The NBA commissioner wasn’t just altruistically promoting the good of the game and spirit of competition.
He was appeasing his bosses.
Since the summer of 2014, NBA owners have been lobbying the league’s front office to step in with regard to the direction of the Philadelphia 76ers, sources told ESPN.com on Monday night. It was that effort that helped lead to the hiring of Jerry Colangelo to a senior position earlier Monday, the sources said.
Owners routinely complained about the economic drag the 76ers were inflicting on the league as the revenues of one of the largest-market teams — a franchise expected to contribute more robustly to league revenue-sharing — sagged. For many teams, games featuring the starless and woeful 76ers as the visiting team have been the lowest-attended of the season, sources said.
There are more sophisticated measures, but the 76ers rank 17th in road-attendance percentage this season. They were 21st last year and 15th the year before. Those are hardly alarming numbers, though it’s possible teams must sell tickets for lower prices against Philadelphia. It’s also possible ticked fans are more likely to stay home against Philly, meaning they don’t spend on parking, food and merchandise.
But the 76ers rank just 28th in home-attendance percentage, which is only slightly up from 30th and 29th the last two years. As the team continues to stink this season, there’s a good chance Philadelphia fans get even more tired of watching, and the ranking falls even further.
Plus, we know – as much fun as the 76ers are having with it – at least one potential major sponsor has resisted The Process. I suspect there are others.
It’s a safe guess that big-market Philadelphia is not coming close to its revenue potential. The franchise using every trick in the book to skimp on payroll might bring it closer to its profit potential, but league-wide sharing is primarily based on revenue rather than profit.
So, it’s perfectly reasonable for other owners to seek change. To some degree, they’re all in it together – a viewpoint based on legal fact.
Why are salary caps legal? They could be seen as collusion, competitors conspiring to reduce wages. But professional sports leagues have argued their teams don’t compete with each other as much as the league competes against other forms of entertainment. It’s not Warriors-vs.-Pacers. It’s the Warriors-Pacers game vs. that movie you might see.
Owners had other options to curb Philadelphia’s tanking, namely lottery reform. A majority approved it, but the 76ers – initially the lone holdout – successfully formed a coalition to block the supermajority necessary for change.
So, the aggrieved owner went a different route – to Silver, who helped put Jerry Colangelo into place. Now, Philadelphia, has Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, the rights to Dario Saric and several extra first-round picks (including a very valuable one from the Lakers). It might not be the stockpile of assets Sam Hinkie desired when he turned the corner, but it’s something. The 76ers also have Colangelo to smooth relations with disgruntled agents just as Philadelphia is nearly ready to spend.
It’s understandable why other owners would meddle into the 76ers’ business, but they might have waited too long. Philadelphia got its head start on rebuilding while leeching the system, and now Colangelo and lottery reform could boost the 76ers further.
NBA owners ought to be careful what they wish for.
They might get a financially stronger league partner – how could Philadelphia be worse? – but they’ll also lose a cupcake they can kick around on the court. That swap might be worthwhile, but the owners better realize the tradeoff.