10 Reasons David Stern Should Be Terrified About the NBA's Future
On the one hand, the NBA looks like it could be in for a Golden Age. There's young stars, emerging teams and the Miami Heat—love them or hate them—bolstering the NBA. On the other hand, people thought the housing market was doing great about five or six years ago.
Bubbles pop and it's possible we're in an "NBA Bubble" right now. Things could be about to blow up all over David Stern, and the next half-decade could be a bad one for the league.
That's not a guarantee. Any reputable manager, though, is going to look and see disaster around every corner. That's the way to stay successful.
So with that, here are 10 things that are keeping David Stern up at night, as he worries about what could go wrong in the near future.
10. The “Bird Rights” Challenge
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Now, the NBA players' association is challenging the fact that players like Jeremy Lin have lost their “Bird rights” when they are waived. They argue that players don’t lose those rights and that teams can re-sign them without regard to the salary cap.
It’s doubtful the players' association will win, as there’s a specific clause in the agreement that stipulates which players lose their Bird rights when claimed off of waivers. The association is using a “spirit of the law” versus the “letter of the law” kind of logic, which might be fine if the language in the agreement were vague.
Their argument is that the Bird rights exist to prevent players form being forced to change teams against their will. They contend that being claimed off of waivers is effectively the same as being traded, because that’s what happens.
That’s all very well and good, but that’s something that should have been discussed in the labor negotiations—not now. If the language isn’t vague—and the NBA argues that it’s specifically mentioned (a claim which the NBAPA doesn’t counter)—this isn’t really a matter of “spirit of the law.” It’s a matter of the "letter of the law."
After all we went through, it’s going to get very frustrating to the fans to revisit the agreement and have new appeals and lawsuits brought every time a player feels he got the short straw. This challenge portends to more challenges to come, and it’s bad news for the NBA.
9. The Lack of a Young Championship Star
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Right now, there is not one player under 30 who has led his team to a championship.
These are the kinds of players who can carry a league. Whether it’s Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, the champion player is how the league has been marketed for 30 years.
At present, there are few players who could even potentially live up to that role.
What isn’t is that none of them have done it yet. Not one player under 30 years of age has led his team to a title.
The NBA needs its poster boy, but no one has stepped up yet. The NBA without a poster boy is like a chocolate chip cookie without chocolate chips. For a bright future, the NBA needs a young star to win a ring.
8. The Injury to Derrick Rose
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Derrick Rose’s Injury was one of the most catastrophic things that could have happened to the Bulls. Rose isn't just a star, he is a league MVP. He is a player who had Chicago believing in championships again.
Now he’s eight to 12 months from being back on the court at all, and even when he comes back, there’s no guarantee he’ll be the kind of player he was before.
The icing on the cake is that next year he starts on a max contract. That means the Bulls have a ton of money tied up into him as well.
They’ll be restrained by the salary cap for the next several years, and if he doesn’t return to the same level of play, it could be a half decade before the Bulls are able to compete for a title again.
That would be miserable for the league as a whole, as Chicago is the third largest television market.
7. The Failure of the Knicks
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That the Knicks take consolation in the fact they won a postseason game shows just how far they came short of preseason expectations. Many predicted they would be the second best team in the East. Many thought they could take the Heat to six or seven games.
Instead, they finished with the Eastern Conference’s seventh best record and got their doors blown off in the playoffs. It wasn’t even competitive.
The Knicks will be expected to do better next year. There will be talk of how Carmelo Anthony and Mike Woodson are gelling. There will be talk about Jeremy Lin coming back. All of that might mean the Knicks are going to be better.
Or, it might not.
There’s only so many times you can spruce up the same old lady in brand new clothes though. Sooner or later people stop paying attention to the clothes and start noticing the lady is just old.
If the Knicks don’t go deep in the postseason next year, it’s going to be time to start acknowledging that a championship for the Knickerbockers may not be getting any closer than it was in the Ewing years.
It is good for the league to have the nation's megatropolis engaged in the postseason.
6. The Decline of the Celtics
The Celtics were once the most dominant team in the NBA. For decades they thrived. Then they failed to reach the finals for 21 years, and the Celtics became a franchise that “used to be” great.
In 2008, they returned to prominence when they acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to complement Paul Pierce. The team quickly gelled as the trio won a championship their first year together, taking out the Lakers.
They made it back to the finals two years later but lost in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers. The renewal of one of the greatest and most historic rivalries in the game was great for the NBA and great for ratings.
Now, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are getting older and in the final years of their contracts. The Celtics may be playing in the final year of their big three being together. Certainly they have limited time left.
While the Celtics have plenty of cap space to use, it’s not that easy to simply assemble a team that wins a title.
The Celtics could be looking at another long, dark period and that would take another of the major market teams out of the championship picture for years to come.
5. The Decline of the Lakers
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I can see the comments flying already, but understand, I’m not a hater. I’m a realist.
Kobe Bryant is getting old. Pau Gasol isn’t young. Yes, Andrew Bynum took a major step forward this year, but as a team, they probably aren’t going to get out of the second round.
