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12 rule changes to create the perfect NBA

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Let’s advance the modern game.

Las Vegas To Host 2007 NBA All-Star Game Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

We have been delivered unto August ... however delirious, liquefied and musky. NBA players are largely heading to their bunkers to fine tune their bespoke and yoked selves. Some will emerge svelte, others will see their Feltonian shadow and scurry back inside. Training camps don’t open until the last week of September. So now is the time to ruminate on incipient trends to see if there aren’t ways to improve this most glorious game.

Some of these concepts would never gain real traction, while others are just waiting to be unboxed and implemented. I know how people can be resistant to change, so we’ll start off with some quick and easy alterations as we gradually ramp up to the zanies. I know basketball is the melted cheese of sport but I’m hoping by the end of this you’ll agree that it could be even more delectable. Because good is dumb. Shall we?


LIGHT SPEED TOO SLOW

The current iteration of basketball is commonly characterized by how dramatically you can affect pace and space. So here are a few alterations that could help the speed of play by adding possessions, controlled chaos and gamesmanship.

  1. A shot clock violation does not take effect unless the offensive team touches the ball first. This will function much like a backcourt violation. The main difference is allowing the defense to grab a loose ball after the shot clock expires, no whistle will blow the play dead, and they can get out and go in transition. As it currently operates, the shot clock violation essentially penalizes the defensive team for executing one of their toughest challenges. To bend without breaking for 24 seconds. In a bizarre twist of the knife this just serves to extinguish easy transition scoring opportunities. In theory the league is trying to promote scoring. Why tamp it down here? Stopping play here also rewards a stymied offensive team with the opportunity to regroup while the referees take a moment to make sure everyone is ready and then reset the game. A shot clock violation is a turnover and it should damn well hurt like one.
  2. Delay of game technical fouls are noted, then assessed at natural game breaks. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Right now when a player momentarily delays the game — perhaps by tapping the ball to the ref after a basket instead of letting the change of possession occur fluidly — the clock stops, the court is cleared, a designated player goes through their free throw routine, the possession is reset at the opposite baseline. It is almost a delay of game pissing contest. That’s not a delay ... this is a delay. In my iteration of how to assess the delay of game penalty, you wait until the game has a natural reset. So coming out of a time out, in between quarters or at the front end of a free throw that was achieved in normal play for a few examples. You do not disrupt the natural ebb and flow of the game, only to exacerbate the exact issue you’re trying to reprimand. This also adds a heaping dose of foreboding drama to a make or break end of game situation.
  3. A kick ball violation adds 5-seconds to the shot clock. This rule change would add five-seconds up to, but not exceeding, the full 24. I decided on five seconds because that is the time you are granted to inbound the ball anywhere on the floor. No more resetting to the somewhat arbitrary fourteen-second mark. So if a kick ball occurs with three seconds left, you have 8 seconds to shoot. Kicked with 16 seconds- you get 21 etc. To me it just feels like the precise ratio of crime:time.
  4. Count hockey assists! This change is mostly a way to help juice the statistical contributions of role players. Essentially the NBA should award a half-assist-point for the pass to the pass that garners a basket. It’s a lot more to assess in an already fast-paced, high-scoring game. I definitely put the scorekeepers in a tight spot with this one. Casual fans won’t care about the scorekeepers though. Hell, maybe it creates another job. I’m stimulating the economy here. In theory this adjustment will give players more incentive to keep the ball zipping around, and that is exciting basketball. Agents will definitely love it. Now the Joe Ingles’ of the world are going to average 10+ assists per game.

MONSTERS IN BOXES

This group is a little more faaar ooout, maaan. These are designed to attack some of the gunkier problems around the league. The commonality is that these are all logical albeit radical solutions to problems the league has to address.

  1. Intentionally fouling (Hack-a-Whoever) is only allowed in front court play. For example: Deandre Jordan can stay behind the half court line on a given play and not allow the defense to deploy intentional fouls as a way to short-circuit the game. If they do elect to foul Deandre in the back court it will reward the offensive team with one foul shot and the ball back. Conversely, if he stays in the game, his team can either elect to play a 4-on-5 disadvantage (with Deandre hopping in and out of the front court as a release valve and relay passer) or they can play 5-on-5 and bet on their teammate. Also this should be how the game is played the whole game, not just the last two minutes. Also can we start using our brains a little and shorten the person who is being hacked to one syllable? Hack-a-Dre. Hack-a-Drumm (gotta distinguish). Hack-a-Jo (Noah). Hack-a-Steve (Haka-Steve). The only exception I’ll allow is Hack-a-Pella.
  2. One “Legacy Contract” per team. In this day and age teams are often challenged to go all in on young players before it’s clear if that will help them contend for a title (James Harden, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins). The player in turn bolts or gets booted for any number of reasons. Smaller markets also tend to struggle to hold onto their stars, or they struggle to field a capable team around their star due to salary restraints. Alternately a team may be jammed up by (the specter of) a gigantic veteran contract that doesn’t get them enough bang for their buck. In this alteration, one way to reward players and teams for showing mutual loyalty is to designate one player for this Legacy Contract. My design would only allow this to work for a small portion of the league. The qualifications are: any player with 10 years of experience (the average NBA career is 4.8 years long) or anyone who has played out the entirety of their rookie deal plus one maximum extension or concurrent max contract with one team can qualify. At long last, here’s the pay off: essentially once this good faith has been paid, the parties can sign a contract for any dollar amount and years they can rightly negotiate. The catch is that it will count against the salary cap as a median NBA salary, until or unless the Legacy player is traded. According to Business Insider, two years ago the median salary was pushing toward $7 million a year. This would help keep stars in towns, essentially providing a floor to ceiling window for championship contention, because the lucky teams could finally overpay without handicapping themselves. Luxury & repeater taxes would still apply to the hard number of the salary. Legacy contracts should be negotiated in advance of open free agency.
  3. No live ball time outs and no back-to-back timeouts. Time outs are probably too big of a money maker for commercial interests to be completely eaten up like this. But I think they should continue to peel them back and this would drive the drama of a competitive game directly into ludicrous speed. If the play is live, you’ll need to foul or be fouled to call a timeout. Or the ball will have to go out of bounds or some other type of natural breaking point will have to occur. I would think a reasonable exception would be for calling a timeout after rebounding a foul shot. Teams already use this to advance the ball, which I think is sound strategy. This brand of time out can easily be signaled for prior to the make/miss almost like a fair catch in american football. Denying a time out after a time out is also a fantastic idea, and you’re welcome. I’m glad you had someone like me to think of it. If you need to call a time out after a time out has just concluded, you’ll have to intentionally foul before the ball is inbounded and you can call the timeout after the free throws are taken. Can’t inbound the ball after your timeout? Throw it off the defenders foot or something. It’s out time for time outs.
  4. Shots made from behind the half court line count as four points. Four fuckin’ points, baby! It’s bound to happen and a 47-footer might be the calmest water you’ll find to ease naysayers into accepting the inevitable. I used to run a basketball league that had a four pointer from behind half court, or anywhere inside the center circle. It was awesome! It added drama to close games and thrust sudden drama onto blow outs. Sooner or later teams will figure out how to weaponize it and we’ll know the game is in a good place.

