Things Got Real Weird, Real Fast, but I Have a Solution

It involves removing six teams from the league. Sadly, Houston isn't one of them.

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Derrick White fights for a loose ball against the Boston Celtics
Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

I hoped the January 5 game against Boston would be a positive turning point in a Spurs season that has felt anything but a smooth ride. Kind of like the last time San Antonio played the Celtics. A dash of late-game madness, a pinch of the Spurs playing to snap a losing streak, and a lot of Dejounte Murray scoring. Put it all together and you get another win streak, right?

Not quite. The Spurs were lucky to escape the TD Garden with a win that night. And that, it seems, is where their luck ran out.

Hopes of building upon that victory and climbing into a top-six seed were quickly erased when Keldon Johnson, Derrick White, Devin Vassell, and Thaddeus Young joined Doug McDermott on the COVID-19 health and safety protocols list the next day.

Would there be a silver lining for those of us who wanted to see more Tre Jones? No. Jones joined the health and safety protocols list the following day.

Sigh. This is basketball until further notice, so we better get used to it.

Jonesing for Tre

I’ve been really interested in Jones’ development this season, and I really did want to see what Jones would do with more playing time (not that I’m advocating for anyone ahead of him getting sick or hurt). No, Jones hasn’t been spectacular, but I feel a certain calmness when he’s on the court that I don’t always feel with guys like Lonnie Walker or Johnson.

That, and I may have daydreamed about what it would take to trade for someone like Domantas Sabonis. I wanted to know if I could live without some combination of White, Johnson, Walker, Young, and picks if it meant starting a group of Jakob Poeltl, Sabonis, McDermott/Johnson (if still there), Murray, and whoever is left at the 2. Could Keldon play at 2 and share the court with Doug?

In that world, could Jones run a second-team offense with Josh Primo and Vassell? Would Zach Collins and Landale work well together off the bench? Bryn Forbes still exists, too, I guess. And don’t forget Keita Bates-Diop can soak up quality minutes, too. He’s been a nice surprise lately, even if he’s not capable of balling out with the game on the line. He shouldn’t have to. Not on a healthy team, anyway.

Instead of pondering the above, I’ve watched Tyler Johnson play 30 more minutes of basketball in a Spurs jersey than I ever wanted, which brings me to my next point.

Expansion by Subtraction

We hear serious talk of league expansion on a regular enough basis that we have at least consider it. Or maybe it’s just that I lived in basketball-starved Seattle for most of the last five years, and those people really would like to have their Sonics back. I don’t blame them.

But look at the league right now. The pandemic isn’t helping matters, but do we really have enough stars to ADD teams to the league? The NBA is a star-driven league, and at any given moment, we’re 3-4 injuries (or COVID cases) away from having the NBA’s upper echelon collapse. Add two more teams to the league and suddenly Tyler Johnson isn’t a 10-day hardship contract anymore. He’s got a rotational spot for the Kansas City Tornadoes, who’ve finished 15th in the West every year of their existence.

It’s hard to come by NBA stars. Just ask Houston. Look at the Knicks after Carmelo Anthony left or the post-Derrick Rose Bulls. Remember the Lakers in the final years of Kobe Bryant, before LeBron James signed? These are the biggest markets in the United States and Nick “Swaggy P” Young was all they had to show for it?

And now we’ve got a pandemic that can effectively half the size of your team in the span of two days. Expansion seems absolutely insane. Could the solution be… fewer teams with bigger rosters?

I know it will never happen. The quality of the game will always play second-fiddle to the ability of the game to produce dollars for thirty of the richest people on the planet, but let’s imagine for a moment that doesn’t matter.

The New NBA

First, we’re taking the players and picks of the Oklahoma City Thunder and giving them to Seattle. No coach or front office employee will be retained. The new generation of Sonics have free reign to build out a new staff.

Second, the Grizzlies are going back to Vancouver and the Clippers have to choose between moving to San Diego or Las Vegas. If they choose Las Vegas, they have to pick a new name.

Third, the following teams will be disbanded and their players will be put into an expansion draft:

  • Orlando Magic (because who will notice if they’re gone?)
  • Charlotte Hornets (despite LaMelo Ball being there, I regularly forget they exist)
  • New Orleans Pelicans (because it’s kinder than letting them languish)
  • Minnesota Timberwolves (because neither KAT nor myself can take it anymore)
  • Sacramento Kings (because of general malpractice at the highest level)
  • Washington Wizards (largely because of geographical reasons, but also because of apathy)

NBA rosters will expand to 19 players, and there will be a two-round expansion draft to disperse players from the teams above. Players not drafted in the expansion will become unrestricted free agents.

It was tempting to kill the Suns (on account of Robert Sarver being a human pile of trash) and the Clippers (LA doesn’t need or care about two teams), but I ended up deciding that it would be funnier to make the Clippers move to another city after breaking ground on their new LA arena.

Next, we need conferences. East and West are out, we’re going with four conferences in the future.

Mountain West

  • Vancouver
  • Seattle
  • Portland
  • Golden State
  • Utah
  • Denver

Southwest

  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego/Vegas
  • Phoenix
  • Houston
  • San Antonio
  • Dallas

Great Lakes

  • Toronto
  • Detroit
  • Milwaukee
  • Indiana
  • Chicago
  • Cleveland

East

  • Atlanta
  • Miami
  • Boston
  • New York
  • Brooklyn
  • Philadelphia

Scheduling and Playoffs

The playoffs will remain a 16-team affair. The top four seeds of the tournament are the four conference winners, from best record to worst. Seeds 5-16 are determined by record among the non-conference winners. 

What happens if a conference winner has a worse record than a non-conference winner? This will surely happen sometimes. Doesn’t matter. The conference winner still gets a top-four seed.

The regular season will work like this:

  • 5 games against each conference opponent (25 games)
  • 5 games against a rotating conference (30 games)
  • 4 games against each remaining team (24 games)
  • 1 extra game against the teams that finished in the same place within their respective conference standings in the prior season (3 games)

That keeps us at 82 games without overloading the schedule on conference opponents. One quirk is that each team will end up playing one out of the conference team six times in a season, while playing each conference opponent only five times. I’m leaving it because, well, I just think that’s fun.

So there you have it, the NBA is saved. Until next time!

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