It is an interesting time for the sport of basketball. The Olympics are in full swing, Euro League teams are grabbing decent NBA talent, there are rumors that some EL team may offer Wade, Kobe, or Lebron $50 million to bolt the Association in 2 years, and US nationals are lacing em' up for foreign countries. If you want to get NBA-centric, the league is coming off a year that highlighted the best (KG, top flight play in the WC, young superstars) and worst (gambling, poor refereeing, aloofness of league leadership) of what the world's premier league has to offer. Oh, and the NBA stars are still the most popular players in the world.
Cutting to the chase, basketball is the only other thing in the world outside of soccer that has the opportunity to be a truly massive global sport. While there will always be a sense of pride for us Americans that we invented the damn game, it's time to do what we have done with blue jeans and rock and roll: embrace the global appeal and realize that it's a game that transcends borders and nationality. In short: it's time to rethink the game in terms of international appeal and play. The NBA is not the be-all/end-all of the international game, nor should it be, and if basketball is going to make its next big jump, the NBA is going to have to give a little.
What does 'giving a little' mean fro the Association? Here is what I would do to change the league to improve basketball and make it the soccer-challenging global sport that it deserves to be:
1- Shorten the NBA season: the Boston Celtics played 108 games this year. The NBA season ran from late October to early June. There were times in March and April where I literally wanted to throw my TV through the window while watching a meaningless game between the Wolves and Grizz. There is no damn reason for 82 regular season games. In place of the current regular schedule, I would institute a 52 game schedule: 8 games against each division rival (32), 1 game against every other team in your conference (10), and 1 game against each team in 2 divisions of the rival conference (10). Games would be played on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturday/Sundays (Sundays after football is over). Teams would have 2 2-game homestands against their in-division rivals. These would be on back-to-back nights (or Friday/Sunday after football). The point here is that NBA games would be associated with a specific day and a greater importance would be placed on division play. This would require some realignment. Here is how I would break it down (UPDATED):
This schedule would standardize back-to-backs and off days so no team would get burned by having 11 b2b games (see the Wolves this year) while others get 5 or 6. It would also reduce the number of cross country road trips a team would have to take. Home series within the division would be weekend affairs with games on Friday and Sunday or Friday and Saturday.
2- Tourney Time: Not only is the NBA's season ridiculously long, its playoffs go on forever too. Instead of having 16 teams play in separate 7 game series all the way up to a championship series, the top 16 teams would be divided into 4 round robin pools that would be staged on the courts of the top teams from the top 4 ranked divisions. Ties would be broken in a single game playoff. If 3 are tied, the team with the top record would receive a bye and would then play the winner of the play-in game. If 4 teams are tied, the teams are seeded one through four and there will be a 2 game playoff. The winners of the play-in pools will square off at a neutral site that will be selected on a rotating basis from each division. For instance, year 1 will be Boston, year 2 will be Detroit, year 3 will be Memphis, year 4 will be Seattle, year 6 will be Utah, and year 7 will be Minny...before it rotates back to the City Division. The Finals will be a Final Four tourney and will be held on Friday and Sunday in conjunction with the NCAA's Final Four (which will be held in the same city with games on the same days). This entire process would take 3 weeks and the final four teams would be entered into a true World Championship (more on this later).
3- Clubin' It: I make no bones about it: I hate the f'ing NCAA. The NCAA is one of the most high-and-mighty organizations around; it makes millions of dollars off of student athletes that can't get paid and who can't advance into their profession until they play at least one year for free for an organization that pretends to be about nothing more than student athletics. That being said, there is definitely something to be said about college tradition, campus environments, and...well, the best basketball experience in the Twin Cities is over at the Barn when the Gophers have a good squad on the floor. The problem with the NCAA is that they pretend money and pro ball aren't the engines that drive their supposedly pure product. My solution for this would be to allow each NBA team to adopt up to 2 NCAA squads that would function as something of a club team for the pro squad. The draft would be expanded to include high school players and incoming players would agree to play for up to 3 years at the pro team's school or schools. For instance, the Wolves would select the U of M and Iowa and they would draft a number of high school kids that would be funneled into one of the two programs. The colleges would get a steady stream of top notch talent as well as being able to adopt a system that would bring players up in the type of ball the pro club would play. This would guarantee that there would be between 30-60 college programs with blue chip talent....which is pretty much what they are running now. It would also guarantee more regional allegiance as well as expanding the fan base into the college ranks. A team like the Wolves could draft 4-5 kids from the midwest each year and fans could follow them through their college years and hopefully every now and then one or two of them could make it to the pro squad.
4- Standardize the rules and dimensions: an international game needs standardized rules. A high school court in Mankato should have the same dimensions as an Olympic gym in Beijing. From goal tending to the width of the lane, basketball's rules and dimensions need to be standardized. I find it amazing that a game with its sites on global domination can have different rules and dimensions in different places. The NBA needs to adopt FIBA rules. With the league getting smaller and more athletic, it's not like there are too many Al Jeffersons running around to keep the lane the way it is. Moving the 3 point line in would also help scoring. There is no sense in having different sets of rules and dimensions for different leagues.
5- A true world club championship: this one is simple. After the NBA Final Four, the top teams would participate in a true world club championship with the best teams from the world's best leagues. Right now this probably means the Euro League and Spain. With the shortened schedule (reg season ends in mid-Feb, NBA tourney runs in March and NBA and NCAA Final Fours are held together on the same weekend in April), the World Club Championship could be held in late April/early May.
There are a few other things that I think would work well for the NBA, but these are the five biggies. What say you?