By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
NEW YORK – With a new NBA commissioner flexing his distinctly collaborative style, working without crises at a “peace time” Board of Governors meeting, the league’s leadership took no significant votes and made no major decisions this week during their two-day Manhattan conclave.
But they sure did a lot of brainstorming and spitballing.
Talk of tweaks carried the day when Adam Silver, not quite three months into the job that David Stern held for three decades, shared Friday with reporters some of the topics in play at this BOG. In committee reports and in general discussion of the full board, they ranged from the pros and cons of a proposed 20-and-under eligibility rule (two years of college, in other words) to new ways of seeding, re-seeding or otherwise modifying the playoffs bracket.
The owners talked about further transparency, both in officiating itself and in the process that oversees the league’s referees. They kicked around ideas great and small related to the draft and the lottery – the “wheel” concept that would have each team picking at each spot in the first round over a 30-year period, as well as a play-in tournament for the No. 1 pick – without pushing toward any conclusion.
Overall, as described by Silver, the tone seemed to be: Things are good. Anyone have any ideas on how we can make them better?
“The league is doing so well right now, I just want to be very deliberate and cautious any major changes,” Silver said, both directly and in various guise underlying a half dozen other comments. If Stern’s effectiveness as commissioner often boiled down to persuasion, arm-twisting and – when all that failed – swift, autocratic management, Silver publicly so far has come across as a facilitator and delegator, seeking out others’ expertise and respecting the work of the BOG’s committees on matters of competition, finance and other league business.
Oh, there were a few clear developments Friday. The NBA entered into a partnership with USA Basketball and the U.S. Department of Defense to support soldiers and their families “through basketball,” with an emphasis on transitioning the armed forces members back to civilian life.
Also, there was a change at the top: San Antonio owner Peter Holt stepped down as chairman of the Board of Governors after 18 months, because of personal commitments. Minnesota’s Glen Taylor, who held that post from 2008 to 2012, takes over again on an interim basis, with a vote for Holt’s successor to be held by the board’s October meeting.
No vote was taken on the Milwaukee Bucks’ pending sale for a whopping $550 million to New York hedge-fund billionaires Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens – the league’s vetting process is underway. But current Bucks owner Herb Kohl introduced the two prospective owners to the board Thursday. Silver said he knows Lasry personally – Lasry owns a small share of the Brooklyn Nets, from which he’d have to divest – and added: “I don’t anticipate there will be any issues, but we’re not there in the process yet.” The sale could be approved without a formal owners meeting, as quickly as in a month or so.
Silver is diligent about process, and why not? The league sets up committees to study its various issues and make recommendations, so there’s value in their findings. The new commissioner also has tapped into leaders from related fields as resources. This time, NCAA president Mark Emmert and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with the owners.
Dempsey’s presence pertained to the “Hoops for Troops” partnership, obviously. But Emmert was there to discuss the NBA’s age-limit for draft prospects and its impact on college basketball and the players.
Silver, at All-Star weekend and in interviews, has talked repeatedly about his preference for raising the eligibility age – he said Friday “a majority” of the owners share that view. He and the league, for practical purposes, have gotten out in front of the NBA players’ union on the topic. After all, it would have to be collectively bargained – written into the existing CBA as an addendum if an agreement were reached, Silver said – and much of the NBPA’s business is on hold while its search for a new executive director grinds on.
But Silver introduced a third party into the coming discussions. “What Dr. Emmert and I agree on is that the NCAA needs to have a seat at the table,” the commissioner said. “If we are going to be successful in raising the age from 19 to 20, part and parcel of those negotiations go to the treatment of those players on college campuses [and] closing the gap between what their scholarships cover and their other incidental expenses.”
Silver didn’t get into any specific incentives, financial or otherwise, that might affect the issue. But he didn’t rule anything out – kind of the theme of the afternoon. Blow through the conference divide to have 10 West playoff teams vs. six East? Open up the instant-replay process to give referees discretion to rule not just on an out-of-bounds possessions but also an unseen foul?
Silver wasn’t ruling anything out.
“This seems like a good time,” he said at one point in Friday’s news conference, “when you have a transition in leadership to take a fresh look at virtually everything.”
Here are some further details on the above:
- The partnership supporting armed forces members will include exhibition games, clinic, speaking engagements and game tickets, though its primary focus will be the “thousands of service members returning from overseas duty.” Why the NBA? Dempsey, Silver said, ” told us was that basketball is the most popular sport among his troops, and it’s also a highly popular sport among the families of the troops.”
- Silver had high praise for the league’s competition committee, which is studying playoff structure and other areas of the game with more than the hit-and-run approach of the past. It has moved “towards what I would call an NFL‑style format, where it’s a multi‑day meeting, focused attention from a cross‑section of coaches, general managers [and] owners,” Silver said. “We have a player representative there, as well, and these are the kind of issues where the last thing we wanted to do is make them based on one meeting, owners hearing arguments for the first time.”
- While not tipping his hand on any tweaks that might blow across traditional conference lines, Silver did mention a factor cited in reverting The Finals this year to a 2-2-1-1-1 format. “You have a system that was designed before all teams traveled by charter,” he said, “and as travel becomes easier, it opens up more windows of opportunity for change.”
- It is the competitiveness of NBA general managers that underlies the one-and-done scenarios and issues, Silver said. “It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “If these great young players are available, our teams will draft them. Whether they’ll ultimately turn out to be wise draft picks is a whole separate issue.” Requiring two years after high school – in NCAA hoops, in the D League, in Europe, wherever – would get NBA scouts out of high school gyms, boost the college game, deliver to NBA teams more developed rookies and put players in a pro environment when they might be a little better equipped to thrive. But the NBPA still has to weigh in.
- Silver wasn’t asked directly about “tanking” or, er, rebuilding teams whose seasons now are done. But he did take a question about playoff teams in the final days of the schedule manipulating their rotations in what appeared to be playoff-positioning. “I’d just begin by saying it’s the last area I think the league should be legislating, and that is minutes players play,” he responded. “I mean, we have some of the greatest coaches in the world in this league and highly sophisticated teams, and so it’s part of managing player time.”
- Who’s to say that rest and recuperation aren’t the driving forces in the final week, Silver suggested. “We have a long playoffs,” he said. “It’s part of the drama over a seven‑game series. It’s the match‑ups, it’s the reactions. Again, it’s the pairings of particular players against each other. It’s sort of the chess playing among our coaches, and I think resting players becomes all part of that.”
- Silver said that Milwaukee’s Kohl – who has owned the Bucks since 1985, has included in the sales agreement that the team remain in town, and has pledged that he and the new owners each will contribute $100 million to a new arena – was lauded by the board. “The owners were amazed at the personal contribution [former U.S. Senator] Kohl announced to the city of Milwaukee,” Silver said. “It’s unprecedented for an owner to make a $100 million contribution to his community.”
The round of applause Kohl received in the room reflected that, the commissioner said. Establishing a price of $550 million for what historically has been the NBA’s least valuable franchise might have had a little to do with the clapping, too.