Adam Silver has been a harbinger of change for the NBA ever since taking over as the league's commissioner.
He's shown a heavy hand in dealing with character flaws in the ranks of the Association's 30 owners. He's looked into reforming the lottery system, though his proposal for revamping how draft picks are divvied out—and thus for deterring tanking—ultimately didn't receive enough support. Now, he's thinking about upgrading the All-Star selection process, which is in need of an overhaul.
During a Sunday appearance on ESPN Radio, Silver was asked about expanding the All-Star rosters to 13 or 15 players. He did anything but shoot the proposal down, as this transcription from ESPN.com's Marc Stein makes clear:
I think that's something that will get very strong consideration. I think that's an issue that we'll end up discussing with the Players Association. It has a direct impact on many of the player's bonuses. There's preset bonuses in their contracts for making the All-Star team. I think counter-balancing that is the issue of playing time. [NBA executive vice president] Rod Thorn and I were having this discussion yesterday. We said we should move to [Kentucky coach John] Calipari's platoon system for All-Star to make sure that everyone gets [enough] playing time.
In all seriousness, that's one of the concerns with a larger team. We want to make sure guys get minutes as well if they're All-Stars. I'm in favor of expanding it. I'm not sure if it's by one or two [roster spots], but it is something Michele Roberts and I will discuss.
Before sharing that point of view, Silver explained what he would remember most about his first year in the commissioner's office.
It wasn't getting Donald Sterling out of the league in expedited fashion. It wasn't calling the shots at the 2014 NBA draft. Nor did it involve lottery reform or shaking Gregg Popovich's hand after the San Antonio Spurs won another championship.
"That I had to decide between DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Lillard," he revealed. "I didn't like having to make that choice. I wish I had another slot for Damian because I think he's deserving of being an All-Star as well."
That's an understandable—and unfortunate—response. But fortunately, Silver is one of the few men in the world with the power to create that extra spot.
Picking All-Star reserves in the Western Conference this year was close to impossible, even with another berth opening up due to Kobe Bryant's torn rotator cuff. Ultimately, DeMarcus Cousins got the nod, but it had to come at the expense of Damian Lillard, who is, without question, an All-Star. Even though he won't be participating in the main event at Madison Square Garden, he deserves that title.
There weren't as many snubs in the Eastern Conference, though Kyle Korver, Brandon Knight and Nikola Vucevic are likely feeling rather left out. But the point is, the depth of the league and the setup of the rosters demand extra All-Star spots at this point in the NBA's history.
"In 1977, league owners moved to reduce the NBA's roster size to 11 men per team," Grantland's Howie Kahn wrote in 2013. "Bristling at the idea of paying a $60,000 salary to a player who averaged less than four minutes per game, owners, in a league already marred by financial difficulties, argued their collective bargaining agreement permitted the cuts."
That proposal didn't fly. In fact, 35 years later, active rosters were expanded to 13 men, though the All-Star size has remained stagnant at an even dozen. Teams can still carry up to 15 players by making use of the inactive list, and injuries and suspensions can push that number to 16 in temporary fashion.
So why are we stuck at 12 in the All-Star Game? In January 2013, Steve Aschburner broke down why this doesn't make sense for NBA.com, referring back to when the league was in its infancy:
For the past two regular seasons, sparked by the post-lockout scramble in 2011-12, teams have been permitted to carry 13 active players. So let's do the math:
- 17 teams (12 players each) / 24 All-Stars = 1.41 All-Stars per team, with 11.8 percent of the league’s players classified as 'All-Stars.'
- 30 teams (13 players each) / 24 All-Stars = 0.8 All-Stars per team, with 6.2 percent of the league’s players classified as 'All-Stars.'
Clearly, All-Star-ness hasn't been keeping pace with inflation.
None of this is lost on Silver.
He now knows firsthand how hard it can be to deal with snubs. He's experienced the difficulty of filling out that last roster spot in a historically stacked conference, and he's ready to make a change.
Of course, there's no telling how long it will take for such alterations to be approved.
Silver has to navigate the thorniness of the NBA's legal side, as increased All-Star selections mean teams might have to pay some extra contract bonuses. He also has to figure out how to find playing time in a 48-minute game for an extra number of players from each half of the league, as an All-Star can't just sit on the bench for all four quarters.
But at least the man with the power to make a change recognizes that it's time to make one. After all, the first step is always admitting that there's a problem.