The Give and Go
By Charlie Zegers and Chris Liss
RotoWire Staff Writers
Subject: Give and Go
Date: December 22, 2008 2:04 AM PDT
After last week's Give and Go was published, I got this note from one of our readers... wanted to get your reaction. "T in St. Louis" writes:
Your discussion subject was MVP-related, but there was an underlying tone in your piece I would like to address: I understand many people have a ho-hum attitude toward early-season NBA, but I hope you got to watch the doubleheader (Boston @ Atlanta, San Antonio @ New Orleans) on ESPN this evening (Wed., 12-17-08). Not quite playoff basketball, but incredibly heated and entertaining - the crowds in Atlanta and New Orleans were raucous, and the teams played HARD and with passion. Commentators were hesitant, if not blatantly against labeling either of these matchups "rivalries" (though I would only add "budding" to "rivalries"), but it was damn good basketball no matter what month this is.
Now, as I told him, I'm absolutely not lukewarm on early season NBA games. Far from it... I actually watch Vegas Summer League games and the preseason. I'd sneak over to Greenburgh and watch practice, if coach D'Antoni would have me. Early in the season, there's still promise. There's still hope. My favorite team's hideous flaws haven't revealed themselves yet. It's all good.
The point I was making in that column was that the MVP award gets entirely too much ink - digital and otherwise - this early in the season.
(But then, individual awards, handed down by sportswriters or fans or peers, generally don't excite me all that much. But that's another column.)
I do see T's point, though... lots of people seem to that the first six-to-seven weeks of the NBA schedule sort of feel like an extended exhibition season... or like the non-conference portion of the NCAA year - before league games start, and you start getting Connecticut/Syracuse and UNC/Duke and UCLA/Arizona on weekend afternoons.
Why do you think that is? Are we so conditioned - as sports fans - to take our cues from TV that we pay less attention if the games aren't broadcast on one of the networks? Or is it just that people don't really settle in to start paying attention to the NBA until the NFL season has run its course?
Of course, my man T is also right to suggest that the folks who won't start tuning in to games until after Santa makes his rounds this Thursday have been missing some pretty good ball. I can't decide whether I think the dominance of a select few teams is good or bad for the league as a whole - but I can't argue that the Celtics, Cavs and Lakers aren't playing some very impressive basketball. (I wish the Celtics were a touch less impressive against the Knicks, but Santa hasn't been particularly forthcoming with that Christmas wish just yet. Have I been naughty this year?) And don't forget the Magic, who are just slightly off the pace being set by the "big three," and who just beat Kobe and company.
One more point to chew on... sounds like we'll have a few guys returning to the league shortly after the new year... Nenad Krstic is reportedly coming back to the states, and Jannero Pargo might follow suit. Dikembe Mutombo is looking to land somewhere and wag his finger for 10-12 minutes per night. I even read a positive article this week (in the Boston Globe, no less) about free agent-to-be Stephon Marbury. We've discussed Steph in this space previously... but what do you think of the others? Worth a look?
And while we're on the topic of Mount Mutombo (man, I'll miss that guy when he finally retires...) what do you think of this new "veteran players sitting out half the season only to land with a contender for the stretch run" trend? We've seen this move a few times now, in several different sports... Roger Clemens' mid-season return to the Yankees (and Suzyn Waldman's reaction) is probably the most memorable example... but now we have Mutombo looking to make a similar move, and Mats Sundin did the same in signing with Vancouver...
Is it just me, or is there something a bit... unseemly about this?
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: December 22, 2008 3:39 PM PDT
The NBA season should be 50-60 games, tops. That way teams wouldn't have to limit the Tim Duncans and Kevin Garnetts during the regular season as much, and players could go all-out more often. The NBA wants to make more money, so of course it would never do that, but as a result, half the stars in the league on non-contenders are out in March and April with injuries. (It also doesn't help that teams have an incentive to tank, but I think we went over that last year). If there were say 50 games, then those fall games would not be as ignored because each one would have a far bigger impact on the standings. The overlap with football is also a problem - the NFL is the king of sports right now, and the NBA might do better starting its season in January when most cities have already lost their rooting interest.
That doesn't mean the games in November or December aren't great - many are, and it's also when the players aren't as worn down, and everyone's theoretically still playing for this year. Also, while I'm no fan of network hype, the production value is a bit higher when they take over, and that has the effect of making the game more palatable to an extent. So I agree with "T," but I thought your point about the MVP race was that it's determined in large part by team record, so there's no good way to handicap it before the team results are also in.
I also like that some teams are dominant. You want showdowns between the heavy hitters in every sport. You want the Celtics-Lakers of the 80s. The problem with the Bulls in the 90s is there was no real No. 2. Sometimes it was the Knicks or Sonics or Jazz, but it wasn't like the rivalries of the '80s. Lakers-Celts now could have that, and if you throw in LeBron's Cavs, Howard's Magic and Chris Paul's Hornets, it could be a tremendous year. And the Spurs will likely be a tough out, as will the Blazers. You want to see teams that would crush average teams square off against each other.
As for those returning NBAers, all are role players at best. And I really think Marbury is unserious about his career at this point. I compared him to Chad Johnson in a previous column, and I think it's still apt. At some point, the antics are all that's left.
