After NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s annual Q&A session with reporters over All-Star Weekend, most people left the room mumbling some version of this in a pretty sarcastic tone:
Well, I guess that everything is great and there are no problems in the NBA. Sure.
Fans continue to complain about load management, but Silver isn’t convinced there is a problem.
The company that operates a regional sports network for more than half the league is facing bankruptcy, but Silver isn’t concerned.
The NBA and NBPA are facing a mutual opt-out date of March 31 for the current collective bargaining agreement, but Silver said that both sides have prioritized reaching an agreement.
Facial recognition software has created an uproar in New York as people are being turned away from attending events at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, but Silver said that there is nothing untoward happening.
Superstars are demanding trades, but Silver isn’t worried.
From the NBA commissioner’s point of view, everything is A-OK. Case closed, nothing to see here, move along.
I understand the instinct to react skeptically after listening to Silver field questions about the above topics and more. I was one of the many who left that interview room feeling like all issues and problems were brushed off and waved to the side. But, after some thought, I have to admit, that I’m not overly concerned about any issues facing the NBA.
Stick with me, I promise I’ll explain.
The biggest topic of the day when Silver walked up to the podium at Vivint Arena was the issue of load management. Are players playing enough? Should the season have fewer games? Or, should the season be played over a longer time period? What about fans who show up to games to see the stars but then the stars are resting?
In short, Silver said that all told there aren’t actually a huge number of star players resting vs. not playing because of injury and the idea that those rest days are leading to fans turning away from the NBA is not actually the case. The NBA is nearing a record-breaking year for ticket sales and for season-ticket renewals and fans are still tuning in.
Additionally, Silver said that he does not think it’s appropriate to take a traditionalist view and say that players should just get out there and play through pain like they did in the good old days, and I completely agree there.
There are huge amounts of doctors and scientists who are continually looking at data to ensure that not only are athletes’ bodies preserved for peak performance in the short term, but also so they can have long, healthy careers.
Among all that data though there hasn’t been anything, according to Silver, that has led the league to believe that changing the schedule would change anything about injuries.
“If it means at some point we conclude that we’re better off elongating the schedule to reduce back-to-backs, for example, that’s something that’s worth looking at. If we thought it made sense to reduce the number of games, we would,” Silver said. “But there’s no data right now that suggests ... that injuries would increase as the season goes on. It may be that there’s a fair degree of randomness in terms of when players get injured.”
Both the NBA and National Basketball Players Association talk through all of these topics regularly and although I feel like it would be better for the league to make sure that rest days are kept at a minimum, I don’t know if a shorter schedule or any other fix would actually change the way that NBA athletes manage their bodies.
I think that the league will continue on, business as usual, and, as Silver said, the fans will continue to show up and tune in, and so long as they do, it’s not really a problem.
That’s what I mean when I say that I agree with Silver on some of these topics. I definitely have my own opinions about the schedule and number of games, but I also understand that the NBA is a business and what matters most in that business is the bottom line. So if the fans are staying then there isn’t really a problem, right?
Let’s look at the next issue on the table.
Diamond Sports Group, which operates Bally Sports and hosts 16 NBA teams on regional sports networks, looks to be on the verge of a bankruptcy filing. If, as seems to be the case, Diamond was not able to pay its fees to the NBA in order to keep broadcasting games of over half of the league’s teams, what would happen?
Before we get to what Silver said, I’ll tell you what I think will happen — nothing. The NBA will find a way to get eyeballs on games and then there will be another company that will step in or another plan put in place. The NBA isn’t going to suddenly go dark. I just don’t believe that’s going to happen.
And, Silver just about said as much. With just over 20 games remaining in the season for each team, there isn’t a lot of regular season broadcast distribution that needs to be worried about this year. But if Diamond files for bankruptcy and everything is majorly disrupted, the league is ready to step in.
“For that period of time, we will have in place arrangements, if necessary, to continue to distribute those games to fans. So I think that’s what’s most important,” Silver said. “I would say long term I’m not that concerned because there are many other ways — platforms, including local over-the-air television, streaming services, other methods — to bring those games linearly and digitally directly to fans.”
A new CBA
It might be flippant for me to have this attitude, but I just think the NBA will figure it out. Which is exactly my attitude when it comes to the NBA and NBPA reaching an agreement on the next collective bargaining agreement.
Have there been lockouts in the past? Yes. Could there be another in the future? Yes. But, will they eventually come to an agreement? Yes.
The NBA and NBPA have until March 31 to decide if either wants to opt out of the current agreement on June 30 — a deadline that has already been moved twice and could be moved again if the two sides agree to do so.
There’s a lot being discussed as a part of new CBA negotiations, including spending limits for each team and whether players will once again be allowed into the league straight out of high school. There’s likely to be a lot of back-and-forth on these issues and there will be concessions made by both sides.
The point is that eventually, there will be an agreement. So, I’m not really concerned about it.
Madison Square Garden using facial recognition software to track people it does not want in the arena is an issue that has been widely covered in New York. There are definitely some concerns that can’t really be pushed to the side, but I think there is a lot of litigation that is going to continue in that realm.
“Our only rules are that they comply with local law,” Silver said. “From everything we understand right now, Madison Square Garden is complying with local law. At least, so far, we have not deemed it appropriate that we should be stepping into those situations.”
But, if things get dicier or if some of the lawsuits being put toward MSG and New York Knicks owner James Dolan start to sour, the NBA would absolutely have to step in, and it would.
Finally, we recently saw a trade deadline pass in which nearly 10% of the league was moved and that included public trade demands from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who were eventually traded from the Brooklyn Nets to the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, respectively.
Is movement good for the league? Sure. The NBA is No. 1 in professional sports where drama is concerned and some of that drama keeps the league interesting. Are public trade demands good? Definitely not.
“I think that’s a bad thing,” Silver said. “I think it’s corrosive to the system. Certainly fans don’t like it. Even lots of players don’t like it as well.”
Silver mentioned that there are rules in the CBA against making trade demands. Though, those rules as far as I know are loose at best and only promise that the NBPA will do its best to prevent a demand from happening.
That’s probably something that will be discussed in the upcoming CBA negotiations. While the NBA is known as the “player empowerment” league, it certainly doesn’t want to end up as the league that is subject to the whims of every star player that wants out of a situation.
In the end though, all of this will be worked out. Or, it won’t. You can put all the rules in the CBA you want and there will still be drama, still be demands, and the NBA will continue to provide entertainment, will still have the best players in the world, those players will continue to get paid and the NBA will do it’s best to nip issues in the bud before they become problems.
So, I can understand why Adam Silver isn’t very concerned. There’s not really an issue that the NBA is facing that it needs to be overly concerned about.