These are interesting times for the NBA. The Finals, which continue this week with games Wednesday and Friday, have proven far more compelling than many predicted at the start of the season. At that time there were lots of folks maintaining it was unfair the Golden State Warriors had added DeMarcus Cousins to their roster. They were a sure thing to waltz to their third straight title and fourth in five years was the party line. With Lebron James headed west, the only question regarding the season was which team would win the Eastern Conference.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the Finals. Yes, the Warriors did reach the Finals for a fifth straight season. That’s the first time that’s happened since the ‘60s, when the Celtics during Bill Russell’s incredible career made it 10 straight times. But Cousins had periods of productivity and periodic absences due to injury. The Warriors had a good season, but finished behind both the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors. The Raptors fell behind the Bucks 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, but roared back to beat them four straight times, ensuring that the NBA Finals would open outside the USA for the first time.
Now, with the Series tied at 1-1 and the Warriors far from a sure thing to repeat, it would seem the Finals would dominate all NBA conversation.
But still, where there are various Finals story lines percolating, from Drake’s sideline behavior to the Raptors’ defensive strategy at the end of Game 3, there’s also lots of talk about other things. Perhaps the most interesting discussions are revolving around Commissioner Nate Silver’s ideas for making some changes in the season, most notably introducing some sort of midseason tournament.
The ratings for this year’s regular season were a bit down from the four-year high achieved last season. The playoff ratings hsve dropped 10 percent, a dip many attribute to the absence of James from postseason competition. But Silver seems more concerned with spicing up the regular season. He’s talking about an in-season tournament to replace the All-Star game. It would occur during that same weekend, and no doubt include some monetary bonus.
Silver acknowledges that the impact of European soccer, which offers four chances for its top teams to win some title over the course of the season, is the inspiration. “It’s incumbent on me to constantly be looking at other organizations and seeing what it is we can do better and learn from them,” he told the New York Times. “In the case of European soccer, I think there is something we can learn from them.”
Silver acknowledges that any changes of this type must be negotiated with the players, and he says the logistics of this tournament are “in the conceptual stage.” He also admits a lot of traditionalists in the fan base will dismiss anything except a title at the end of the playoffs, and he’s also not sure how serious players would take it.
Personally, I think a reduction of the regular season is a far better idea, but Silver said the league “does not want to change the length of the season.” He feels instead that perhaps breaking it up into two half seasons, with this still-to-be-named tournament played during the break, could refresh things. Considering how little interest there currently is in the All-Star Game, he could be right. Most of the interest during All-Star weekend revolves around the various outside contests like the three-point and slam dunk competitions. Even the futures and celebrity games get more attention than the All-Star Game.
Still, it’s going to be a tough sell to convince players they should strive to win a midseason tournament, or that whatever it’s called can somehow be as important as an NBA title.