BOSTON — During All-Star weekend, one of the things Adam Silver said he wanted to focus on in his second year as commissioner was reducing the wear-and-tear on the players by reducing the number of back-to-backs on the schedule, and attempting to eliminate stretches of four games in five nights almost entirely.
Beginning the season earlier and/or extending it later into June would allow more time to accomplish that, and those options remain on the table. But what hasn’t seriously been discussed is reducing the number of games in place on the regular season schedule.
“To me, 82 is here because somebody is making a lot of money,” Mike D’Antoni said Friday, as part of a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “Usually that’s the bottom line. They’re making money, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it’s a little more like a marathon, and that’s just the rules. 82 isn’t going anywhere.”
As D’Antoni summed up succinctly, without a large amount of data available to essentially prove that an 82-game schedule significantly puts the league’s players at risk, the financial incentive not to touch that magic number of 82 will remain too strong. And Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren echoed those remarks.
“It’s not just the number of games, it’s in what time frame,” Zarren said. “So there may be some tweaks that happen soon in the NBA to that. It’s a much more realistic thing than cutting games, because it’s in everyone’s interest to grow the pie, and cutting the number of games cuts ticket sales, which shrinks the pie.”
Those are realistic perspectives, but they’re ones that come from a coach and a member of the front office.
On the player side, Shane Battier came up with a number of games that he believes would be ideal — not only to protect the athletes, but also to make the games that are played much more compelling.
“Personally, I think a 60-game season would be perfect,” Battier said. “Every game matters more. You can’t sleepwalk through a few weeks of the season — it does happen — and then all of a sudden wake up near the All-Star break and turn it on. Fans just want to see the best basketball players in the world at their highest level going head-to-head.
“Every team has a certain number of throwaway games. You just know. You just know you’re not winning tonight. You don’t have it. And then after the game, coach knows it, everybody knows it, coach comes in, says ‘Alright, bring it in guys. We’ll get ’em tomorrow. 1-2-3 team!'”
Money, however, will remain the primary reason this idea faces such great and continual opposition. And while Battier firmly believes less would be more in terms of a reduction of the schedule, he certainly realizes it.
“Obviously, the economics, that’s not my forte so I can’t figure that out,” he said. “But from a competitive standpoint, from a product standpoint, the game would be immensely better with 22 less games.”