The NBA Could Learn from European Football

On Bill Simmons’ podcast Monday, he had Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey as a guest. One of the more innovative minds in the league – and huge influence on Sam Hinkie – Morey is somewhat of a revolutionary in basketball circles. Morey and Simmons got into discussing various issues with the NBA calendar, and Morey talked briefly about adopting a scheduling framework similar to European football. While it’s a radical idea on the surface, I think it’s a worthy notion to delve into.

If you know how the leagues, cups and tournaments (and scheduling in general) work in European football, skip the paragraphs in italics. If you’re unfamiliar with how things work in soccer in Europe, here’s a quick, loose, probably not entirely perfect description:

With Europe being continent of many nations, there are many world-class soccer leagues in various countries throughout. It would be like if Pennsylvania, New York, California, Texas, Florida, and pick any other state you feel like, had their own basketball leagues, all with NBA-quality talent. So in England, there is the Premier League (Paul Pogba and Jamie Vardy.) In Spain, there is La Liga (Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.) In Italy, Serie A (Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon.) In, Germany there is Bundesliga (American stud, Hershey native, and Savior of American Soccer Christian Pulisic.) These leagues host the players that you hear of when the World Cup comes around.

The leagues in each country a) have their own regular season, b) participate in “cups” (AKA tournaments; think an NBA March Madness in the middle of an NBA regular season) and c) name a champion. So for example, in England’s Premier League, they have Premier League play, which is the equivalent to the NBA regular season, consisting of 38 games. During that League play, they also have breaks in which the teams prepare for a “cup” and then participate in the tournament to crown a winner. After the FA cup, the teams of the Premier League resume regular season play pursuing a championship. But it doesn’t stop there. After the major leagues finish their season, the top 4 teams of each league qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The top 4 finishers of the Premier league begin tournament play against the top 4 finishers of La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, etc.

One of the biggest problems fans currently have with the NBA is that it is top heavy: if you aren’t a fan of the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics or Cleveland Cavaliers, you’re likely heading into next regular season thinking, “What’s the point? No one is beating Golden State.” Playoffs come around and the brooms come out. These past playoffs, the Warriors swept their first three playoff challengers and we definitely did not need a best-of-7 series to see that the Portland Trail Blazers were not beating the Warriors in any scenario short of adding the T-1000 from Terminator 2 to their roster. Finishing in the middle of the pack is basketball purgatory because a) these teams are likely not able to find the star needed to put them over as late in the draft as their picks will be and b) these teams are typically not desirable destinations to top-tier free agents or already have loads of salary committed to the players already on their roster. Or worse, you end up like the Utah Jazz, who just lost All-Hair, All-Star Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics in free agency.

The result can be a regular season that is far too long and entirely too laborious to get through, poor entertainment value early in the playoffs, and seemingly nothing to play for if you are not one of the elite 4 or 5 teams in the league. But what if those middle of the pack teams had more to play for? If the NBA adopted a schedule similar to that of the soccer leagues in Europe, those teams would have a lot to play for.

Now introducing a list of schedule changes to fix the NBA’s problem of monopolized wins that no one of NBA importance will ever see:

 

  1. Cut out the preseason. These guys aren’t transitioning from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 or learning an offensive playbook. This would enable the season to start earlier. A huge loss for the degenerate gamblers out there that want to lose their money on only football in the fall. An earlier season means more nights off during the week, as the amount of days between games increases. More days off eliminates the need for players to sit games out, and gives players more of a chance to recuperate and play at their highest level.
  2. Play 65 games overall, because… it’s less than 82.
  3. The first half of the season is 40 games.
  4. After those 40 games, all 30 teams enter a bracket where seeding is awarded according to how you finished in your conference. Call it the Craig Sager Cup – I know, I’m pandering here. But it gives the tournament meaning and appeal. The tournament is single game elimination exactly like the NCAA tournament, creating much more variance, as it takes only a single off night for Golden State or Cleveland to be knocked off. Players get salary bonuses according to individual performance as well as team success in the Craig Sager Cup, incentivizing tournament play and creating a more competitive environment.
  5. Following the Craig Sager Cup is perennial disappointment, All-Star weekend.
  6. Once All-Star weekend concludes there is a week off before regular season play resumes and the final 25 games are played.
  7. The top 2 teams from each conference (this past season would have been GS, SAN, CLE and BOS so that’s who makes it in this example) enter the Champions League.
  8. The 3 through 8 seeds in each conference enter a best-of-3 series tournament to grant them a spot in the Champions League. With 12 teams competing, only 4 gain entry into the Champions League – 2 per conference. Obviously, this means that the #3 and #4 seeds would get a bye. The bracket for each conference would look like this:Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 2.57.49 AM
  9. Stay with me.
  10. Say for example’s sake, that the two teams advancing from each conference to the Champions League were in the East, Washington and Toronto, and in the West, Houston and the Clippers; GS, SAN, HOU & L.A. would play a round robin in which each team plays each other 3 times. These aren’t best-of-3 series, just 3 games. The East teams do the same.
  11. The two teams (per conference) with the best record after their 9 games played go into a best-of-5 series, or the Conference Finals if you will. Again, this creates variance.
  12. The winner of each Conference Finals plays in a best-of-7 Championship, or the NBA Finals.
  13. The bottom 14 teams, during all of this, play in the Lottery Tournament. It is double  elimination and the spot in which a team finishes dictates their lottery odds. So if, say, the Sixers were to win the tournament, they wouldn’t be guaranteed the No. 1 pick, just the best odds of obtaining it in the lottery. The Lottery Tournament would eliminate tanking, because teams would rather be mediocre than suck eggs. (In the current system, being mediocre is the worst possible outcome for a team. Yes, worse than sucking eggs.)
  14. Trades can happen:
    1. In the off season
    2. Before the week of the season that marks about ~25 games played point
    3. The single week off following All-Star Weekend

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