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Silver expects changes to playoff seeding next season

Also addresses free agency moratorium, Hack-a-Shaq rules and more at Board of Governors media availability

POSTED: Jul 14, 2015 11:20 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Silver's Opening Statement

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media on the topics discussed at today's Board of Governors meeting.

— Winning an NBA division might get a lot less satisfying next season.

It's not the most prestigious accomplishment as it is, once the postseason revs up and conference championships feeding The Finals render forgettable those modest crowns of the Atlantic, the Central, the Southwest and so on.

But if a recommendation out of the Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in Las Vegas gets enacted as soon as this autumn, division titles would lose more than cachet. They wouldn't carry the guarantee of a Top 4 berth in the Eastern or Western conference playoffs.

Instead, the qualifying teams in the East and West would be seeded 1 through 8 according to regular-season records. That is the likely outcome, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver's comments after the annual summer meeting of the league's owners.

"It wasn't voted on yet," Silver said, "because we wanted all the owners to have an opportunity to go back and discuss that recommendation with their general managers and their coaches, and we'll vote on it before the beginning of the season. It's my expectation that that change will be adopted."

Under the current system, the three division winners in each conference are assured of a Top 4 spot in the seedings, regardless of record. Last season, for example, that put Portland at No. 4 even though the Trailblazers' 51-31 record ranked sixth-best in the West.

The Blazers didn't get homecourt advantage in the first round -- that went to No. 5 seed Memphis, with the Grizzlies beating Portland in five games. But the format didn't seem to reward Memphis' 55-27 performance, it dropped San Antonio to No. 6 despite an identical 55-27 record and it might not even have served the Blazers or their fans.

In winning its first division title in 16 years, Portland clinched the Northwest with two weeks left in the regular season thanks partly to the absence of other threats. Oklahoma City was the only other team in the division to top .500 and the Thunder were hampered by injuries in missing the postseason for the first time in six years.

Silver didn't offer any specifics beyond the general goal of 1-through-8 seeding. There apparently still is enough sentiment among the owners that the divisions be retained -- an Atlantic banner hanging in the rafters or at a practice facility might not mean much to Boston or New York, but it still might matter in Toronto, for instance.

It isn't clear, either, if a new format might result in a division winner -- in theory, at least -- finishing ninth in the conference and not qualifying for the playoffs at all. Embarrassing as that likely would be, you might expect the division crown to at least guarantee that much, if the division is worth keeping at all.

Among other rules or competition topics discussed at length, Silver said, one issue focused on player safety: Escape lanes next to the basketball support would be widened, creating room for players to run beyond the baseline without contact with photographers or other workers. Also, the possibility of adding a similar lane on each side, midway between the basket and the sideline, is being considered.

Another potential addition next season: Countdown clocks for timeouts to assure consistency throughout the league.


Silver might have raised some eyebrows during the question-and-answer session that followed his briefing on the BOG meeting, based on his responses to consecutive questions.

First, he was asked about the collective bargaining agreement and the prospect that the CBA might not be "reopened" in 2017, despite expectations of that on both the players' and the owners' sides virtually since the current deal was ratified in November 2011. As at The Finals last month, Silver said he and Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, hope to begin talks this summer to "avoid any sort of work stoppage whatsoever and maybe even to avoid the opt out."

While addressing that issue, Silver spoke of league revenues "much higher than we had ever modeled" and the prospect -- according to the approximate 50-50 split with the players -- of the owners' "writing a check" to the union of nearly $500 million, on the expectation that the sum of negotiated player salaries would fall short of 50 percent. (The NBPA traditional disperses that money to the players in proportion to their salaries.)

And yet, immediately after that topic, Silver was asked: How many teams still are losing money? Remember, this is in the context of the higher-than-modeled revenues and a salary cap that jumped from $63 million to $70 million this summer (and might rise to $90 million for 2016-17).

"A significant number of teams are continuing to lose money," Silver said, declining to specify which franchises, "and they continue to lose money because their expenses exceed their revenue."

Player payrolls triggering punitive "luxury tax" formulas, arena costs, the construction of new practice facilities and other infrastructure expenses have escalated as well, Silver said. He also cited the differences in local broadcast rights between major markets and smaller ones, with the less robust-ones still expected to compete on player salaries.

The juxtaposition of those questions and Silver's answers might factor into how much perspective he and Roberts share when they sit down this summer.


DeAndre Jordan, the Los Angeles Clippers center who generated headlines both in the postseason and in the offseason, came up in two contexts Tuesday. One was the league's "moratorium" period at the start of free agency. Jordan's controversial reneging last week on his verbal agreement to join the Dallas Mavericks sent the NBA into a frenzy for 24-48 hours, prompting calls for a different approach. This year, teams could negotiate -- but not officially sign -- free agents from July 1 through July 8. Next summer, the moratorium period lasts three days longer.

"I would say from a personal standpoint, it was not a great look," Silver said. "There was a breakdown in the system to a certain extent. Teams come to rely on those assurances. ... I'm not sure it's [Jordan's] proudest moment either, but, again, he was exercising a right that he appropriately has under the collective bargaining agreement."

Silver said that, while the moratorium is a condition of the CBA, the league and the players could agree to alter it or any other clause outside of formal bargaining talks. In fact, he suggested that input from the players and their agents might lead in future years to shortening the moratorium by a few days.

"They may feel it's a little long as well because they have the same interest and certainty," the commissioner said. "And what happens when teams can't sign -- especially the star players, and they're building their rosters around them -- it's a hold-up for a lot of other players in the league [to whom teams can't make commitments]."

Jordan's other claim to fame recently came as a target of hacking strategies deployed by opposing coaches, hoping to take advantage of his poor free-throw shooting. He and others similarly targeted, such as Houston's Dwight Howard and New Orleans' Omer Asik, got blamed for some dreary game play.

The NBA legislated against the tactic in the final two minutes of games by awarding one free throw and possession when a player is fouled off the ball. Some critics wanted that standard applied to the entire game. But Silver said TV ratings don't indicate that the herky-jerky effect on the game turns off viewers, and proponents of youth basketball still want to deliver the message that foul shooting is a skill worth practicing.

"My sense [is] often there is a marketplace correction on issues like that," Silver said. "You know, the analytics say if you can hit roughly 50 percent of your free throws, it's not generally an effective strategy. So we'll see."

The success of the Las Vegas Summer League, with record attendance, and the NBA's practice of hosting its summer meetings here, prompted some local reporters to inquire about Sin City as a franchise destination, either through expansion or relocation. The team currently in the crosshairs, at least slightly, is Milwaukee, with the Bucks' awaiting a vote this week by the Wisconsin legislature, yea or nay, on the $250 million public-funding component for their proposed new arena. Reports on Tuesday night indicate the state legislature has the votes to approve the funding.

Silver said the NBA is hopeful that the Bucks will be successful in moving into a new building by 2017 and stay in Milwaukee long term. He also said the owners are focused on the "health of 30 franchises" and building fan interest internationally, precluding expansion "at the moment."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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