2018 NBA All-Star Game: Team LeBron vs. Team Stephen

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says league studying possible playoff format change

League head discusses many topics during state of league session

LOS ANGELES — NBA commissioner Adam Silver in his annual state-of-the-league news conference before the All-Star Saturday activities at Staples Center addressed many issues, including relations between the players and league referees.

“The fact that we have players and referees sitting down and talking about these issues … can only improve things,” Silver said.

Other topics Silver addressed during Q&A portion:

ONE AND DONE: Discussions are ongoing about the current “one-and-done” rule for draft-eligible players, both with an NCAA commission led by former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice and within the league’s ranks. The continued development of the G League as a true, 1-to-1 affiliated minor league figures to play a role in any changes, as will input from the players union. Nothing is imminent.

PLAYER TAMPERING: Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, recently fined $50,000 for “tampering” by talking about Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, crossed a line despite praising the Bucks All-Star and suggesting he would lead Milwaukee to an NBA championship. “Context is everything,” Silver said. The commissioner said he spoke with Johnson Friday about the transgression, and left no wiggle room in the message he shared with the media Saturday: “Stop talking about star players on other teams.”

PLAYOFF SEEDS: A question about sticking to 12 All-Stars from each conference, now that the playground-draft format has rubbed out conference lines, morphed into Silver commenting again on proposals to draw 16 playoffs teams – or at least seed them – without regard for East or West. The biggest hurdle to revamping the playoffs remains travel for the first three rounds, potentially sending teams across three time zones. Silver said the league will continue studying ways to address that, perhaps stretching out the schedule further to allow more travel days.

GAMBLING: Any resistance from the gambling industry to the NBA’s proposed 1 percent royalty, or “integrity fee,” if sports betting is legalized at a widespread level is justified, Silver said. “We will spend this year roughly $7.5 billion creating this content, creating these games,” he said. “What will come with legalized sports betting are enormous additional expenses for the league that go directly to integrity.”

SOCIAL ISSUES: Silver defended LeBron James, Kevin Durant and NBA players in general for using their status and social media platforms to weigh in on social issues. The two All-Stars gained notoriety this week for a video in which James used profanity in referring to President Trump. Subsequently, Fox News host Laura Ingraham criticized James, questioned his knowledge of political issues and suggested he “shut up and dribble,” a nod to her 2003 book about Hollywood and other cultural elites, “Shut Up and Sing.”

“These players are not just basketball players, they’re multi-dimensional, they care about their communities,” Silver said. “They care enough to speak out, and sometimes at great risk to themselves because it’s not lost on them that there are some people who will disagree with them.”

Silver cited Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Bill Russell – who happened to be sitting in the front row of the interview room – for Russell’s involvement in the 1960s in civil rights issues, including being present in 1963 for Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

“There is this direct through-line from players like Bill Russell, here it was roughly 50 years ago, to LeBron and Kevin Durant speaking out today on issues that are important to them,” Silver said.

“I just conclude by saying, I’m really proud of them.”

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

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