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November 1, 2014
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One Month In, Silver Setting A Precedent

It’s only been just more than a month since Adam Silver took the reins from David Stern as NBA commissioner, but the 51-year old is already making his mark and showing receptiveness to more structural changes than the league has seen in years.

One of the first reforms Silver initiated was the creation of a “centralized replay center” to be utilized beginning next year to help streamline the currently much maligned use of instant replay in the league.  Whereas now referees must stop the game to walk over to the scorer’s table to review eligible calls on a small in-stadium screen, the implementation of a replay center would have all reviews conducted from an off-court location solely devoted to watching replays.  The NHL uses a similar system, in which all reviewable calls league-wide are scrutinized from a single “situation room” in Toronto.  Hopefully, for Silver and the NBA, the duplication of this system will minimize in-game stoppages that interrupt the natural pace and flow of basketball games.

The new commissioner has shown a willingness to embrace new technologies and ideas in order to improve the game, most notably the growing presence of both analytics and social media.  He also attended the annual 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this past weekend and sat down for an entertaining interview with author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell.

Faced with the issue of tanking – where teams theoretically lose intentionally in order to increase their chances at a high draft pick – Silver expressed interest in several cutting-edge ideas.

Silver mentioned that we was “fascinated” with the idea of a play-in tournament among the bottom eight teams for the final playoff seed in each conference, similar to the “Entertaining As Hell Tournament” pushed for by writer Bill Simmons.

Another possible solution of interest was the proposed “draft wheel,” where every team is put on a fixed, 30-year cycle in which they are pre-determinately slotted into each spot in the draft order exactly once.  The wheel guarantees every team a top six pick every five seasons and cuts “the link between being very bad and getting a high draft pick.”  Queried by Gladwell, Silver explained how he had already committed to exploring and studying the effects of the draft wheel and openly praised the idea for its disincentives to tanking and its ability to allow teams to plan long-term.

Silver has also posited players’ issues a priority, very much unlike the typical stance of top professional sports league commissioner, functioning mainly as a representative of owners’ interests.  One main concern of his is raising the age limit from 19 to 20 years old, in order to benefit the college game, as well as the development of individual players.  Said Silver, it is the “responsibility of the NBA as stewards of the NBA” to ensure strong quality play at all levels of basketballs.  He is also supportive of measures to increase the All Star break, reduce the amount of back-to-back games and minimize travel to ensure players get more adequate rest.

Maybe most importantly, however, is the philosophy to leading Silvers brings to the league.  As much as Stern skillfully led the league through some hard times and ultimately retired as one of the most accomplished and distinguished commissioners, he was criticized by many for being too bullying or controlling.  On the overhand, Silver manages more cooperatively according to people around the league.

“Stern ran the league the way my dad would have run the league”, said Sacramento Kings minority owner Mark Mastrov.  “I think Adam’s style will be more democratic, where he’s a guy looking for feedback, who works with the collective, then makes his decision.”

Surely, a more feedback-oriented approach will mean decisions that leave players and fans happier more often than not, while Silver’s grasp of analytics and empiricism will be craftily deployed come time for collective bargaining negotiations.

When Stern retired as league commissioner after a 30-year reign, he left very big footprints to fill; but Adam Silver seems intent on leaving his own impression on basketball sooner rather than later.