NBA commissioner David Stern announced a while back that he'll step down in 2014. Stern's been the commissioner since the 80s, and in that time has guided the NBA from a cult sport that lacked much in the way of widespread popularity to a multi-billion dollar phenomenon featuring dozens of legitimate household names.
Saying that Stern has his share of detractors is like saying the Pope has his share of followers, but you can't argue with his results. Professional basketball went from bust to boom during his run at the top, so he must have been doing something right.
That said, there are quite a few things that could be done to improve the NBA and in turn the fan experience associated with it. As part of SB Nation's theme day, and since whoever would be responsible for hiring a new commissioner (The owners? The players union? World Wide Wes?) surely reads Bullets Forever, I decided to put together a few changes that I would make if I got the job.
Revamp All-Star weekend The All-Star game and it's associated contests is one of the best parts of the NBA. The fan response bears this out, as the game itself as well as the dunk contest consistently crush it in the ratings and in terms of blogosphere traffic. And it could be even better.
One of the most discussed topics among fans is the great "Who would win in a game of one on one?" debate. The All-Star break could give us a chance to find out. A one-on-one tournament, in which each team chose a representative, would be incredible to watch. And, as with the dunk contest, it'd be the commissioner's job to prod any big-name hold outs to participate. Is there a fan alive who wouldn't have at least a passing interest in seeing Kevin Durant play LeBron James to 21? Or how about John Wall going one-on-one with Derrick Rose? As an added bonus, this would give fans of bad teams a reason to watch, since they otherwise wouldn't be able to see any of their local players participate in All-Star Weekend.
The dunk contest needs to regain some of its prestige. The most memorable dunk contests of all time appear to be the ones with Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Dr. J, and Dwight Howard. What do they have in common? Star power, a quality that recent contests have more or less lacked. No offense to Fred Jones and Harold Miner, but no one really cares about their (winning) performances any more. Similarly, it's hard to talk a bunch of casual fans into come over for a viewing party in order to see what someone like Terrence Ross or Jeremy Evans can do. The dunk contest needs the legitimacy that star power brings if it's going to be a true success. If I was the commissioner, I'd attempt to personally recruit at least one or two big names such as Russell Westbrook or LeBron to participate each year.
Change the way players are paid The new CBA, with its shorter deals and more serious penalties for luxury tax payers, should do a decent job of cutting down on the number of mind-numbingly bad deals teams are able to give out. I'd go one step farther and change the very nature of how players make their money, though, and both the owners and the players might be into it.
There's nothing that currently prevents teams from including performance-based incentives into players' contracts, but they're still not widespread. Players justifiably want guaranteed money, since all it takes is one tweaked knee to go from being one of the most well-paid, recognizable faces on the planet to suiting up for the Shanghai Sharks. If I were the commissioner, I'd change the current CBA rules a bit so that players can earn even more money than they're guaranteed if they hit certain predetermined statistical milestones ... and none of that extra money would count towards luxury tax calculations.
Meanwhile, if they fail to reach a statistical floor -- say, playing more than 1,500 minutes in a season -- a portion of their salary wouldn't count against the salary cap, giving teams with bad deals on their hands more freedom to sign replacement players. For example, John Wall would be able to make, say, an extra two million dollars each season if he makes the All-NBA team, and this money wouldn't count against Washington's salary cap. At the same time, if he were to suffer an injury be unable to play at a high level, Washington would gain an extra two million dollars in cap space.
Keep the number of teams the same Interest in a franchise can come and go. The Charlotte Hornets were one of the most popular sports franchises on the planet in the 1990s. After a few unsuccessful rebuilding efforts, though, fan interest dwindled to the point that the team had to be moved. Sure, no one seems to have been a Kings or Bobcats fan at any point in the last eight or nine years, but that will change if they can catch lightning in a bottle and put together a dynamic team built around a marketable superstar. Before Michael Jordan came to town, the Bulls were only drawing an average of 6,365 fans to each game. One franchise-altering superstar later, attendance had almost doubled and the Bulls were one of the NBA's hottest tickets.
Unless the owners of a team want to take an enormous financial hit, pack it in and eliminate the franchise, it's not worth it pull the rug out from under anyone. Besides, where do you draw the line when it comes to whether or not a franchise is popular? Considering how rarely the Wizards have been able to crack the 25 win barrier in the last few
decades seasons, any kind of movement to shrink the league could end up a disaster for D.C. sports fans.
Make it easier for players to come and go from Europe Team's appear hesitant to use the D-League, and it's easy to see why. It carries a stigma as a place where guys who aren't good enough for the NBA go, which can hurt the pride of youngsters who are sent down to it. At the same time, since it's largely made up of youngsters and projects, the talent level and structure of the game doesn't even come close to what players would see in the NBA.
That's where the commissioner would come in. Teams should have the option of allowing players to play in the Euroleague and come back to the States at a time agreed upon between each player's Euroleague and NBA team. Someone like Jan Vesely could then go back to Europe for a tournament, get experience playing in a highly structured environment with veteran teammates, and in theory return to Washington a much better player than he'd have been if he'd been relegated to the D-League.
What would you do if you were named NBA commissioner for a day?
More from Bullets Forever:
- 2013-14 Washington Wizards schedule unveiled, team opens vs. Pistons on Oct. 30
- Analyzing the 2013-14 Washington Wizards schedule: A brutal November, a soft finish
- Bullets Forever's Summer Skill checklist: Emeka Okafor
- NBA free agency 2013: What's still out there for the Wizards?
- John Wall, Ted Leonsis, the Wizards and strategies to woo free agents