Memo To The League: Length Of The Season Is The Problem Here

By Steve Lichtenstein
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The Nets have been picking up some serious brownie points with the NBA offices of late. They’re always first in line to travel across the globe to spread the NBA gospel, recently returning from a two-game trip to China.

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And then they volunteered along with the Celtics to play an experimental 44-minute game–four minutes shorter than normal—on Sunday.

The idea was reportedly broached by Dallas coach Rick Carlisle at offseason coaches’ meetings and both Lionel Hollins of Brooklyn and Brad Stevens of Boston agreed to give it a try this preseason.

The underlying premise behind the experiment was that the games were taking too long to complete, which may be one of the reasons the league is in the midst of an unprecedented injury plague.

Oh, and maybe even more importantly, the games also happened to be consistently overshooting their designated time-slot windows on the television networks. Because God forbid the CenterStage rerun on the YES network gets cut a few minutes. In all matters involving all sports—not just the NBA–TV’s needs are prioritized.

So of course the first place the league looked to cut back was on the fans’ entertainment. Granted, Sunday’s exhibition also called for the removal of two automatic television timeouts—one each during the second and fourth quarters—but any idea that this was done for the players’ benefit should be laughed out of any court—basketball or law.

Everything that I heard from those who were involved in Sunday’s game at the Barclays Center, won by the Celtics, 95-90, agreed that it was the reserves’ playing time that was most impacted by the game’s shortened format.

Which means that not only were the stars playing the same number of minutes, they also were subject to shortened rest breaks between their runs on the floor.

Which in turn could have possibly led to even more aches and pains for some of the league’s top players–which is kind of the opposite result it was allegedly going for.

Rest assured, the boo-boo bug is a major issue for the NBA. Everywhere you turn, some big name is out of the lineup for a significant period with some debilitating injury.

Age and condition are no panacea. Seemingly invincible young players like Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Bradley Beal can only be seen in NBA arenas these days in suits, not uniforms, and the regular season hasn’t even started.

If you went to Sunday’s main event, you wouldn’t have witnessed Boston’s best player—point guard Rajon Rondo. He has been sidelined all preseason by a broken hand resulting from a fall at home.

Nor was All-Star center Brook Lopez available for the Nets. Lopez’s injury also came from a spill, but this one was in China when he awkwardly tried to contain Kings point guard Darren Collison’s drive into the paint and fell backwards. Lopez was diagnosed with a “mild” right midfoot sprain.

As everyone who follows this team knows, there is nothing mild about any incident involving Lopez’s feet, especially the right one. The seven-footer has missed 134 games over the last three seasons following three separate surgeries to fix fractures in his fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

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So even if it’s just for the remainder of the preseason, Nets fans take no comfort in trading the pleasure of watching the smooth shooting stroke of Lopez for Mason Plumlee’s throws at the basket (unless, of course, Plumlee receives the ball a few inches from the rim).

(One side note—the Nets have to be wondering whether they’ve found a diamond in the rough in 28-year-old Jerome Jordan, who has been impressive enough this preseason to have at least earned a roster spot after being out of the league since 2012. The seven-foot center scored 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field on Sunday—albeit in a game that didn’t count against one of the worst teams in the league. Still, when was the last time Plumlee knocked down jump shots from outside the paint? If Jordan can continue to give the Nets rebounding and interior defense when the games are more contested, it’s not hard to fathom him eventually eclipsing Plumlee in Hollins’ rotation.)

In cities all around the NBA, there are fans galore who have their own version of Lopez. Derrick Rose in Chicago, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City—every time one of these sublime talents hits the deck, shivers get sent down their fans’ spines.

And they will go down, thanks to the speed, athleticism and power that is necessary to thrive in the NBA. It’s a contact sport. In addition to high-flying forays to the basket, shots are contested from 25 feet away, with players constantly at risk of having their ankles turned (or worse) on their ensuing landings.

The obvious solution—and one that would take a divine directive before it would even be considered for implementation—would be to slash the volume and density of the NBA season.

No more back-to-backs. Death to four-games-in-five-nights. Get the schedule-makers to take a geography course so teams aren’t zig-zagging their way around the country. Let these guys’ bodies recover.

The NBA season is about 24 weeks long. Each team should play three games per week. That’s 72 games—a 10-game cut. You’ll only need one weekend for an All Star break instead of a whole week.

Even the playoffs are unnecessarily elongated. I remember best-of-three first rounds. A decade ago they were best-of-five. Now all four series are best-of-seven. Forget sprints or marathons—the NBA playoffs are an Odyssey.

Not that this is a shock, but this was all done for television money. Earlier this month, the league extended its deal with its television partners. Starting with the 2016-17 season, the NBA will reportedly earn about $2.6 billion annually for nine years.

The owners aren’t the only ones drooling over the 180 percent increase in revenues over the previous deal with ESPN and Turner. The players are already hunkering down for a possible work stoppage if they perceive they won’t be getting their fair share.

For some reason, I don’t think those networks will be paying such a premium for REDUCED programming. Neither the owners nor the players seem to be willing to slow down the money spigot even if it could prevent a few of their best revenue producers from drowning.

Instead, they both seem content to take as much of the fans’ money as fast as they can, even if it means increased performances conducted by understudies like Plumlee in lieu of marquee attractions like Lopez.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.

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