NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in recent comments to Phoenix Suns staff, addressed possible solutions to tanks while noting that he understood why teams would do this when “one player in a generation” is about to enter the league, according to sources who were present.
Describing Silver as a “serious issue” that has sparked “hundreds” of meetings, Silver’s comments came this week during a question-and-answer session at the Suns Arena, where Silver also apologized several times on behalf of the league’s office in front of a large audience. A group of Suns employees for workplace misconduct under majority owner Robert Sarver.
During the hearing, a staff member asked Silver about tanks, a topic widely expected to dominate the league conversation with the 7-foot-4 French phenom Victor Wimpanyama – a franchise-altering prospect – expected to be the No. 1 pick in Draft 2023.
“We’ve got the teams informed,” Silver told the staff. “We will pay special attention to this issue this year.”
Speaking about a concept in European football, Silver told staff that the league had considered relegation as a potential solution to ensure that teams with the worst performance were incentivized to compete. But the commissioner then said relegation would be a “destabilization” for the NBA.
In such a scenario, Silver told the staff, relegation would essentially mean downgrading the worst team or two to the G League with the best team or two from the G League being promoted to the NBA.
“It will disrupt our business model,” Silver told employees. “And even if you pick two G-League teams, they won’t be equipped to compete in the NBA.”
In an effort to help reduce tanks, the NBA has flattened the lottery odds in 2019, so the teams with the three worst regular season records have a 14% chance of winning the lottery. (Before that, the record-worst team had a 25% chance, the second-worst team had a 19.9% chance, and the third-worst team had a 15.6% chance.)
However, Silver told the staff that the tank was still an issue this season.
“It’s something we have to pay attention to,” Silver said. “The draft is, in principle, a good system. But I understand it, especially when there is a feeling that one player is in a generation to come, as we have this year.” Sources present said Silver did not mention Wimpanyama by name, but added that the league would adjust as necessary.
“Teams are smarter, they are creative, they are responsive — we move, we move — so we are always looking to see if there is a better system,” Silver told employees.
Silver also took up a question about the league’s expansion, which he told Suns employees the league will look closely once it goes through the upcoming TV rights negotiations. (The NBA’s current TV rights package, a nine-year deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, is set to expire after the 2024-25 season.)
“In order to assess any teams coming up, we need to know where we stand from a media point of view; this is clearly our most important form of revenue overall,” Silver told the staff.
But Silver also discussed “potential talent dilution” – adding more teams would weaken the overall product.
“None of us can remember going through a season where there was a perception that there was a lot of competition, but, nevertheless, the goal is to have 30 competing teams, not 20, or whatever, so I think we pay attention to the mitigating factor,” he told the staff.
However, Silver said that the league, in general, is doing well and that there is no shortage of strong candidates for new teams in the new cities, although he did not mention any specific cities. Las Vegas and Seattle are potential candidates for new NBA teams should the league expand.
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