Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Envisioning the Future of the NBA Pt. 3: The Draft, Re-Alignment & The Playoffs

Another recent hot-button issue has been figuring out a way to re-do the draft lottery process. Adam Silver has maintained that he is “studying it. I'm listening to everyone, from media to players who have a point of view.” The first real potential solution came in the form of ‘The Wheel’ which was submitted by a Boston Celtics’ front office member. In that proposal, each team gets one of each pick, from 1 to 30, only once over a 30-year period. There are plenty of other nuggets as well but that’s the gist of it. I, myself, took a look at the 3-year cumulative wins based lottery proposal earlier in the year. The newest proposal talks about adjusting the weighted percentages that lottery team’s get. Regardless of which plan the NBA chooses, the idea is to prevent out and out tanking for high draft picks.

None of the proposals are perfect but it’s obvious that some sort of change is going to be implemented in the near future. Along with that, Silver is on record as wanting to increase the draft age limit to 20 once the new union director is in place. Well that just happened. The age limit issue is a tough one. Proponents for raising the age limit talk about the league getting more NBA-ready players and less projects. Retractors point out the exploitative nature of the NCAA system and allowing players to earn a living whenever that opportunity presents itself and not when they are told it’s okay. It’s very likely that NCAA players will have to wait until after their sophomore season to enter the draft & I believe that will lead to some interesting situations. We’ve already seen Brandon Jennings, in the past, and Emmanuel Mudiay, just recently, skip college to earn immediate paydays overseas. That trend would likely continue and perhaps grow with an even stricter age limit.

The flip side of that is if the NBA will continue to allow draft-ineligible players the option to enter the D-League. We just saw P.J. Hairston & the Greek Freak’s brother go from D-League to NBA draft pick but those were one year situations. If high school players have to play 2 seasons of minimum-wage ball in the D-League before being draft eligible it seems infinitely more likely that they would choose the overseas route. China offers huge paydays to big name players and the major European teams provide ample financial & competitive situations. Yes there are plenty of examples of teams with financial issues overseas, even storied franchises like Montepaschi Siena, and a very long list of players claiming they didn’t get paid but good agents know where to steer their clients to have the best chances of avoiding that type of situation. It’s a tough transition for such young men to go from high school to a new country and some won’t want to but, without a D-League plan in place by the NBA, it will likely happen.


Realignment is honestly one of the easiest fixes for the NBA. There’s no multi-year long build up as with many of the other issues facing the league. It is simply a matter of deciding which teams are going to be in which conference, divisions yes or no, how many aaaand done! Expansion to 32 teams would allow a jump from 3 divisions per conference to 4. Drastic changes include eliminating the conference designations of Eastern & Western and completely mix up teams like the NFL does. More subtle changes like going back to 2 divisions per conference or no divisions at all could also be on the table. It’s really a simple way to add excitement and create new rivalries instantly.

Say we went with a 4 team divisions while including our top 2 expansion teams, Seattle and Las Vegas. We would separate teams by general map location. Below is a quick breakdown of how that might look. 

If you wanted, you could easily keep the Eastern & Western conference designations by moving Minnesota to the East and adding Seattle and Vegas to the West. More fun would be to go with an NFL-style setup and put each odd numbered division into one conference and every even numbered division into another. It might be too drastic a change for traditionalists but it could be quite interesting. More than likely the NBA will lean more towards eliminating divisions but keep conferences intact, as they've previously hinted towards.

Getting rid of divisions stops the problem of champions of bad divisions from automatically receiving higher playoff seeds. Eliminating conferences all together, the international model if you will, would allow the very best 16 teams to make the playoffs every year.  This is what that would've look like in the last 5 seasons.

There are a lot of different ways to go with it and, as I mentioned before, it's not something that has to wait.  Obviously, changes with expansion teams has to wait but that's just one example.  The elimination of divisions is a simple plan that could be rolled out right away with almost no problem.  Eliminating conferences could be seen as a more drastic measure but the immediate benefits can be seen in the 2013-14 column above, Phoenix makes the playoffs as the 13th best team instead of being left out.  A lot of people have pointed to the weakened Eastern Conference as a reason to change the way we decide who makes the playoffs.  

People who complain that we would never see classic Finals matchups like Lakers-Celtics but wouldn't it be great to see that as a 2nd or 3rd round matchup.  I think that it would only strengthen rivalries when teams have more realistic opportunities to play meaningful games and series against each other.  It also allows the two best teams overall to play for the title.  Isn't it time that we move towards rewarding teams for being the best and not penalizing them for playing in a tougher conference.  

Again, all of these ideas could not only be beneficial to the league but also bring a new air of excitement.  I believe the NBA has the best product in sports and a little progressive thinking could ensure the future of the game continues to improve in all aspects.

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