Adam Silver speaks candidly about NBA issues

Adam Silver Brooklyn Nets Dzanan Musa. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Adam Silver Brooklyn Nets Dzanan Musa. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke with The Ringer’s Bill Simmons at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT at admits he has serious concerns.

When Bill Simmons of The Ringer interviewed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at the recently completed MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, the commissioner — approaching the five-year mark in his tenure — was surprisingly open about the things that worry him about the league.

There are some things about how the NBA conducts its business that could be handled better and Silver admits the NBA suffers from some unintended consequences springing from past decisions.

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His concerns about market size are legitimate and the Brooklyn Nets, as well as the LA Clippers, fall into a hybrid category as franchises who certainly call large markets home, yet will never be the most popular or most established club in those markets.

At least not as long as the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively, continue to exist.

Small market teams are more able to attract and keep star players in today’s global market, where players can become national and international endorsement powerhouses without having to be physically located in the traditional advertising hotbeds of New York or Los Angeles.

But keeping a star-laden team together in a small market is another issue, where teams are having to choose between breaking up a contender or eating away at the franchise’s profitability by going deep into the luxury tax.

Silver recognizes the dilemma and it is a stark departure from his predecessor, long-time Commissioner David Stern, who shepherded the NBA through its massive growth from fringe sport to mainstream icon.

"“That’s an unfair position to put out teams in. Are you willing to be a deep taxpayer and lose money in order to compete? That’s a fault in our current system.”"

The Oklahoma City Thunder are near the top of the league in payroll, having committed to keeping Russell Westbrook and Paul George in tandem. The Milwaukee Bucks will be facing a similar dilemma as they decide on the futures of supporting players such as All-Star Khris Middleton around superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The shorter contracts the NBA agreed to in the last collective bargaining agreement, when the maximum length went from five years (or six with Bird rights) to four years (or five), were seen as a compromise between the owners and the players.

The owners would be more insulated from bad deals. The players would be able to get paid more quickly.

The net effect, however, has been to put the destiny of the league into the hands of clusters of star players who can jump from team to team more readily and can use their status to pressure teams into ancillary moves they might not want to make.

The imploding season of the Los Angeles Lakers stands as an example of how a team can damage itself by attempting to placate a star player.

One issue regarding contracts that Silver didn’t address, but has always been a sore spot for me, is restricted free agency.

Either make rookie deals five years and allow the player to jump directly to unrestricted status or change the deadline for extending rookie deals so teams can evaluate the player based on the entirety of his first four seasons, instead of having to make a lucrative — and potentially franchise-altering — decision before the final season of a player’s rookie contract.

The Nets will face that issue head-on come July 1. D’Angelo Russell was not a max extension candidate based on his body of work as of the middle of October last year. After a breakout season in 2018-19, he might be.

But the Nets will have to contend with other suitors potentially getting Russell’s signature on an offer sheet that will force Brooklyn into either paying more than it wants to in order to keep the young All-Star or letting him walk away after playing such a huge role in Russell’s development and emergence as a star.

Throw in the fact that Nets general manager Sean Marks didn’t make friends in 2016 when he signed three restricted free agents — Allen Crabbe of the Portland Trail Blazers, Tyler Johnson of the Miami Heat and Otto Porter of the Washington Wizards — to gigantic offer sheets and the situation involving Russell could get very sticky come July 1.

There are a lot of good things in the NBA, but the league still needs to find new ways to create incentives for teams to compete rather than openly put non-competitive teams on the floor in able to maximize their lottery chances.

Smoothing the lottery odds for the NBA’s worst three teams hasn’t abated the so-called “tanking” problem and the league may have to look at some more radical approaches to the issue.

One idea I’ve had for awhile is to use the standings for the current season not to set the draft order for the next immediate draft, but rather for a year in the future.

Teams might not be as sanguine — looking at you, Knicks — about sabotaging a season if the draft order being determined by that season wasn’t coming for another three or four years.

Using the 2018-19 standings to determine the draft order in 2022 or 2023 would make it much less of a sure thing, as those future draft classes would be almost complete unknown quantities.

Because that may be perhaps the NBA’s most lingering — and troublesome — issue, particularly as it plays out in a season in which television ratings have dropped and ticket sales are also down.

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The perception that only one or two teams each season are legitimate contenders for the NBA title and every other franchise in the league is just spinning its wheels can lead to apathy among fans, apathy that manifests itself in less day-to-day and night-to-night interest in the NBA product.