Saturday, June 30, 2012

Let's Change the NBA!

To all of you NBA haters out there, I know the season is finally over and you don't want to talk about it until next September. Well, you should probably find something else to read then, cause this is all NBA.

First off, congratulations to the superhuman Lebron James and his Miami Heat on being the 2012 NBA champions, defeating a worn down Oklahoma City Thunder team. Don't be surprised to see these two teams meet in the Finals again soon. I've already called that the Lebron's Heat and Durant's Thunder Finals will be the matchup of the teens, just like Bird's Celtics against Magic's Lakers was in the 80's. Also, as Bill Simmons pointed out in this article, "If you can't appreciate what Lebron James is doing right now, you need to start following a different sport."

Hate the guy or love the guy, you have to respect what he did in the NBA Playoffs this year. Now, let's fix the NBA so we don't have to see what took place this year ever happen again. Let's start off with a little speculation on the league being "fixed."

For those who don't know, the NBA season almost didn't happen this year, because the players locked out. Eventually the sides came to agreement, and fans were given a shortened 66 game season instead of the usual 82. At the beginning of the year the New Orleans Hornets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets had agreed to a three team trade that would send star Chris Paul to the Lakers, while the Lakeshow would send big players to the Rockets. At the time the Hornets didn't have an owner, so David Stern (NBA commissioner acting as owner), vetoed the trade citing "basketball reasons." Roughly translated, I think "basketball reasons" means "I'm sick of the Lakers getting anything good." This was fine by me and many other Laker haters, because it's always fun to see LA get screwed. Even though I mocked my roommate (a well documented huge Lakers fan) for it at the time, I admitted it seemed a bit sketchy. Paul was eventually sent to the LA anyway to play for the little brother Clippers and the combo of him and Blake Griffin propelled the Clips into the playoffs. 

Fast forward to the end of the season, as the league is still trying to find a buyer for the Hornets. The Charlotte Bobcats are finishing up one of the worst seasons in professional sports' history, and the worst season ever in NBA history. Let me put it this way. If I grabbed the best 11 guys that I play basketball with three times a week, and we played the Charlotte Bobcats 66 times, I think we would finish with close to the same record they had (7 wins, 59 losses). The New Orleans Hornets finished the year 21-45. Still not good, but not the worst. You'll see why this matters in a bit. 

The NBA has a lottery system where the worst teams are given lottery balls to see who gets to pick first in the draft. It's an attempt to prevent tanking, but as many of the top ten lottery teams (most notably the Golden State Warriors) proved last season, it's not working. What were the odds of the Bobcats or Hornets winning the lottery? Charlotte - 25%, New Orleans - 14.8% as reported by

This was one of the few years where the top pick was considered a guarantee in Anthony Davis. Well, a couple weeks before the draft, the NBA announced that Tom Benson (owner of the NFL's New Orleans Saints) was going to purchase the Hornets. Then the lottery hit, and guess who won the number one overall pick in the draft? Hint: it was one of the two teams I've mentioned a lot and it wasn't the Bobcats.

When Jim Rome (who is a cancer to the sports world) asked David Stern if the lottery was fixed, Stern lost his mind, screaming at Rome and making it personal. 
Stern, know how to fix this? MAKE THE LOTTERY SELECTION PUBLIC. Don't do it behind closed doors. Do it on national TV, just like the draft. Also, have someone that doesn't have any interest in the league do the selections. If they don't care, they're not going to "fix" anything. 

I also like Bill Simmons idea of giving the best chances of winning the lottery to teams who just barely miss the playoffs. As he says, "What's wrong with keeping good teams good and bad teams bad? You need both." Let's get rid of the problem that mediocre teams stay mediocre while great teams stay great and miserable teams improve.

Next problem? The playoffs.

If the NBA had a playoff beard ritual like the NHL has, and MLB has started, the teams that went to the Finals would look like Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings by the end. THE PLAYOFFS ARE TOO FREAKING LONG. Playoffs should last a month at MOST, not the two months they do in the NBA. Let's make it so instead of 16 of the 30 (you mathematicians have probably figured out that means more than half the league goes to the playoffs), the best twelve teams go, with the top two ranked teams getting a BYE in the second round. Now teams with the best record are rewarded and we won't have situations like the Celtics trying to lose so they don't have to face one team in the first round. 

Next: Flopping

I'll give the NBA credit here. David Stern has tried to stop flopping, going so far as to suggest making it a penalty next year (the same way flagrant's can be upgraded/downgraded after review). It's a huge problem. In my opinion the top five floppers in the league are: 1. Dwyane Wade (I spelled his first name right; look it up) 2. Chris Paul 3. Kobe Bryant 4. Blake Griffin and 5. Paul Pierce. Notice anything there? Chances are, even if someone doesn't follow the NBA, they've heard all of these names before. Wonder why? That leads us to our next problem


It's, um, how do I put this nicely....terrible? Horrible? Worst of any sport that uses officials and is only getting worse? I think that might tell you how I feel about NBA referees. The players mentioned above are huge floppers because they're good players and somehow they've played themselves into a twilight zone type level in refs' heads that means, "If I lost the ball or missed that shot, obviously somebody fouled me because I'm too good to ever mess up." None of this is more evident than watching a Lakers game or the Heat/Thunder Finals. Kobe Bryant has gotten enough calls his way to seriously make people wonder if part of that ridiculous contract the Lakers are paying him isn't going to the NBA Officials Committee. Also, all season we heard if Lebron didn't win this year, he would never be one of the greatest players ever. Officials obviously didn't like that because ANY close call went to the Heat. It got so bad that Game 3 the refs were so bad the other way that it was obvious something was said to them. 

A few tweaks and most of these could be fixed. Why even have a draft lottery? Do what every other sport does and give the worst team the first overall pick. If a team tanks, it tanks. Sucks for the fans but it's part of the game. Do my playoff schedule. Make some rule changes so fouls can be reviewed and waived off if they didn't occur (ahem, Kevin Durant against Lebron in Game 4). Also, if a certain ref makes three bad calls a season, suspend him for a game. 5 bad calls in a season, suspended for a week, 10 in a season suspsend him for the next season, and 12-15 in a two year period, fire him. Fining players for flopping (which is what the NBA is talking about doing) should stop that.

Don't get me wrong. I love the NBA almost as much as I love baseball. I just think we can make it better, and if something can be made better, why isn't anyone trying to do so?