It’s not likely they’ll get any better next year either. Two years in a row of not getting out of the second round and getting older doesn't bode well for them. That’s the equivalent of the Chicago Cubs going a hundred years without getting to the World Series in Lakers lore.
The Lakers are far and away the most popular team in the NBA, and where they go, the ratings go. A prolonged absence from the championship picture by the Lakers would be a hard blow for the NBA to take.
With the full salary cap effectively owed to Bryant, Gasol and Bynum, significant roster moves will be difficult.
The longest the Lakers have ever gone without making it to the Finals is nine years. It’s possible that they won’t be back for that long again.
If they aren’t, that would leave the four highest valued teams—the Lakers, the Knicks, the Bulls and the Celtics—potentially out of the finals for five years or more. The longest the NBA has gone without one of those teams in the finals is three years, and that’s only happened twice.
Small markets are great for competitive balance, but large markets drive the ratings. The NBA needs the large market teams to succeed in order for the league to succeed. The possibility of them failing has to be disconcerting to David Stern.
4. The Integrity of Billy Hunter
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There are serious allegations being levied against Billy Hunter as reported by Yahoo! Sports, Adrian Wojnarowski and Rand Getlin.
Essentially, the charges come down to the notion that Hunter used his position to steer about $7-9 million in NBA players' association money into the bank, which employed his son on the board of directors. The bank was also trouble, having had cease-and-desist orders slapped on them by both state and federal regulators.
Then his daughter, through Howrey LLP, conducted the “independent” audit of her father and brother.
With the NBA just barely getting the season off to a start this year, the last thing the NBA needs is to have turmoil in the players’ association. While the direct impact has missed the NBA, the ripple effects could be huge if the NBAPA is in turmoil.
3. The Flopping Epidemic
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Perhaps the most unwatchable part of the game today is the persistent flopping going on. It’s become an epidemic, and it’s ridiculous. There’s nothing like seeing Steve Nash toss Blake Griffin across the court like a rag doll to make you realize that flopping has gotten to the point of insanity.
I’m fully expecting that at some point during the present series between the Spurs and Clippers, Blake Griffin and Manu Ginobili will simultaneously hit an invisible wall between them, and both will go flailing backwards so violently we’ll be worried about whether they have whiplash.
The more this sort of thing is ignored, the more it’s encouraged.
Players are constantly rewarded for flopping, i.e. lying. The more they are rewarded, the more they are encouraged to do so. In the meantime, honest players are discouraged because officials are now assuming a certain degree of flopping on every call.
Therefore, a player who fights through contact can actually be fouled harder than a player who merely flopped and not get the call while the flopper does get the call. It ruins the aesthetics of the game, and if Stern doesn’t do something about it, fans might stop tuning in.
2. Inconsistent Officiating
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A huge concern in the game right now is the consistency in the officiating. Today's officials are about as consistent as an octogenarian with IBS on a high fiber diet.
Last year, the NBA started to “crack down” on players who were excessively demonstrative towards officials or towards one another.
Part of the joy of watching the game is watching the players invested in what they’re doing. I like seeing emotion. Admittedly, there’s a point where they go too far, but for some, the line is being drawn closer and closer to the point of an expectation of mechanical behavior by the officials.
Ironically, this is borne out of the notion that it’s bad for ratings to see players spend the entire game griping to the officials about this call and that call. That is true, too.
The problem isn't so much about whether any one thing should be called a technical, it's the lack of consistency in what is called a technical.
Officials are inconsistent in how they make these calls and it can be frustrating both to players and to fans. One player can get called for a technical for blinking too hard and then another yells at an official for five minutes without a protest.
The same inconsistency exists with personal fouls.
They can call a play a block on one end of the court and seemingly the exact same play on the other end of the court is a charge.
Fans need to feel that officials are consistent and that no players or teams are getting preferential treatment. No sport has more judgment involved in calls or officials who can do more to determine the outcome of a game.
Officials can affect the outcome of a game if they are inconsistent, and when they are, it’s easy for fans to think they are trying to do just that, especially because it’s happened before.
David Stern worries way too much about the official getting criticized publicly by players or coaches and way too little about whether they should be. The appearance of impropriety shouldn't be a greater concern than actual impropriety.
1. The Rise of the Small Market Teams
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Consider some of the teams that are in the postseason still. You have San Antonio, (the 37th largest TV market); Oklahoma City, (45th) and Indiana (25th). Sure you still have the two Los Angeles teams, Boston, Philadelphia and the national draw, Miami, but even that's a cause for concern.
While Miami is a national draw, each year the “Big Three” novelty will wear off a little more, particularly if they aren’t winning. Miami has only the 16th largest market.
Then, there’s also the fact that the Clippers are a distant second team in Los Angeles. If the Lakers get bounced, a sizable chunk of that area is going to lose interest.
There’s a reason that the ratings are down this year.
With the Memphis Grizzlies on the rise as well and the large market teams previously mentioned having their own set of struggles, we could be looking at a two- or three-year run with small-market teams ruling the NBA’s roost.
That’s great for competitive balance, but horrible for the NBA's ratings.