Yes the NBA is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut. It is not the NFL, which dwarfs all sporting business models and is a ratings behemoth.....it does not have the regional networks which enrich baseball, nor baseball's historic tug at the heartstrings as our national past-time. Hockey may deserve a mention, individual tournaments in Golf and Tennis capture the public's attention, but the big three have been and will remain into the near future all that matters to the American public.
But despite the billions of dollars and apparent upswing in public interest, the NBA is not as healthy as it once was. Three major issues are, or will, affect the league in the long and short term, and here are the remedies for those issues:
1. The PLAYOFFS: Playoff format should be changed.
Many of the twenty-something no-nothings on talk radio are heard calling for an end to conferences and divisions and just have the top-16 records play in the playoffs. Laughably, they seem to not recognize how divisional races keep fan interest well past the all-star break. Eliminate conferences and divisions, and you will have MORE fan apathy as the pampered, selfish athletes and teams jockeying for draft status tank their season. The divisional race can allow for teams not equal in record compete for a playoff spot just by competing for their division title. To eliminate that hope is an unworkable and ludicrous suggestion.
Having said that, there is an idea that might work: eliminate teams that have losing records, and allow teams that finish above .500 from the other conference to take those teams place in the playoff bracket. They would accept the lower seed and not be allowed home court advantage, but it would increase the team's effort to get a better record, win games, and increase the chances teams have to get a playoff spot.
This can work, if joined with the following:
2. The DRAFT: the best "worst" record gets the top seed in the draft.
No more lottery, implement this rule and no one will be tanking, and EVERYONE will be playing meaningful games into the last weekend of the season. If Miami finished 41-41, Detroit 37-45, and Denver 40-42, how much better that those teams are fighting for the final draft spot all the way to the last game? Fans would be motivated to go to games that would have meaning towards next year. It may not be the best for Phoenix or Philadelphia, the dregs of the NBA, but who knows? Management may make moves in the middle of the season which could improve their record and their chances towards the final weekend. Bottom line - the lottery doesn't help fix the bottom of the league, and many franchises and their fan bases pack it in at the all-star break.
3. The SCHEDULE and RESTING Players.
This issue goes to the very heart of why, no matter how many championships he wins, LeBron will NEVER eclipse Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all time. Take this quiz: which former Hall of Famer asked for or was given games off to rest? Michael Jordan? Larry Bird? Bill Russell? Magic Johnson? Kareem? Wilt? None of the Above? If you picked any answer other than "none of the above" you are under age 30 and/or a moron. No one making $10-30 million should ever take a day off.....ever. At least, a man wouldn't. Accepting the fact that today's athlete is a wuss and spoiled rotten grown child, lets see how we can improve the product under those limitations. Lets also stipulate that the NBA will never do the right thing and shorten the season. With those in mind, the answer can only be some compromise by the league - extend the season by a week to 10 days, and eliminate cross country back-to-back's. You still will have the wusses taking days off on occasion - but with draft status tied to record, more playoff opportunities, and a schedule compromise, you will hope they would actually play.
There are other issues of equal importance - one and done is a joke. The NBA should go with football's two year rule, or better yet, baseball lets a player come out immediately. But if you commit to college, you have to stay 3 years. The league has the money to expand their minor league which can help. But for this writer, the quality of play will be fixed if the scheduling issues, and the out-of-playoff game performance is improved. These simple steps will take us in the direction of accomplishing those objectives.