The Ideal NBA

The Ideal NBA.

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What would the NBA look like if Sport Change ruled the world?  There’s two ways of looking at it: 1.) Rewriting history.  2.) Suggesting plausible changes.  Let’s do both.

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Scenario 1: Revisionist History

Let us pick up in the year 1979, following the conclusion of the ’78-’79 NBA season.  In the offseason, interests in Salt Lake City, Utah, make a strong yet unsuccessful bid to buy the New Orleans Jazz.  New Orleans retains it’s team, but the NBA takes notice.  The next year, in 1980, the league rings in the new decade by adding two expansion teams: the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Raptors–named after a dinosaur, the Utahraptor, that was discovered a few years hence.  The NBA finds good footing in the 1980s, with a few realignments here and there.  In the mid-eighties, an attempt is made to move the Kansas City Kings to California, but the Kings stay in KC.  By the end of the decade, fan support has piqued the interest of cities around North America, and the league expands by two: the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets.  In 1989, the league ignores an effort to bring a franchise to the ridiculous city of Orlando, Florida, but does award a franchise to Minneapolis.  The new team successfully buys the name ‘Lakers’ back from Los Angeles; who in turn now call themselves the Los Angeles Wolves.   The Wolves’ brand explodes in popularity, and thwarts the efforts of the San Diego Clippers’ attempts to sail north.  In 1990, the league grants yet another expansion team–this time to Baltimore, Maryland.  The basketball team is named the Baltimore Ravens, as a tip of the hat to Edgar Allan Poe.  Around this time, the Washington Bullets decide to rename the team in order to avoid association with violence.  The name Washington Stars is chosen, in honor of how Capitol cities are often represented by stars on a map.  In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of both teams leaving the NBA, the Toronto Huskies and Pittsburgh Ironmen are reinstated as franchises in the league, bringing the total to 30 teams.  Ten years later, the NBA adds two more teams: the Oklahoma City Cyclones and Memphis Monarchs.  For what it’s worth, the New Jersey Nets move to Brooklyn.  With 32 teams, the league realigns into four divisions in each of the two conferences, in a system modeled after the NFL.  As of today, the Sport Change Revisionist History Ideal NBA looks like this:

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic: Boston Celtics, New York Knickerbockers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brookyn Nets

Northeast: Toronto Huskies, Pittsburgh Ironmen, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Stars

Southeast: Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers

Central: Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

Pacific: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Wolves, San Diego Clippers, Phoenix Suns

Northwest: Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Raptors

Southwest: San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Cyclones

Central: Minnesota Lakers, Memphis Monarchs, New Orleans Jazz, Kansas City Kings

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Scenario 2: Reasonable Plausibility

This section is devoted to legitimate, realistic changes that could come to the NBA.  There are a few different topics to discuss here, so let’s break it down issue by issue.

Disparity.  This is not the type of discussion that Sport Change typically gets involved with, it’s clear that there needs to be implementation of a few basic new policies to the NBA, in order to sustain success long-term.  The issue of disparity has to be addressed.  As of now, the NBA is essentially a glorified version of the Harlem Globetrotters, with about five teams in large markets vying for fan support and championships.  It’s a problem.  The other twenty teams exist solely to be the teams that are beaten by the top ten, with barely a ray of hope for a sustainable future.  It’s important to note here that on-court success is temporary, and teams like the Grizzlies and Thunder have a very good chance of being bottom-dwellers in ten years, if the franchises last that long.  It’s coming to a head, and the NBA must make one of two decisions.

     1.) contract the league until only the teams with a large market, perennial contention, and high profitability exist.  This would be a league where the only teams might be the Knicks, Nets, Celtics, Lakers, Clippers, Bulls, Heat, Raptors, 76ers, Mavericks, and Rockets.  With fewer teams, each team would have a few superstars and have a good shot at the title each year.  As that happens, each team could draw from their large fanbase and gain many new bandwagon fans.  This will not happen, of course.  The NBA used to operate this way, but along came the upstart ABA.  The competitions between the two leagues caused a nationwide land-grab and eventual merger.  If the NBA contracted, another pro basketball league would crop up.