IMPOSSIBLE VACATIONS

Now I know these ideas are too far fetched to catch. Too scary to carry. Yet here they are, and don’t you deny them.

  1. The Draft Lottery has one winner (and potentially several “under-winners”). Lottery reform seems painstakingly overthought. The only thing people seem to agree on is that there should be a lottery. Have you heard about the Lottery Wheel? It’s a fantastic idea that people will just never really want to wrap their heads around. Now imagine having to hear the NBA on TNT crew explain it to you. It’s enough to make you want to go to the store and never come back. I believe it doesn’t have to be this way. It can even be a... Live! Television! Event! Check it out. Each non-playoff team’s odds are relative to their season record, the worse your record, the better your odds. You with me so far? So now, the winner and everyone underneath them sets the path for the rest of the lottery order. So boom, take this walk with me... It’s draft lottery night. You turn on your TV, some shmohawk explains the odds for each team to win. Yolanda Vega (or the NBA version of her— Brent Barry perhaps) trots out on the stage, welcomes you to the lottery drawing, and *pop* out comes a single lottery ball. They grab it from the machine and whichever team logo is on the ball wins the first pick. So suppose the 8th ranked team wins, Yolanda Vega/Brent Barry proclaims the winner, people go totally nuts for a minute and then some talking head restores order and explains this: the order for the draft will be 8-14 & then 1-7. After that the playoff teams pick where their record placed them. If the number 2 team wins the order would be 2-14, 1, 15-30. Got it? Let’s do it.
  2. The benches should be move to the baselines. The coaches box can remain extending all the way up the sideline but they should be placed on opposite sides. Almost like boxers having a corner. So let’s just say the visiting team gets the East baseline and the South sideline. The home team gets the West baseline and the North sideline. Maybe this seems a bit arbitrary but hear me out. If there’s a place where these enormous athletic humans need other enormous athletic humans to anticipate and cushion a wild crash it’s by the stanchions and along the baseline. Not to mention this frees up some of the mid court for camera-people to give the home viewer access to one of the best seats in the house. It will never happen, but it just seems so obvious to me. Also adds a visual element of oppositional rah-rah that will look good on TV. Especially when it comes to bench mob celebrations. Loads more room to gesticulate and have a good stomp about.
  3. Bring back Seattle, add Mexico City, Pittsburgh and Las Vegas. The SuperSonics were such a fun franchise and the city of Seattle has a strong basketball backbone. The Thunder are run by a group of Goblin Kings. Bring back the energy of the Sonics, now that’s a solution. Now that gambling is good to go, Las Vegas is likely greedy and craven enough to welcome in a billion dollar corporation. We can call them The Las Vegas Male Aces. ¿Mexico City Chilangos? I don’t feel confident naming this team. I just know that that’s the place. Pittsburgh Pitbulls, too perfect. We gotta balance things out heading east and Pittsburgh is an underrated, wonderful city.
  4. Make the playoffs super scary. Firstly it’s got to be top 16 teams regardless of conference. You knew it, I knew it, she knew it, he knew it, who it, blew it, screw it. Now the playoffs can justly get mondo-looney because round one is just a one game, winner take all, no holds barred, put up or shut up survivor series. Insanity, I know! Round two puts a little rice in the bowl as we bump it up to best of three (Home-Away-Home). The conference finals add the broth and we’re up to a best of 5 (HH, AA, H). Then we get the whole enchilada on the grand stage, seven games of The Finals. I know how little of a chance there is for this to happen. Because owners want their games gates and they want the subsequent revenue to be streaming through them. The fan, on the other hand, wants the upset, the grit and determination, the underdog’s glory. David throwing caution to the wind as it whips Goliath across the face. The heavy favorites can lose and then have an entire season hinging on unfinished business. Fans want the bloody mouth of we could have, should have beat them! The fanatic thrives on the promise of hope. Give them hope.

Just a small pool of thoughts from a former low-level basketball league commissioner. A hapless lowlife stuck in this August broiler.