Good article. I think at the very least they need to cut the number of preseason games from 8 to 4. Shorten training camp and preseason from 4 weeks to 3 - or maybe 2.5 weeks - and then use that week or two to help cut down on back to back games - that would help to elminate "schedule losses" where teams lose not because of the other team, but because the schedule is brutal. Sure, I would love to see the season cut back to 60-64 games - but are the players going to take a 20-25% cut in salaries - NO - or will fans pay 20-25% more for tickets - NO - or will the owners take a 20-25% cut in ticket revenie NO. So I don't see how you can decrease the number of games. I will say decreasing the number of games shouldn't lower the money paid by TNT, ESPN, ABC - but it would hurt the revenue teams get from their local radio and local TV - and of course ticket and related revenue
By Chris Colston, USA TODAY
As the NBA's postseason heats up, the games continue to get more physical. In the first round, the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard has been suspended for swinging an elbow to an opponent's face and the Chicago Bulls' Brad Miller has taken a blow to the mouth that required stitches. Several other key players are hobbling. Players log 40 — or even 50 — minutes without complaint, because these are the playoffs.
But what price did the players pay to get here?
The intensity of the playoffs follows a grueling 82-game regular season, one that takes its toll on players physically and mentally. And it could be a talking point in the league's collective bargaining agreement negotiations, which Commissioner David Stern says will pick up in earnest after the NBA Finals in June.
The NBA has the option to extend the current agreement through 2012 — it would have to exercise the option by Dec. 15, 2010 — but probably will decline, in large part because of the global financial crisis. The agreement has been in place since July 2005.
In anticipation of the crisis, the league reduced its domestic staff by 9% last fall.
Stern has authorized a memo to all 30 teams outlining hypothetical salary-cap projections through 2011, which decline year by year. The league sets its salary cap each July based on a somewhat complicated formula that includes basketball-related income and benefits.
CBA talking points also could include shorter contracts, a higher age limit on incoming players and elimination of the midlevel cap exception. But Stern recently said the biggest issue "is going to be about the fair division of revenues between owners and players."
Those revenue, especially from advertisers and sponsors, will continue to take a hit because of the economy, says marketing expert Ryan Schinman, CEO of Platinum Rye Entertainment. "It's a billion-dollar-plus problem right now."
While the players could be forced to make significant concessions on salaries, in return they might demand alterations in the schedule, including a reduction of the eight preseason games and the number of games played back to back, which this season ranged from 16 to 22 a team.
"Owners and players have to be willing to put on the discussion table any number of things that would allow the business to continue to be successful and grow," says Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher, president of the National Basketball Players Association. "Fewer games or more games, adjustments in years or salaries ... we're going to have to be willing to negotiate.
"The way this game has evolved into a global power, each game deserves to be the maximum of what it can be. If you consistently have key players missing games due to injuries and things that can be avoided, I think that's a fair point to discuss."
Reduce, but at a cost
Another major professional North American sports league also is grappling with season length. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has discussed expanding from 16 games to 17 or 18, perhaps as early as August 2011.
While the NBA has played 82 games since the 1967-68 season, it has continued to increase the length of the postseason. In 1984, the league expanded the playoffs from 12 to 16 teams, eliminated first-round byes and extended the first-round series from three to five games. In 2003, the NBA expanded its first-round playoff series from best-of-five to best-of-seven.
"You know I'd be lying if I said the season wasn't too long," Detroit Pistons guard Allen Iverson said before his season ended April 3 because of a back injury. "I know the year of the lockout and we only played 50 games I was a lot fresher."
At the league level, Stern says, they do talk about schedule length. But a reduction of games would have "significant economic consequences" on team and league revenue, he says.
And numerous business considerations also enter into the equation. "Is it good for our season to run from October to the end of June? Our sponsors and licensees would say yes," Stern says. "Is it good to be the leading sport after the NCAAs are done? I think the answer is evident.
"And if you say June is too late for basketball, I can tell you this: Those cities in the Finals would happily play into August."
But with the current setup, teams have to pace themselves during the regular season.
In a story that ran in the Dec. 29 Los Angeles Times, Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whose team won its first-round series with the Utah Jazz, described the season as "a marathon race. ... We play 82 games, and then we go into playoffs, which are overextended as it is. As a consequence, we have to marshal our energy a lot during the course of the year."
Owner Mark Cuban, whose Dallas Mavericks eliminated the San Antonio Spurs, thinks the quality of play would rise with fewer games but says it can't happen.
"Not only is (the 82-game) schedule an economic necessity to pay for arenas, it's a competitive necessity, where every game counts," Cuban says. "I don't think lowering the number of games would make much of a difference unless you drop down to something like 25. Then you may see an amplification in value to every game. But financially it would be impossible."
Fewer games, however, would produce big-picture benefits, according to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. He thinks with a shorter schedule more fans would tune in because each game would hold more gravitas.
"The NCAA tournament, in 63 games, makes more money than the entire NBA regular season of 1,200-plus games," Morey said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March. "It would be hard to tell the owners you'd have to take a revenue hit, but you might get it back later because more people are tuning in."
Shorter season, better games
Any reduction of games would require a requisite cutback of salaries. No problem, says Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen, who is making $17.4 million this season.
"I'd give some of my check back," he says. "And I venture to say the quality of the games would go up another notch."
Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy would take the corresponding pay cut, "because it might add years to the end of your career."
And that's an important point, according to Celtics forward Paul Pierce. "You look at some guys. After they're done playing, they can barely walk."
Philadelphia 76ers forward Elton Brand, who is making $13.7 million this season but missed most of it with a shoulder injury, spoke for many players when he said during the preseason, "If they cut the games by a quarter, they'll cut the salaries by a quarter. If that's the case, I'll pass."
And some players have no problem with 82 games.
"If we're not playing games, we're practicing," Toronto Raptors forward Shawn Marion says. "I'd rather play than practice."
Says Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith: "I love 82. If you love the game of basketball, it shouldn't matter how many games you play."
It's highly unlikely the league will cut back its schedule, but nearly everyone agrees: back-to-back games are the most troubling aspect of scheduling.
Chris Wiggins, a fan from the Washington, D.C., area, says what aggravates him most about the schedule "is the clumps of games. Some weeks a team will play five and some two. And the weeks they play five, the second game of the back-to-backs are almost like wasted games."
Several teams struggled with back-to-backs this season.
The Utah Jazz were 3-18 in the second of back-to-back games but 45-16 with at least one day's rest.
The Denver Nuggets, 54-28 overall, were 9-12 in the second of back-to-backs.
"You play a game, travel, get in at 2 or 3 in the morning, that's hard on you," says TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who played from 1985 to 2000. "My last year with the Rockets, I guarantee you, we didn't win any back-to-backs. Me, Hakeem (Olajuwon) and Clyde (Drexler) would be cooked."
Lengthening the league calendar to cut down on back-to-backs is one idea.
Nine-time All-Star Gary Payton, now an analyst for NBA TV, would like to see the preseason halved from eight games to four.
"Push training camp back another week," he says.
"Play two preseason games one week, two the next, then start the season."
Allen likes the idea of midseason respite.
"You know how the NFL has a bye week?" Allen says. "I'd give the league a bye week around All-Star weekend. I think it would make for better basketball because guys would be fresher."
And that's all any fan can ask: that the NBA put its best product on the floor every night.