As we stand on the brink of truncating the NBA season thanks to a lockout caused by greedy owners and overpaid players (not all players are overpaid, but some of them definitely are), I figured it might be fun to speculate as to how to create a league that would rival the NBA.
I will admit I got this idea from a Bill Simmons' Column, but as usual his idea for the execution of things leaves much to be desired.
Below the fold you will find the structure for my speculative rival to the NBA.First off, I would definitely create a multi-tiered system with 8 teams per tier and a promotion/relegation system. I would start with 3 different tiers. The three tiers would consist of the following cities: Top tier - Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; Middle tier - Toronto, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, and Seattle; Bottom tier - Pittsburgh, Orlando, New Orleans, Houston, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Portland, and Denver. I would also incorporate a transfer fee system to bolster the economics of the smaller market teams in the event they are not contending for promotion. Promotion/Relegation would occur at the beginning of the fiscal year.
Each team would play a 56 game schedule (8 times against each of the other 7 teams in their tier), with one game every three days so the three tiers could rotate game days. Three separate All-star games (with 10-minute quarters and 10-man rosters) would be held in one location on successive days over the course of President's Day weekend - with the other All-star related exhibitions (Dunk contest, 3-pt shooting competition, etc.) being held as warm-up acts for the All-star games themselves. Playoffs would consist of three rounds of 7-game series with home court advantage being determined by regular season record. Winning teams match each other in successive rounds for the championship and Promotion. Losing teams match each other in successive rounds to determine which team gets Relegated. (This scheduling would give each team a minimum of roughly 95 days off between the end of the playoffs and the start of the next season)
I would expand rosters to include 20 players on each team.
Drafting initial rosters would occur with a snaking draft of 5 players for each of the top tier teams, with the middle tier teams repeating the process next, followed by the bottom tier teams. After each team has 5 players, the draft continues with all 24 teams in each of the next 8 rounds. The top tier get the top 8 spots in each round with the selection order amongst the eight teams rotating so that every team gets to pick first once. The middle tier will follow the same rotation with spots 9-16 in each round, and the bottom tier will do the same with picks 17-24 in each round. The remaining 7 roster spots of each team will be filled via free agency.
When it comes time to draft incoming players, the draft order in each round will have the bottom tier teams selecting 1-8, the middle tier teams selecting 9-16, and the top tier teams selecting 17-24. The incoming player draft would be held at the end of the fiscal year thereby ensuring the teams being promoted get a higher selection than the teams they are replacing in their new tiers. This system should ensure that the bottom tier teams have an opportunity to get the best incoming talent every year and thereby give them increased opportunity to compete at the next tier once they achieve promotion, or at least give them players to sell to the higher tier teams if they are intent on remaining a farm system. Furthermore it would give those teams a means of selling tickets to fans that otherwise might not be interested in watching basketball games that are "less than the highest level" of the game.
Draft order within a tier would be determined based on the playoffs. The 4 teams in each tier that lose in the first round of the playoffs will draft before the teams that won in the first round of the playoffs. Of the teams that lose in the first round of the playoffs, the team with the highest winning percentage in the playoffs drafts first and the team with the lowest winning percentage in the playoffs drafts last - the first tiebreaker will be head-to-head record from the regular season; the second tiebreaker will be away record from the regular season, followed by a coin flip. Of the teams that win in the first round of the playoffs, the team with the lowest winning percentage in the playoffs drafts first and the team with the highest winning percentage in the playoffs drafts last - with the same tiebreakers as above. Note: this can result in the Relegated team drafting before every other team that lost in the first round, and it can result in the Promoted team drafting before every other team that won in the first round.
I would also extend games to four 20-minute quarters. This way a team's depth will play a large factor in determining the outcome of each game - additionally, with several roster spots available on each team for "project" players the extended playing time will provide more in-game minutes to develop them. Each team would get 6 timeouts per half. Each timeout is limited to 30 seconds. The clock continues to run during a timeout except in the final minute of each quarter and the final 5 minutes of the fourth quarter - given the seven second delay on all "live" broadcasts (thank you Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson) this will allow broadcasters to air a 30 second commercial during every timeout. By placing ads on the court and on the jerseys of players, while providing a slice of those ad revenues to broadcasters, television timeouts can be eliminated from the game altogether. This will help prevent the extended playing time from resulting in games that last more than 3 hours.
As far as alterations to the rules of game play, I would only make a few minor changes. A 16-second shot clock would be used to encourage fast play. Offensive 3-seconds and defensive 3-seconds would be eliminated to still allow skilled-but-slow big men to impact the game. And the rules regarding the fight for positioning near the basket would be relaxed slightly to help prevent abuse of the removal of the 3-seconds violations. All other fouls would remain the same as the NBA. Players will have no foul limit; however, for fouls 4-6 the opposing player is awarded one additional free throw, for fouls 7-9 two additional free throws are awarded, for fouls 10-12 three additional free throws are awarded, etc.... If a foul would not normally result in free throws (under the old NBA rules), but does because of the new personal foul rule, then the team gets the ball back out of bounds after shooting the awarded free throw(s).
Each tier would have its own hard salary cap. Extensive revenue sharing would occur on a tier-by-tier basis so the playing field on each level would be roughly equal. The transfer fee system would act as a sort of revenue sharing between the tiers in order to keep the lower tiers producing high quality players for the upper tiers. The top tier would have the highest salary cap, the bottom tier would have the lowest, and the middle tier would fall evenly between the other two. When a team gets Relegated it is not required to meet the reduced salary cap in the first year at the lower tier, but it cannot exceed its salary from the previous year and it must be under the reduced salary cap by opening night of its second season - with the loss of draft picks as the penalty for failing to get under the cap.
Players could still be traded. But transfer fees could be used to help grease the wheels of a trade more so than the NBA's $3M cash transfer limit does, and the fees could be paid instead of giving away players.
There are still details that would need to be considered, but that would basically be how I would structure a league to rival the NBA.