The coolest thing about becoming commissioner, at first anyway, is getting your name on the basketball. The Adam Silver balls began bouncing two days ago when his ascension became official. And now, in his first week on the job, Silver is ready to get the ball moving.
There's no tremendous rush to create change; David Stern left the game in great shape. There's no expiring labor contract or pressing issue that demands immediate action. The transition from Stern to Silver couldn't have gone any smoother, and besides, Silver was the deputy commissioner for almost seven years. Easy process.
But eventually the game will require his touch. Over the next five years Silver will meet several challenges, none bigger than the TV contracts, and look to improve the quality of the game. That should be the goal: Quality over expansion. The NBA already has an identity globally, thanks to Stern's efforts. Silver's era needs to be about polishing the product and making it more satisfying to fans, especially those who find the game less enjoyable than ever and began to tune out in the post-Jordan era.
Silver should ask himself hard questions: Are the players better? Are there more healthy teams than fading teams and if not, what can be done to discourage teams from intentionally losing games to improve their chances in the draft? What about the way the game is officiated and potential rule changes? These issues and others should be the immediate focus of Silver's administration.
And so, here are 10 items that should be on Silver's checklist before the calendar flips to 2020:
1. Eliminate preseason games and therefore, back-to-backs.
The game has become a grind and an injury risk. There's no hard data to support this theory, but the general impression is players are more susceptible to injury than ever in the game's history. Just look at the rash of ACL injuries, which has become the NBA's concussion. Scores of players -- especially great players -- are falling like Steph Curry jump-shots. This has impacted the game for the worse and is showing no signs of easing up. The number of injured players could create an All-Star roster or a team that would win the NBA Finals.
There's no direct link to these types of injuries and the amount of games played … but isn't it time to lighten the load, just in case? Since Silver and the owners would faint at the prospect of reducing the 82-game schedule, they can at least breathe more space into the schedule by eliminating the exhibition season. This would allow the league to spread out the 82 games a bit more (assuming the season would begin in early- or mid-October) and significantly reduce if not eliminate back-to-back games. The preseason is a complete waste because team rosters are virtually set when training camp opens. Meanwhile, Gregg Popovich and other coaches are resting key players during heavy stretches of the schedule and shortchanging fans who want to see Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade.
So drop the games played in places like Kalamazoo and other meaningless October contests where the starters play only the first 10 minutes. After one week of camp, make the games count, breathe space into the schedule and see if that reduces injuries.
2. Be generously sympathetic to Seattle.
Silver shouldn't treat Milwaukee the way Stern treated Sacramento if there's no tremendous public support for a new arena in Milwaukee. Meaning, he should give the Bucks every reason to stay in Milwaukee, but if nothing can be worked out, send a limo for them to move to Seattle provided Bucks owner Herb Kohl is open to that idea.
The NBA should (and probably does) have guilt over the Sonics moving to OKC and this would allow the league to correct a wrong. Also, the Microsoft money that would buy the Bucks would feel good inside the owners' pockets. And finally, Seattle, which supported the Sonics very well, would be a great place to hold All-Star Weekend.
3. Just say no to overseas expansion.
It's stunning as to why Silver would even explore the idea of putting a team in London or Paris. In addition to being a logistical nightmare, there simply isn't a reason to expand from 30 teams. Isn't the game watered down enough?
London is hardly a basketball hotbed anyway, and both European markets can be pacified with the occasional regular season game between two current NBA teams. The league is already international. Let's confine that definition to Canada for now.
4. Clean up the game by enforcing dribble and traveling violations.
Sometime around the 1980s the NBA allowed a disease to seep into the game: traveling and palming the ball. Referees began to swallow their whistle and the league office did nothing. Actually, the league encouraged more freedom for players with the ball in a misguided attempt to increase scoring (blame the Pat Riley Knicks for this). When Allen Iverson began to blatantly palm the ball, the league threatened to crack down on the epidemic, but that lasted about two weeks and palming was rarely if ever called late in fourth quarters. Refs were too scared to decide a game when there was an obvious violation. They turned gutless.
Players who get away with palming -- disguised as a crossover or hesitation dribble -- gain an unfair advantage on the defender. And fans are turned off. Same goes for traveling, particularly the dreaded "hop-step" which involves a generous leap into the lane, followed by a half-step, followed by a shot or a pass. Wouldn't the refs blow the whistle if the player executed that same move at midcourt? Then why the double-standard?
By enforcing the rules, the league would send a message to college and high school players and force them to learn the basic fundamentals, which is largely missing at all levels of the game.
5. Impose a two-year-beyond-high-school age limit.
This wouldn't ban college players from making a living. Remember, an 18-year-old can go overseas if he wants to get paid right out of high school, though the financial welfare of high school graduates isn't the NBA's concern.
The league is about keeping the quality of the game and giving its teams the best possible way to scout 20-year-olds before making a huge investment. The longer a kid delays his entry into the NBA, the better for the league (but not necessarily the kid and his family.) Yes, there are exceptions; Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and a few others turned out well. But the league has everything to gain by going to a two-year limit.
6. Be bold in the next TV deal.
Silver will preside over the next TV deal and it's expected to be a whopper. The current deal pays just less than $1 billion and, with the advancement of technology and the web, the next one could push toward $2 billion. But the NBA should refuse to make so many concessions. For example, the championship games should never start later than 8 p.m. ET.
Also, the league should keep the game on just two networks, not three like the NFL.
7. Eliminate divisions.
They really serve no purpose. Who cares who wins the Southeast? Or the Northwest? Do any teams hang banners for that? Just list the teams by conference and the top four finishers in each should get the home-court advantage in the playoffs.
8. Allow only one timeout for each team in final minute of regulation and OT.
Silver needs to know the game slows to a crawl in the final few minutes. That's OK and probably even understandable on the college level, where coaches control the game and players are still learning how to execute in those situations and therefore need guidance.
But why do NBA players, who've played since they learned how to walk, who've seen every imaginable situation, need two and three timeouts in the final 30 seconds to go over a play (which is usually an isolation play anyway)? Take the game away from the coaches and force players to react for themselves. Rather than rush the ball upcourt and call a timeout, players need to be forced to run a play in the final seconds and become creative and show some improvisational instincts. It would lead to some exciting finishes.
9. Don't rush advertising on uniforms.
We know this is coming eventually. It's the last big financial resource waiting to be tapped, a grab-bag that would cause owners' wallets to swell. But before we get to the Home Depot Hawks, Budweiser Bucks and Chase Knicks, seek alternative sources and exhaust them all. Teams should belong to cities, not corporations.
10. Create guidelines for voters of year-end awards.
This isn't such a big deal but it would streamline the process a bit. Ballots are handed out with a blank set of rules and every voter determines his or her own definition of what constitutes an MVP or coach of the year. Well, this can be fixed to with guidelines. For example: If a player whose team is crummy isn't allowed to be considered for MVP, then state it. Or if he is eligible, then state that. Too many voters bring their own biases and agendas to the decision-making.