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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

League Optimization: NBA    

George Orwell once said that any word not critical to the expression of a thought can be edited out. The same is true of sports teams. Today I lipo-suck the fat from the NBA, leaving behind a leaner, more elegant basketball league.

There are fewer unhealthy NBA franchises than, say, NHL franchises. The league is pretty bulletproof at the moment. But that doesn't mean teams are in the right cities, and it doesn't mean they need 30 teams.

As with the earlier NHL optimization, this is primarily a work of fantasy. I'm looking at fan-support issues, not the financial realities of each team's situation. For example, I drop my boxers and shake what remains in the face of anyone who thinks that the Seattle SuperSonics should leave The 206. Regardless of the arena deal and whatnot, I'd think the NBA would prefer that they live long and prosper in Seattle. Sure, the league would be fine with the Sonics in Vegas or Oklahoma or Bismarck or whatever, but basketball done right in Seattle has a higher ceiling than that of any potential suitor.

Anyway, here are the teams I'd consider moving or folding:

  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Charlotte Bobcats
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • Orlando Magic
  • Toronto Raptors
Atlanta Hawks
I will parrot my cry from the NHL post: this is not a city that can support four teams. Even three teams is a stretch. There is no love affair in Atlanta sports. The Braves are a habit, like brushing one's teeth every morning, more than a passion. The Falcons are probably the team that needs to succeed the most. The Thrashers and Hawks, however... jeez. The Hawks have tons of history, with Dominique and Spud Webb and all them, which is a fair point. Then again, they have a ton of history in St. Louis. Hot dog, we have a wiener! MEET THEM IN ST. LOUIS

Charlotte Bobcats
Bill Simmons took the city of Charlotte to task recently for not supporting their shitty team. While that seems like a great reason to yoink their team away, I think the Carolinas are too basketball-obsessed to abandon like this. Given the choice between pro ball succeeding in Charlotte, Atlanta or Orlando,I'll take Charlotte every damn time. STAY

Memphis Grizzlies
Am I allowed to vote for contraction simply because Dahntay Jones plays for them? Absolutely. I do have other reasons... the franchise is in horrible shape (pending Oden's arrival), and Memphis isn't exactly crying out for a team. But mostly it's because of Dahntay. Dahn-na-na, na-na, na-na-nah, hey, YOU FOLD

Orlando Magic
Peter May didn't dub this city Hooterville back in the 90's for nothing. What is the NBA doing in this city? They make Atlanta look viable and vibrant. Look at it this way... the state of Florida is overpopulated, well above ecological sustainability. The underground aquafers are stretched beyond the point at which they can support the state's existing level of industry and residence. In that sense, it's really in Mother Earth's best interests to start Florida on the path towards environmental recovery by shitcanning the Dwight and Darko show. It's what Al Gore would do. (I suppose Gore's actual revenge against Florida would look different, but this is a good start.) FOLD

Toronto Raptors
I'm all for putting hockey teams back up there, but when your players actively dislike playing for you because of the financial situation, I think that's a bad sign for future growth. And it's a legitimate gripe, too... there's a ceiling on how successful the franchise can be, given NBA culture. Building legitimacy for Canadian basketball is already an uphill battle, and that's a big strike against it. Even the Raptors' current Atlantic Division supremacy, and the upward spiral of Chris Bosh, won't change my mind. Oklahoma City did such a bang-up job with the Hornets, I say we throw them a bone... or, should I say, a fossil? Ha ha! MOVE THEM SHITS TO THE OKC

Seattle SuperSonics
There have been rumors circling that they will move. However, those rumors exist because of arena/lease issues, and ownership issues, not fan support or team success. Again, the league is way, way better off with Seattle than without them. STAY

New World Order

New York
San Antonio
LA Lakers
LA Clippers
Oklahoma City
St. Louis
New Orleans
Golden State


Not nearly as drastic as the NHL changes. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, the Atlantic and Pacific are entirely identical to their alignment prior to the Bobcats' arrival. The main switch is pulling Minnesota into the East, and moving the OKC Raptors into the Midwest, such that geographic rivalries are maintained. Doesn't it make more sense for Minnesota to go up against Milwaukee and Chicago? Or for New Orleans to compete against not only nearby Texan cities but the "other woman" that tempted their current team, Oklahoma City?

