Last summer, during the interminable dog days of August and September, the NBA bloggers of SBNation undertook a series of themed posts where we'd all write about a single subject on the same day. The series was a lot of fun and a big success, and it gave basketball fans something to read and talk about when there was very little other NBA news. Based on our success last off-season, we've decided to bring back Theme Days for 2013.
Today is the first of these themed posts -- Commissioner for a Day. All around SBNation, bloggers will imagine how they would change the NBA if they had the power to do so.
I'm going to take a straight ahead, no nonsense approach to the subject. Sure, I could try to use my power to ban Charles Barkley from national broadcasts or to contract the Lakers out of the league. But there are some realistic things the league could do that would help the game, and would be dirt simple to implement.
Altering the rules of a game that's been around 120 years is necessarily fraught. I'm a big believer in the Law of Unintended Consequences and also in the basic philosophy of K.I.S.S. -- keep it simple stupid. Trying to make major changes to the rulebook would almost certainly create some of those unintended consequences. At its heart, basketball is a simple game, and it should remain that way.
Still, there are some rules that can easily be changed, and in most cases simplified from the current implementation. Also, we can be pretty certain of what the consequences might be and that they are at worst benign, as in most cases the NBA rules would simply be coming back in line with the FIBA rules used in international basketball.
Defensive three seconds -- The worst rule in the NBA used to be the "illegal defense" rule. The impulse to disallow zone defenses was understandable and perhaps even noble, but ultimately impractical. Codifying exactly what constituted a zone was confusing, and enforcing it was haphazard and messy. The league was right to eliminate its prohibition against zone defenses in 2001, but made the mistake of instituting a defensive three second rule at the same time. Again, the desire for a defensive three second rule is understandable but ultimately misguided. NBA games have one or two defensive three second technical foul calls each, which halt the action for basically no reason. Moreover, proper basketball defense would frequently dictate that you stand in the lane -- if you're guarding a man on the weak side, helping towards the ball might well place you in the lane. Consequently, in the vast majority of cases, a rule ostensibly designed to curtail the use of packed in zone defenses is called against teams playing solid man-to-man. Most importantly, who really cares if a defender is hanging in the lane? In the modern NBA with the emphasis on three point shooting, wasting a seven footer standing at the rim is bad strategy. The defensive three second rule solves a problem that doesn't exist, and does it poorly. Lose it. No other form of organized basketball has it, and they all do fine.
Basket interference -- Primarily in the interests of aligning the NBA more closely with the international game, the NBA should implement the FIBA rule for offensive basket interference. Allowing contact with the ball above the cylinder after it has struck the rim eliminates a difficult to enforce rule that has led to any number of high profile missed calls, it adds the possibility of more follow dunks and exciting sweep aways, and it would help Team USA in international competitions since our bigs would understand the rule.
Replay review -- The biggest issues with the existing replay review rules have been through disuse -- when an obviously incorrect call has to stand because the rules don't allow for it to be changed. I would give the refs the authority to change obviously incorrect calls during clock stoppages -- period. No more list of what is allowed and what is not allowed.
Enforcing existing rules -- I'd also make a point of actually enforcing the traveling rules, and I mean all of them. If a player shuffles his feet inbounding on a side out of bounds, it's traveling. If a player takes two steps before starting his dribble in the backcourt, it's traveling. Often in today's NBA the refs seem to look the other way if no advantage was gained. But rules are rules, and the footwork in the NBA is a mess, partly because the rules are not enforced properly. It's ridiculous to have a legitimate travel called in some cases when it is ignored in so many others. Every year the NBA says it's going to crack down on traveling, but they never do. It's not that hard -- college refs know how to call traveling. It needs to happen in the NBA also.
The draft -- Every year when teams start tanking, fans and experts alike lament the nature of the draft and the "moral hazard" of creating an incentive for teams to lose games. However, the very real benefits of competitive balance outweigh these issues, and giving the best draft picks to the worst teams simply makes sense. I might in theory even be in favor of eliminating the lottery altogether, but it's become a spectacle in its own right at this point and is not going anywhere. Ultimately, I'd leave the draft and the lottery alone.
Eliminate the conferences -- The league is currently structured as two geographic conferences of 15 teams each. However, the Western Conference has been measurably superior to the Eastern Conferences for well over a decade now, meaning that solid West teams miss the playoffs in favor of much weaker East teams year in and year out. In theory this imbalance will eventually self-correct -- but it only seems to get worse. The problem is only exacerbated in the playoffs, where the West is a bloodbath from the first round while the East has been a coronation of a dominant team for several years now. Of course, if the East were the stronger conference, then the problem would simply be reversed. And to what purpose? By scheduling more games against a geographic conference, the league limits travel some, but is that really worth having the wrong teams in the playoffs? As it stands currently, the schedule makes little distinction between conference and division, despite the fact that the division level is where rivalries would best be fostered. If you put the schedule importance on divisions, playing those teams six times each, and ignore conference, playing the 24 other teams twice each, you'd get a balanced 72 game schedule. Then give playoff berths to the six division winners and the next ten best teams in the league, regardless of division or conference, seed them 1 to 16 and see who wins.
Expand to Seattle -- This is a direct response to recent events admittedly, but there's really no reason not to expand to Seattle immediately. The idea that an odd number of teams is a problem ignores the fact that the NBA had an odd number of teams for decades before adding the Bobcats in 2004 and no one noticed or cared. If Seattle was a viable destination for the Kings, then it's viable as an expansion city. The way the NBA left the Emerald City was a problem, and having Seattle looming as a potential destination for existing teams is also a problem (albeit a lucrative one for owners who can hold their existing city ransom). Just because the threat of Seattle is good for the existing owners doesn't mean it's good for the league -- I'd bring back the Sonics now. There's plenty of talent to go around, and it's been far too long since the NBA had an expansion draft.
Transparency -- It's not something that I can be very specific about, but in general I would make the dealings of the league as transparent as possible. For instance, the revenue sharing plan that was implemented after the lockout is one of the most progressive and generous in all of professional sports, and yet the league has been incredibly secretive about it. Why? From revenue sharing to referee review to finances, the league can only benefit from being more open (assuming they don't in fact have anything to hide). Secrecy only breeds conspiracy theories, which of course abound in the NBA -- sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I'd strive to shed as much light on the proceedings as possible.
These aren't bold, sexy ideas. I'm sure many of my colleagues will have some fascinating and innovative ideas today; these are just minor tweaks to the system. But here's the thing -- I love NBA basketball, I think it's a great sport. Why would I want to undertake a major overhaul of a sport I already love? The benefit of all of the ideas above is that they are all very practical. With the exception of the elimination of conferences, these things could all be done at any time with minimal fuss. They're not big changes -- just slight improvements to the game I love.
So what about you? What would you do if you were Commissioner for a Day? Let us know in the comments.
Be sure to check out all of the Commissioner for a Day ideas at SBNation.com. You could waste your entire Thursday in a most informative way.