I love Mutombo, too - he was a great player for many years - one of the best defensive pivots of all time, but his impact will be negligible now that he's 51 years old. (I'm only kind of joking as no one knows his true age). And I think Mutombo should be able to sign for part of the season. It's different than Clemens who commanded a monstrous salary and had so much hype. Mutombo wouldn't get paid much, and it wouldn't be a major story. Just a guy coming in to fill a small role. I know we want to make hard and fast rules that apply to everyone, so players either should be able to play partial seasons or not, but I do think it's far less destabilizing to the game for a Mutombo to do it than a Clemens. Maybe you could make a rule that a player has to be over-40 to do it. That way, most wouldn't command huge salaries, and it would be impossible for younger players to get in on partial-season contracts.
What do you think Charlie? If you were the Commish, and you wanted to put out the best possible product, irrespective of short-term revenue, how many games would you have in a season and for the playoffs? (I'd also make the playoffs shorter - best of three for two rounds, best of five for the last two). What else would you do to boost early-season viewership?
Subject: Give and Go
Date: December 22, 2008 5:19 PM PDT
This is just a hypothetical and I'm already drunk with power.
First off, I agree that the regular season has become too long. You combine a very long regular season with truly dominant teams, and you've got a recipe for a whole lot of meaningless games in the spring. Boston is already 12 games up on its closest competitor in the Atlantic. Cleveland is eight up. Those guys are going to clinch the top two seeds in the East by Valentine's Day. (Orlando is only four up on the Hawks.) Unless those teams choose to chase some ultimately meaningless goal - 70 wins, for example - there's a good chance they'll be coasting for the last six weeks of the season. For that reason alone, I wouldn't mind seeing the regular season shaved down just a bit.
As for the playoffs... can't back you on the three-game series. That's just a small step from becoming one of those freaky home-and-home combined goals things they run in the MLS. No thank you. I'd rather see a couple of rounds of single-elimination ball... maybe 24 teams make the playoffs, the top four in each conference get a bye, and the other eight play two rounds of single-elimination to see who advances.
I'd love to see the five-game series come back, though... five games is enough to be a legitimate test, but long enough to give a reasonable advantage to the home team. And doing five games for the first two rounds might mean the Finals could be completed before the Fourth of July, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. And that suggestion at least borders on the realistic.
So let's set it up like this... play every team in the opposite conference once (15 games), play a home-and-home with every team in your conference (30 games) and play your own division rivals four times (16 games). There. Just shaved 21 games off the schedule without even trying hard. That makes every regular-season game about 25 percent more important. (I am rocking the math here. Sister John Rose would be so proud.)
Know what, though? I don't really think the length of the season is the biggest issue... (which is good, because even the drunk-with-power Charlie realizes he's never convincing the owners to give up 25 percent of their regular-season gate). To me, it's more a matter of competitive balance. Like I said earlier... I've never been entirely comfortable with the "dynasties are good for the sport" argument.
You just said the NFL is king, right? Well look at it this way... we're around 30 games into the NBA season. The NFL equivalent would be week six.
Right now, we can say that the NBA champion will almost certainly be one of, what, five? Six teams? (Some might argue for three.) At Week 6 of the NFL, we still had no idea who the good teams would be this season. Even the Giants - the defending champs and the class of the league, by most standards - were coming off an embarrassing loss to the Browns and didn't seem to be a sure thing back then.
Subject: Re: Give and Go
Date: December 23, 2008 4:45 PM PDT
First off, not sure why you're against a best of three series for the opening two rounds, but for *one-game* playoffs instead. I'm for one-game playoffs, myself, but either way, the fewer the games, the bigger each one is. NFL playoff games and the NCAA basketball tournament are the two most compelling events in sports because they're one and done. Seven game series are less exciting unless they go the distance, but why not just cut to the chase and play game seven right away, or in the third game? I'll concede best-of-five for the conference finals and championship so the best team has a better chance of winning.
As for competitive balance, we don't know in the NFL, and that's good and bad. It's good because you can have a team like the Giants make a truly dramatic run through the playoffs last year. It's bad when, like baseball, it seems like each playoff series is basically a coin flip, and there's no real reason to think the winning team is anything more than the one who got hot at the right time.
I still prefer dynasties, and there's nothing better than clashing ones for a sport. But you're right about the competitive balance in the Association being particularly bad these days, and it's terrible that teams are clearing away cap room and biding their time for draft picks and big free-agent signees far in the future. I'd make a rule that players can get max plus 15 percent salary if they remain with the team that drafted them (the league would kick in the extra money, perhaps from taxing teams that overspend or, see below, do too much losing) - that would encourage continuity and make fishing for future free agents less viable. I'd also meet with the owners and strongly discourage any sort of tanking. If that had no effect, I'd put in rules to penalize teams that lose too many games for two seasons in a row. (They cost the league money and fan interest, and I'd make them pony up extra dough). I'd also loosen the cap rules for teams who overpaid for injured players - the Knicks should have been able to settle with Allan Houston for some ungodly up front sum and not have it kill their cap every year. (The current rules still apply the buyout amount against the cap in a prorated way, if I understand them correctly).
Article first appeared on 12/23/08