Who among us isn't looking forward to the Nets-Bobcats game on April 12? That is, only if you've managed to come down from the excitement of Kings-Timberwolves on March 31, or Pacers-Bucks on March 14.
The string of meaningless games during the final third of the NBA regular season is in need of fixing, and Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien has just the plan to fix it -- and also eradicate the reality and/or perception that non-playoff teams tank late-season games in hopes of improving their draft lottery position.
|Mark Warkentien says the NBA 'could present a better product' toward the end of the regular season. (Getty Images)|
The first seven teams in each conference would be seeded accordingly for the postseason, just as they are now. The eighth seed would be determined in an eight-team, single-elimination tournament among the teams finishing 8-15. The concept would provide incentive for lottery teams not to fold up their tents over the final month or so, and it would provide a much-needed elixir for the post-trade deadline, pre-playoffs dead zone in the NBA schedule.
One thing is certain if you're familiar at all with a concept known as March Madness: Basketball fans love tournaments, and they love one-and-done elimination games. For NBA players who played in college, it would be familiar territory. For those who never got a chance to experience the NCAA Tournament -- a condition that LeBron James has often spoken about -- this would be their chance.
The owners of the teams involved would love it, too. Despite the bad breaks, bad management and other spasms of badness that can result in a lottery-bound state, such teams would face the lucrative possibility of additional home dates for the tournament and, potentially, for playoff games.
Nothing talks louder than money in the NBA, and home dates are worth anywhere from $500,000 to more than $1 million in gate receipts alone, depending on the market. The tournament also would provide additional sponsorship and marketing opportunities at a time when both revenue sources are dwindling.
Warkentien hatched the concept after commissioner David Stern solicited ideas from members of the competition committee -- comprised of various team executives -- for ways to discourage tanking. The request was significant not only for the ideas that may result, but also for the fact that Stern was giving credence to the taboo notion of tanking in the first place.
"I think it's our general idea that in the last part of the season, we could present a better product," Warkentien said. "The question is, how do we do that? ... Here's an idea. Let's talk."
Warkentien started working on this during last spring's conference finals against the Lakers, consulting with fellow executives/mentors Donnie Walsh, Bob Whitsitt and Jerry West, among others. After the season -- in addition to taking a course on negotiating at Harvard Law School and trading into the draft to select North Carolina's Ty Lawson -- Warkentien sent a draft of his proposal to the 29 other teams and various league executives. He has recommended that the competition committee take it up as an agenda item at its next scheduled meeting during All-Star weekend. Competing plans are welcome, though no other executive has circulated a formal one yet.
Feedback from fellow execs has been good, although Warkentien admitted that only those who like the concept have been compelled to call or e-mail.
"I love the general concept," Rockets GM Daryl Morey said. "Mark is one of the game's innovators. People tune in to games because of the importance of the game and uncertainty of the outcome. Many NBA games fall short of both; Mark's plan would help address the issue."
Would you be in favor of play-in tournaments for the No. 8 seeds?
Total Votes: 4,651
Such a drastic change to the playoff format would be highly unlikely in midseason, especially with negotiations under way on a new collective bargaining agreement. Warkentien knows it's not a perfect plan, and he's fully in favor of his fellow executives adding or subtracting to get it right.
One problem: The format would hurt the eighth-seeded teams in each conference, who could lose the playoff berth they played 82 games to establish.
Another: It wouldn't completely eliminate the incentive to tank, and may in some cases actually increase it. Teams could rest players late in the regular season to achieve better draft position, then go back to full strength for the play-in tournament. It's risky, but you get the best of both worlds -- a few extra home dates and better odds in the lottery.
Other objections from GMs have come on purist grounds, such as the argument that a play-in tournament would further diminish the value of the regular season. Warkentien calls this a "tired argument," and I agree. For one thing, look at what wild-card playoff spots have done for baseball and the NFL. For another, the most dreadful portion of the NBA season would suddenly have meaning. Middling teams would have more incentive to keep playing, not to mention more reasons to try to improve the roster at the trade deadline.
Since everyone agrees that the NBA season is too long as it is, something would need to go to carve out a few days for the play-in tournament. The solution to that problem couldn't be easier: Get rid of a week of preseason games. Nothing in sports is worse than games that don't matter. Which, come to think of it, goes right to the heart of the Warkentien Plan.