     2.) negotiate a legitimate salary cap system, like the one used by the NFL.  Currently, the voices of the players union and the large market franchises are certainly loud enough to drown out the squeaks from the small market teams on the brink.  This makes for bad basketball.  There are many reasons why the NFL is by far the most successful pro sports league around, but a major reason is because fans of every single team (except maybe the Jaguars) enter each season knowing that they have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs and/or win the Super Bowl.  That said, the NFL example has also proven that sustainable franchises (Steelers, Patriots, Giants) can cleverly walk the minefields of free agency and the draft, and thus retain perennial success.  Cap it!

Expansion.  If a salary cap were in place, I believe that the NBA could successfully expand the league by two teams.  Dilution of the talent pool would be minimal in a world of parity, and this would provide a few more opportunities for all the talented ballplayers in Europe and out of college to make a living in basketball.  Each team has an active roster of only 13 players; meaning 390 NBA players.  The NFL in all of it’s 32 team glory, suits up 53 players per team, or 1,696 players each year.  In a fair system, two more teams can be added.  As of this writing, the most obvious candidates are Seattle, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the two Missouri cities–St. Louis and Kansas City.  Since it’s expected that the Kings will move to Seattle, my top two would be Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  KC is a slam dunk, since the Sprint Center is already standing and ready.  Pittsburgh is more of a wildcard, as the team would be competing with the Penguins in a market not known for supporting pro basketball.  I still stand by the choices.  Kansas City would reignite the Kings brand/history, in much the same way as the Sonics probably will.  Pittsburgh could go a number of different ways with their brand, but I’m going to suggest the Pittsburgh Vipers, or Pitt Vipers.

Relocation.  As alluded to above, we’ll assume that the Kings will go to Seattle.  Many of the other small-market teams (Charlotte, New Orleans, etc.) that are often brought up in relocation discussions will likely see their financial success be tied to on-court success.  Other small markets teams (Utah, Oklahoma City, Orlando) may see a plummeting of attendance as big-name players (Dwight Howard, James Harden, etc.) are siphoned away.  What I mean by that is that there isn’t much of a need for relocation in the NBA once Sacramento moves to Seattle.  The only move I’ll make is to send the Orlando Magic to Baltimore, since Baltimore deserves a team more than Disney.  In honor of the Charm City, we’ll change Magic to Charms.

Rebranding.  The NBA has many terrible brands, but I’ll try to keep this realistic.  Yes, I’d like to see the Utah Jazz change their name, but it just isn’t going to happen.  I’d like to see the Pacers become the Racers and the Nets become the Knights, but it’s not worth the fight.  I’ll narrow it to the Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, and Toronto Raptors.  It’s ridiculous that not only did Memphis retain Vancouver’s region-specific nickname, they haven’t changed it yet.  There might not be a great list of options, but a name like Tennessee Stallions would be a big improvement.  We’ll go with the same name we used in the revisionist history, the Memphis Monarchs.  As stated before, I’m a fan of the Bobcats nickname.  Of course, I’m also a fan of the “Bring back the buzz” movement and the push to make the Charlotte Hornets happen again.  Deal.  The Raptors’ nickname drives me crazy because not only is it a minor-league level moniker, but it’s a one-off reference to Jurassic Park.  As much as Toronto fans want to see the Huskies name return, I’m sticking them with the now vacated Bobcats moniker.

Realignment.  With 32 teams, the logical alignment structure would be either eight divisions of four teams each (like the NFL) or four of eight.  As it is now, the NBA’s alignment isn’t terrible, but a few tweaks could improve it.  Having two Pacific Northwest teams (Seattle and Vancouver) relocate to the southern US threw it out of balance a bit, and the system can be reworked.  Let’s take a look:

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic: Boston Celtics, New York Knickerbockers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brookyn Nets

Northeast: Toronto Bobcats, Pittsburgh Vipers, Baltimore Charms, Washington Wizards

Southeast: Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers

Central: Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

Pacific: Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, San Diego Clippers, Phoenix Suns

Northwest: Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz

Southwest: San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder

Central: Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Monarchs, New Orleans Pelicans, Kansas City Kings

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In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I gotta say about that.”  There’s the Sport Change Ideal NBA discussion.  Make comments, provide feedback, make suggestions, and they will be listened to.  Thanks for reading.  Coming up next: the Ideal NBA Developmental League.

SPORT CHANGE

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