schedule any teams against them, but it would make it a unique prize and a cool tradition for the NBA’s marquee regular season games.
There are a lot of controversial ideas in this article and I know many people and basketball purists will be hesitant to change. My goal here was to simply throw out ideas on how I think the NBA could put a better product on the court and make the regular season more exciting. Whether you liked the ideas or not I hope they provided some food for thought. Thanks for reading!