The dispersal draft would have a huge impact for the worst of the worst, but not really for the rest. There are exactly three impact players (Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Mike Miller), some rotation players/curiosities (Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick) and a bunch of shitty flotsam (J.J. Redick). I would think the league could hold a separate lottery for dispersal purposes, thus preventing anyone in the top 3 of the rookie draft from getting a top 3 dispersal pick.

So there you have it. Bask in the glow. (Stings a bit, doesn't it?)

Whither Canada?

The main obstacle here is Der Fuhrer, David Stern, and his insufferable promotion of NBA internationalism. He'd sooner move the Raptors to La Paz than return them to America. He is wrong. Internationalizing the teams' location is the wrong move; if it were a reasonable proposition, the European soccer leagues would have expanded themselves by now, because no sport is more international than soccer. It's no damnation of Canadian basketball to admit that NBA basketball in Toronto is dead.

Besides, the real way to develop Canadian basketball is for them to make their own league, a la the CFL. Look at how many undrafted college grads and NBA castoffs are going overseas and playing in friggin Israel and Turkey and shit. How many of them wouldn't opt for Canada if the money were about the same?

The reason this could work, and why it's such a provocative idea, is that Canada's league wouldn't be competing with the NBA: they'd be competing with the NCAA. Play in Canada until age 20, and jump to the NBA without college, just like the average European superstar would do.

I think there's a real beauty in this. Canada has no reason to give a rat's ass about abiding by either the NBA's 20-year-old age limit or the NCAA's de facto minor-league status. And they can offer a legal, reasonable alternative to college for all the kids who wouldn't take it seriously anyway. Not to mention a paycheck, over the table, that could likely match what they'd be getting under the table at college. There's really nothing the NBA could do from a legislative standpoint to prevent a Canadian pro league as a legitimate sidestep to the age limit.

Look at a basket case like O.J. Mayo. The benefits of college, and possibly college basketball as well, would be lost on him. So why make him go? Given the choice between a year of basket-weaving classes at USC, versus a season in Toronto or Montreal making bank while playing against professionals and developing NBA-style skills, what do you think Mayo would do?

Is it smart for the average high school player to do this? Probably not. But at the same time, I'd think a legitimate Canadian league could stock its roster with enough Kevin Pittsnogles to be selective when it came to high schoolers. It wouldn't necessarily be a way around school for kids who need it.

Am I missing something here?

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  • Well, looks like if a team does stay in Seattle, it won't be the current Sonics.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 12:49 PM  

  • By the way, what do you think of this idea? What about Atlanta and Seattle retaining the rights to the names Hawks and Supersonics and those record books? I think it's a direction I'd like to see sports go in generally, but I haven't really thought it through much.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 12:54 PM  

  • In the case of Atlanta, I'm moving them back to St. Louis, so the Hawks' record book isn't really Atlanta's to begin with.

    But in general, yes. Definitely for Seattle. But don't hold your breath for that... the Sonics name and records are franchise assets, and it sounds like this guy's more interested in assets than any measure of rightness or fairness.

    Hey, will the WNBA team be moving too? Let's hope not! You can become a WNBA fan!

    By Blogger Jeff, at 1:02 PM  

  • Yeah, the Storm and the Sonics are tied together. I'm not very attached to this current team, so I'll get over it.

    As for the likelihood...I'm well aware the current owner isn't very likely to do something that principled (although, I wonder what Oklahoma City would want with a team named after Boeing, let alone after the Seattle weather...sort of). What I'm wondering is, "how would things start to move in that direction?"

    I guess the city of Seattle could try to buy some part of the franchise from him. I guess the NBA could try to step in. But under what circumstances? How? How much would it cost? Is the team more marketable to the owner because it IS the Sonics? Or might he be better off naming it after something somehow related to OK? I'm just wondering what would have to happen to get a result that is currently very unlikely but ultimately would probably work out best for everyone? You know what I mean?

    By Blogger Jesse, at 1:50 PM  

  • OTOH, if we somehow land Durant in this draft and then the team gets moved, I might have a nervous breakdown. Call me conflicted.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 1:51 PM  

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