The NBA calendar is completely out of wack.
The COVID-19 pandemic has postponed the season indefinitely. And, while there may be some light at the end of the tunnel, no one, not even NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, can predict what the future has in store.
That said, further postponement or a partial return (like one without fans in attendance) could be the perfect opportunity for Silver and the NBA to play with the schedule.
While some may disagree, change is, in fact, a good thing. Not only that, but it is ever-present, and the NBA isn’t exempt from it. With that in mind, the league could look to change so much in the near future, both to their own benefit, that of the players and that of the fans as well. In fact, given the time allotted by the league’s stoppage nearly anything and everything could be addressed.
Basketball Insiders’ David Yapkowitz touched on a few items late last week, but what else could the NBA look to experiment with, exactly? Let’s take a look.
A New Kind of Tournament
As much as we don’t want to believe it, we may have to accept the fact that we’ve seen the last game of the 2019-20 season.
That said, it doesn’t have to be the last game we see this year.
Back in December, the NBA proposed a new, in-season tournament. And, should a regular-season resumption and or “normal” postseason prove infeasible, now could prove the perfect time to reintroduce the concept.
Not only would it quench the thirst of every basketball fan, but an impromptu tournament could serve as the ultimate litmus test for its long-term viability. The NBA could pitch it as a 2020 postseason substitute, gather feedback from both fans and players and tweak as necessary before, as per the original proposal, implementing the tournament into the regular season. They could go crazy with it, adding an Elam Ending or instituting any number of new rules to generate some buzz and excitement.
Given our current dearth of basketball, the inaugural tournament is almost certain to be a great financial success, and could prove even greater down the road should viewers prove as receptive as they were of the new All-Star format. Long-term, it would also give lesser teams without a shot at the traditional postseason something to play for, and fans of those teams something to look forward to other than ping pong balls. Even if it flopped, Silver and co. could easily spin it into a net-positive by donating the proceeds to coronavirus relief or research.
Take the Draft Virtual
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL was forced to go digital with their draft coverage. There were skeptics — and for good reason — but the new format turned out to be a success.
In fact, the 2020 NFL Draft was a record-setting success; the three-day broadcast reached more than 55 million people, with an average daily viewership up 35 percent from 2019. In the (very lucrative) process, the NFL also managed to score some positive-PR as they raised nearly $7 million for coronavirus relief.
In light of that success, the NBA would be stupid not to follow suit.
Of course, at least for 2020, they may not have a choice given the circumstances. But there is some serious potential here that the NBA could and should take advantage of.
The opportunity for fan engagement would be enormous — fans may not want to boo Silver like they wanted to boo NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell, but it certainly wouldn’t be difficult for the NBA to put their own spin on fan-broadcasts — while the added authenticity and emotion via snapshots into the home and life of coaches and executives could humanize them, to an extent, and would garner quite a nice boost in viewership. Like the NFL, the NBA could also highlight the background of each draftee, showing fans who these players are and what they’re like beyond the parquet — let’s just hope they make it a bit less somber.
Again, at least for 2020, the NBA may not have a choice in the matter. But that’s exactly why Silver has to take advantage — it’s a seemingly no-risk opportunity to experiment with the draft formula. If it’s a bust, they can chalk it up as something that was necessary due to COVID-19, rather than something they wanted to do.
But, if it’s a boom, it could take the draft into a whole new era and provide the league with a major boost in terms of revenue and fan engagement.
Flip the Draft and Free Agency
Yes, it’s been discussed ad nauseam. But, with the draft and change on the brain, why not give this calendar flip-flop another look?
A pre-draft free agency would enable smarter roster management and further trade fervor around the draft. With pen to paper and teams no longer hoarding cap space for a run at the free-market, executives would be free to wheel-and-deal without a second thought, while they could approach the draft process with the best interests of their respective teams in mind.
Teams would be able to focus solely on the draft and landing the player they want, rather than missing out on the big fish and the highly touted prospect. And, rather than splurging on second-tier free agents that won’t necessarily move the needle, any remaining cap space could be used to take on a contract, stockpile some assets and build for the future.
Likewise, should any team land an audience with that season’s marquee free agent, a concrete plan regarding the draft, and potential input from said free agent should they sign, would almost certainly benefit any potential pitch.
The list of advantages goes on, while the disadvantages would seem to be few and far between. So, why shouldn’t the NBA give it some renewed consideration?
Of course, these are but a few examples. But, as they continue to navigate the pandemic and, like the rest of us, look forward to a post-COVID-19 world, the NBA could — and, in some cases, should — look to change so much more.
That said, change or no change, here’s hoping the NBA can get back on track as soon and as safely as possible.
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