The 82-game NBA season is long, tiresome and full of lulls in which enthusiasm lags, players take a night or two off or the competition just isn’t up to par. With so many games spread out over roughly six months, it’s easy for non-die-hards to lose interest.
Whenever the NBA releases its schedule, fans usually check out the marquee teams chosen to play opening night or Christmas Day, then scramble to find Finals rematches and circle dates when a player returns to face a former team. The other games are lost in the shuffle. It’s time to change that. Here are some suggestions to provide intrigue and excitement throughout the course of the season. And yes, that includes the end of the year when some teams start resting players for the playoffs or the next season.
Why should the 16 playoff teams have all the fun? The NBA postseason is unrivaled in prolonged excitement, but in the three-day respite before the start of the playoffs, the league could add a mini-tournament to help reform the current lottery system to determine the No. 1 overall pick.
At the end of the season, the two teams with the worst records in each conference would participate in a two-day tournament for the right to make the top selection in June. Seeds and home court would be based on record (coin flips for any ties), with the team with the worst mark facing the team with the fourth worst and the other two playing in another bracket. The winners then would play to determine who picks first, while the losers battle for the third and fourth picks. The other 10 teams would enter a lottery with the same odds to finish with the fifth pick.
During the last NBA lockout, the term “competitive balance” became the catchphrase used by the league to address a perceived — but not necessarily substantiated — disparity between big-market teams and small-market teams. One way to give lousy teams a better chance of improving the following season is to adopt an NFL-like schedule in which successful teams have to play better teams and bad teams play worse teams more often.
The league wouldn’t have to change the allotment of games too much. Each team will continue to play two games against the 15 teams in the opposing conference. The difference will be how the other 52 games are allotted. Right now, teams play every division opponent four times, four other games against six teams out of the division and three games against the four remaining conference teams that are determined through a five-year rotation. Under the new plan, the five-year rotation for those last 12 games would be tossed aside to focus more on strength of schedule, giving more teams a chance to compete.
The week-long all-star break is a great way to give players — and all-star participants, in particular — a chance to rest and recuperate during the season. But the NBA should take the next step by reducing the number of back-to-back games.
Playing on consecutive nights is the ultimate test, both physically and mentally, but it sometimes creates a competitive disadvantage — especially in situations when teams play four games in five nights or other wild combinations. Sure, a lot is determined by court availability and network television demands, but limiting back-to-backs could prevent wear and tear and better preserve players for playoff time.
Rivalries, of course, cannot be manufactured. They are usually formed on the court with competitive battles, mostly in the playoffs and/or captivating individual duels. But the NBA could do itself a favor by promoting more home-and-home series featuring consecutive games against the same team in the regular season.
The NBA already has some home-and-home series drawn up, but these games would occur at least once a month and would be marketed and sold as a home-and-home set. And the matchups could rotate as new rivalries develop or existing ones evolve. You could have Washington-Philadelphia, Miami-Orlando, Sacramento-Golden State, San Antonio-Houston, Oklahoma City-Dallas or even Milwaukee-Minnesota (which could be really fun if Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins get to square off in a two-game series that’s given the appropriate fanfare).
Every player who has laced them up and made it to the NBA spent some time playing basketball outside, but with millions at stake, the blacktop isn’t an option to risk playing a sanctioned game. But the league still could generate a few thrills by playing an annual outdoor game. Since the season runs through the fall and winter, the weather wouldn’t cooperate in a city such as Toronto, so the NBA could rotate the games and have them played in the retractable football stadiums in relatively warm weather cities like Houston, Phoenix and Dallas.
Preferably the game would be played after the All-Star Game, when the weather starts to improve, or early in the season, before the extreme cold comes along. By playing in retractable roof stadiums, the teams could avoid cancellations based on inclement weather or condensation like those college aircraft-carrier games. The NBA already staged an all-star game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex., so it could be done again with the proper coordination. And depending on the opponent, the financial benefits would be hard to pass up.