NEW YORK (AP) — Adam Silver’s NBA has endless action and daily drama.
That’s the offseason.
Then the regular season starts, and some of the intrigue ends.
Most predictions again see Golden State and Cleveland standing above their challengers for a fourth straight season, a pattern of dominance that even has Michael Jordan fearing a league where 28 teams are “garbage.”
The NBA commissioner isn’t worried. Silver believes great teams are good for business, the way Jordan’s Bulls were in the 1990s and the way Stephen Curry’s and LeBron James’ teams are now. The commissioner says any of them can be beaten, too.
“Sometimes it’s just the nature of things, but I’m confident that given some of the moves that our teams made in the offseason that there’s no doubt there are multiple teams gunning for the Warriors and for that matter gunning for the Cavaliers this season as well,” Silver said.
Jordan now owns the Charlotte Hornets, one of perhaps 25 teams in the NBA with little-to-no hope of winning a title this season — or maybe anytime soon. The Hornets have just one All-Star, not nearly enough to compete when the Warriors have arguably four top-20 players, and the Cavaliers restocked around James with the likes of Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose after Golden State’s romp last June.
“I think it’s going to hurt the overall aspect of the league from a competitive standpoint,” Jordan told “Cigar Aficionado” magazine about multiple stars joining together on the same team. “You’re going to have one or two teams that are going to be great, and another 28 teams that are going to be garbage. Or they’re going to have a tough time surviving in the business environment.”
Silver understands the comments, given Jordan’s competitiveness, and acknowledges that “at the end of the day we sell competition and we want to have as many competitive teams as possible, but sometimes it just happens that again, combinations of certain players come together, they’re well-coached like those Bulls teams were in the ’90s.
“He’s obviously frustrated that his team isn’t being talked about as a potential champion this season and I think it’s just that. He’d love to win and he’s frustrated,” Silver said. “Having said that, Michael also happens to be the chairman of our Labor Relations Committee and nobody is suggesting we have the perfect system here or that over time we can’t make it better. And that’s something we’ll continue to look at.”
While Silver downplays Jordan’s concern, it does have merit.
So the league has made changes, in part, to make the regular season more meaningful.
Silver can fine teams who sit out healthy players during nationally televised games, and the lottery system has been tweaked so that teams will have less incentive to lose on purpose in hopes of having the best odds at landing the No. 1 pick.
Silver is interested in doing more. He likes how international soccer teams can play in multiple leagues or tournaments, giving them more avenues to a championship. He sees that as a potential midseason opportunity teams and their fans could embrace, knowing they wouldn’t be playing for the big prize in June — though it would require changes to the regular season schedule and All-Star break.
“We like the way things are and it doesn’t go just to a long regular season, but there is that notion that there should potentially be other things that teams are playing for, rather than 29 teams being disappointed at the end of every season,” Silver said.
He was encouraged by the teams willing to take their shot at the Warriors this summer, from Houston acquiring Chris Paul to Oklahoma City trading for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Boston took Kyrie Irving away from Cleveland for its chase of the Cavaliers.
But there is a sense that none of those moves puts any of the teams on the same level as the Warriors.
“The only thing that can derail them is an injury and to me if one (Warrior) goes down I still think they’re the favorites,” Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Reggie Miller said. “If two go down then I think it’s a lot closer, those two being Steph and/or Kevin Durant. But injuries aside, if they stay healthy I hate to say it, it’s not even close.”
Even coach Mike D’Antoni, whose Rockets will play the Warriors on Tuesday night after Silver gives Golden State its championship rings, doesn’t rate his team with the champs.
“They’re clearly ahead of the pack. It’s going to take us to get up there,” D’Antoni said. “… It’s not like you will ever be a favorite for a long time over those guys unless they either slip or we come up a notch or two.”
Silver believes the Warriors’ dominance is something to admire, not dread. He headed up NBA Entertainment during Jordan’s run of six championships, when overseas broadcast partners demanded as many Bulls games as possible. The worldwide interest is even higher now, with last season’s ratings soaring even despite fewer postseason games than usual, thanks to the Warriors winning all but one of their series in a sweep.
“The Golden State Warriors have set an incredibly high bar and it’s the best basketball that I think we’ve ever witnessed in the history of the NBA in terms of the aesthetic beauty of the game, style of the game, and it will take other teams time to catch up,” Silver said. “There’s no doubt about it.
“But at the same time, we have in one league the collection of the very best players from the entire world and some of the most competitive people on the planet, and so I have no doubt teams will step up this season.”
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