NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Adam Silver stood at the podium last All-Star weekend and said he wanted to listen.
He was two weeks into his rookie year as NBA commissioner, interested in traveling around the league and hearing new ideas about how to make it better.
When he returns to the All-Star stage on Saturday — a setting he readily acknowledges will have a special meaning for him as a native New Yorker — he isn’t planning to announce a new platform. But he also knows that the time for talk is ending.
“I think the Year 2 needs to be one in which we’re focused on action,” he told The Associated Press.
“And I think there are a variety of issues that have been raised in which I said we would take a fresh look, but I think now the pressure is on to respond. Either to make a change or to announce that we’re staying with the status quo as opposed to continuing to look at it.”
Silver identifies those as the format of the draft lottery, creating a schedule that can reduce the number of back-to-backs and stretches of four games in five nights, the way the playoffs are seeded, and increasing the NBA’s role in youth basketball.
“Those are probably the top issues on my agenda in Year 2, almost all of them, not accidentally, centered around the game as opposed to the business of the game,” he said. “As I’ve said before, our mantra now at the NBA is the game above all.”
Silver’s first year was a massive success in many ways, with the ouster of Donald Sterling and the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, to the extension of the league’s national TV contracts in deals that will be worth more than $2.6 billion.
The commissioner even managed to sidestep race issues that bubbled up in Atlanta. He lauded Hawks owner Bruce Levenson for self-reporting an inflammatory email that suggested black fans were keeping white fans away from games — though the email was sent two years before Levenson took action and after there was a team investigation.
Silver also supported Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who repeated racially charged comments about a player and is now on an indefinite leave of absence. And just this week his decision not to fine Knicks owner James Dolan for a harshly worded email to a fan was questioned.
Those barely caused a ripple in Silver’s wave of success, so no one is calling for the return of David Stern.
Now, the playoff process could become Silver’s next focus after lottery reform fell short of approval in October.
The Miami Heat would make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference despite a 22-30 record if the season ended Thursday, while West No. 8 Phoenix was 29-25, a season after falling short with 48 victories.
A 38-win team made the playoffs in the East last season.
“To me it’s less an issue of East vs. West. It’s more one of fairness,” Silver, 52, said. “And the larger question is ensuring a system where by the time our teams have fought through a long and rigorous 82-game schedule, that the teams that emerge for the playoffs are the very best teams in the league. And so to me the issue isn’t whether the West is better than the East, it’s more a function of ensuring that we have the best teams in the playoffs.”
He has been receiving proposals, and should he decide to push any of them, the biggest challenge might be persuading East owners to go along with a plan that could hinder their hopes of the postseason.
“I have enormous confidence in the group of owners we have now that they’re willing to take a long-term view of the health of the game, and it’s true that part of my job is to work with owners to ensure that we all take a long-term view on the health of the game,” Silver said.
“One thing that I can’t change is the number of wins every season, but I think we all have an interest in ensuring that the best-performing teams ultimately are the ones that are competing in the playoffs.”
Silver lengthened the All-Star break this season to give players extra time off now, though that’s created the need to fit more games into fewer available days. Addressing that is a goal in coming years.
For now, he’ll enjoy the week in New York, with the Saturday night events in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before Sunday’s game at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s going to be fantastic and I’d say as a lifelong New Yorker, it has special meaning to me,” Silver said. “I grew up attending games at Madison Square Garden. The fact that we were able to get all five boroughs involved has special significance to me.
“The fact that we’re using two NBA arenas, it’ll make New York City the epicenter of basketball in the world for this coming weekend.”
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