To affect real change, NBA owners and players alike will need to make major concessions to improve the product and to realize their aim for a global brand. This is never going to happen, but it is fun to dream.
For this exercise, I took some of the better ideas from two of the best sports leagues in the world—the NFL and the EPL (English Premier League).
Task 1 - Team Mobility
Change No. 1: To correct a wrong, the Seattle Supersonics are the NBA's 31st team. They will be given the Cleveland Browns treatment (thanks NFL) and retain their history. The Oklahoma City Thunder's history will begin with their first season in OKC.
Change No. 2: The Maloof brothers sell the Sacramento Kings to some billionaire and the Kings are relocated to Anaheim. In a related move, the Maloof brothers buy the New Orleans Hornets and move them to Las Vegas.
Change No. 3: Michael Jordan moves the Charlotte Bobcats to Chicago.
That puts four teams back into markets that can support NBA franchises.
Fewer games better or worse for the NBA?
Task 2 - Make the Regular Season Count
Change No. 4: Reduce the regular season from 82 to 60 games. Each team plays a home and away (thanks EPL) series against every other team. (Another benefit from bringing Seattle back.)
Change No. 5: Eliminate conferences. Since every team plays the same schedule, the cream will rise to the top.
Change No. 6: Introduce Relegation (Thanks EPL) for the bottom two teams. This will eliminate tanking. Relegated teams will play in NBA Europe. More on that later.
Task 3 - Make the Playoffs Better
Change No. 7: The top-two seeds get a first-round bye (Thanks NFL). This also makes the end of the regular season more compelling.
Change No. 8: Only 14 out of the 31 teams make the playoffs. Fewer teams means better quality opponents in the playoffs.
Change No. 9: Playoff format
First Round Bye good or bad for NBA
Round 1 - Best of 5 with 2-2-1 format. Game 1, Game 2, Travel, Off, Game 3, Game 4, Travel, Game 5. That means the first round is over in one week. This is a good thing as it builds continuity and increases suspense.
Other Rounds - Best of 7 with 2-2-1-1-1 format. Game 1, Game 2, Travel, Off, Game 3, Game 4, Travel, Game 5, Travel, Game 6, Travel, Game 7. Again, continuity and suspense.
Task 4 - Globalization, NBA Europe and Relegation/Promotion
Change No. 10: Create a 12, 14 or 16-team league in Europe with a salary cap one-third that of the NBA.
Change No. 11: Play under FIBA rules
Change No. 12: The NBA should try and lure the teams from the FIBA Champions League to found NBA Europe. This is good as it makes the club leagues in Europe more competitive (where only the top-three teams typically rotate titles) while introducing the NBA to a number of additional billionaires who run quality organizations.
Change #13: Promote the top-two teams from NBA Europe to the NBA.
Expansion into Europe good or bad
Scheduling would be a challenge, but with two Euro teams it would be a bit easier than with one. Both teams would follow the same script: two weeks in US (six games played over two weeks); two weeks at home (eight games over two weeks). US teams would play both Euros the same week when in Europe.
For US teams relegated to NBA Europe, the same type of schedule could be applied.
Task 5 - The Draft
Change No. 14: The two promoted teams will have the most ping pong balls (say 40%) with the top-seeded Euro team getting the most (say 25%). The remaining 15 teams would have equal odds of getting the top spot (2.3%).
Change No. 15: Add relegated team's players as part of the draft. Since the relegated team would need to cut payroll by two-thirds, they could "post" players. A team could draft a posted player (assuming that they have the necessary cap room). For example, say the Cavaliers are relegated. They would post Anderson Varejao for drafting. If Varejao is drafted, his $7.7 million salary and the rest of his contract go to the drafting team.
Imagine the intrigue in the NBA Draft. The Draft would need to favor the incoming NBA Europe teams, because they would likely need a huge talent influx given the operating differences (20M versus 60M cap). There would definitely be more trading with the ability to acquire some veteran players using the "post" process.
Franchise Tag good or bad
Task 7 - Finances and the Salary Cap
Change No. 16: Salary Cap is 54 percent of league revenue/31 teams. That sounds about right. This is slightly more than what most NBA scribes have discussed, but that is with only 30 NBA teams.
Change No .17: No exceptions. No Larry Bird rule. No sign and trade.
Change No. 18: Franchise tag. Cannot be used two consecutive years. Player will receive the average of the top-three players at his primary position.
Change No. 19: Four-year guaranteed contracts/seven-year max deals. Seven years is needed to make signing bonus part of salary cap.
Change No. 20: Signing bonus calculated on annual contract value basis. Base salary for year + Average Annual Signing Bonus = Cap figure. For example: Kobe signs a seven-year deal with the Lakers with the following salary structure:
Signing bonus - $35 million, average annual value is $5 million. Kobe gets the money today.
Year 1 base - $20 million, Years 2-4 Base $15 million, Years 5-7 Base $5 million.
Total Contract Value: $105 million
Year-by-Year cap figure: Year 1 - $25 million, Years 2-4 - $20 million, Years 5-7 $10 million
This results in the top players getting more money. This is the way it should be. There should be no reason why non-franchise types make franchise money.
That was fun—now back to reality.