PHOENIX – Praised as one of the most innovative leaders in professional sports, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is pushing the needle even further with groundbreaking ideas to shake up the league’s landscape.
According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, the league is in discussion with the National Basketball Association’s Players Association (NBPA) and the league’s broadcast partners about making dramatic changes to the league’s structure.
Suggested changes include a postseason play-in tournament for teams seeded seventh through 10th at the end of the regular season, an in-season tournament featuring all 30 teams modeled after similar events in European soccer leagues, reseeding the final four teams remaining in the playoffs and shortening the regular season from 82 games to 78.
A hypothetical play-in tournament would’ve given the Phoenix Suns a chance to reach the playoffs three times in the last decade. Instead, the team has not played a postseason game since 2010. The Suns went into their game Wednesday night in Orlando with a 9-10 record, eighth in the Western Conference standings. In the present structure, the top eight teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs.
However, no team with a regular-season record below .500 has made the playoffs since 2014-15 when Boston and Brooklyn both snuck into the Eastern Conference playoffs with fewer than 41 victories. It hasn’t happened in the Western Conference since 1996-97 when the Suns and Clippers qualified with sub-.500 records.
Suns coach Monty Williams is intrigued by the possibility of a revamped playoff system.
“I think all of it just says a lot about commissioner Silver. He’s always going to push the limits and break traditions when it’s appropriate,” Williams said. “It’s always in an effort to make the game better.”
Williams spent time with the Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets and Orlando Magic as a player and has worked as an assistant or head coach in Portland, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Phoenix. He’s watched the game evolve all along the way.
“I think it’s a good idea to explore,” he said of the proposed innovations. “I’ve heard about it for four or five years now, and It’s just starting to get out. It speaks to (Silver’s) ability to stretch the limits of the game.”
Of the many ideas that stood out to Williams, he is most intrigued by something that wasn’t proposed for the NBA but instead has been introduced by business mogul and historic rapper Ice Cube’s BIG3 Basketball League: The implementation of a four-point line.
Some teams have installed a line beyond the three-point arc on their practice floors to help create spacing.
A four-point line could benefit a young Suns, which ranked eighth in three-point attempts and 13th in three-point percentage going into Wednesday’s games. Williams already utilizes a “point-five” offensive system which emphasizes quick ball movement (within .5 of a second), spacing the floor with outside shooters and creating shots for them by driving, kicking and passing.
Considering the range of guard Devin Booker, and with six Phoenix players shooting above 36% from outside, Williams might have a team and system ahead of the curve.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) December 2, 2019
“I’m hopeful that one day we’ll have a four-point line because we’ll be ready for it,” Williams said. “We’ve had ours in anticipation of it, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Players are locked into their work at the moment, leaving very little space to pay attention to details like potential rule changes.
When presented with the potential for a play-in tournament for the postseason, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson seemed intrigued by the idea, but said they needed to give it more thought before commenting. Booker isn’t giving it much thought yet.
“I’ve seen it,” he said. “II don’t know enough about it. I have to look more into it, but I guess we’ll see. It’s bigger than me.”
Since taking over for David Stern in the middle of the 2014 season, Silver has worked to extend the league’s reach globally while harboring a player-friendly environment.
The NBA’s playoff structure has remained mostly constant in the modern era of the sport, although the length of early round series’ have changed. Eight teams from each conference qualify and winners advance through the first round, the conference semifinals and conference finals to decide the two teams that will face off in the NBA Finals.
Over the past decade, the West has been considered significantly stronger, overall, than the East. However, four of the last six championship teams have emerged from the Eastern Conference bracket.
For now, the potential changes are only under consideration and will be discussed at the annual Governor’s meeting in April, with a representative (usually the managing partner or team owner) from each team present.
But it’s another sign that Silver always has his eyes on the future.