The ins and outs of the NBA's new rules

NEW YORK – Takeaways from an eventful NBA Board of Governors meeting on Thursday

The lottery reformers win out
Three years ago the NBA’s attempt to overhaul the draft lottery system failed, thanks to strong resistance from Oklahoma City and a coalition formed behind the scenes by Philadelphia, which was in the middle of an unprecedented rebuild. League officials privately vowed to revisit the issue again, and on Thursday – by a vote of 28-1 – the NBA passed lottery reform.

What does this mean? It’s simple, really: In 2019 – the league doesn’t want to mess with a rebuilding plan already in place, hence the one-year grace period for the current system – the odds for the top-three teams to win the lottery will be flattened to 14 percent, with the odds for the remaining participants reduced gradually after that. The belief is that by leveling the odds for the bottom three (the odds for the team with the fourth-worst record dips ever so slightly to 12.5 percent) the urge to flagrantly tank won’t be quite so overwhelming.

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“I felt lottery reform was important because there was a perception in many of our communities that the best path to rebuilding their teams was to race to the bottom,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “I don’t necessarily agree that that’s the optimal strategy to create a great team, but it became currency in this league.”

Make no mistake: Lottery reform is Silver’s baby. Team executives say Silver has been schilling for reform for weeks, targeting small-market owners who might be resistant. Ultimately, few were. Oklahoma City voted against it – the Thunder would sooner vote to auction off Bricktown than support any lottery reform – while Dallas abstained. The small-market band of brothers that submarined the NBA’s last attempt at lottery reform didn’t suit up for this fight.

Silver is out on a limb here. The league’s argument for reform makes sense; Silver won’t name Phoenix by name, but the Suns’ Rachel Phelps-like decision to punt away the second half of the season irritated many in Olympic Tower. By removing the incentive to tank, games figure to be more competitive, local television partners will be happier and Silver won’t have to constantly answer questions about it.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver worked quickly to protect the league’s marquee televised games. (AP)

Still: The risk to small-market teams is real. With a handful of exceptions, these teams simply don’t land free agents. And if the draft stops providing these franchises with top talent, the viability of the franchise could be at stake. This past summer was brutal for small markets, with the defection of Gordon Hayward (Utah to Boston) and Paul George, who used the threat of walking to the Lakers in ’18 to force a trade from Indiana. Next summer could be a bloodbath, with Oklahoma City (George and Russell Westbrook) and New Orleans (Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins) in danger of losing or having to trade elite players.

If that happens, look out.

Rest has a price
It’s no secret: The NBA is hell-bent on protecting its national TV partners. Resting players for nationally televised games has become a hot-button issue, one the league believes it addressed on Thursday.

Under a new policy, teams are prohibited from resting healthy players for any high-profile, nationally televised game. Violators will be dinged with a $100,000 fine. In addition, teams are now forbidden to rest “multiple healthy players” in the same game, or rest healthy players on the road. When players do rest, they must be “visible and available to interact with fans.”

There is some vagueness to all of this, and make no mistake, a coach – his name might rhyme with “rockovich” – is going to test this policy. And it’s unclear how aggressively the league will police a team in the same situation as Phoenix, which does not play in many high-profile games. When asked by The Vertical, Silver was nonspecific.

“I’d say we now have a set of rules [and] guidelines in place that were not in place last year,” Silver said. “So without commenting specifically on Phoenix, because every situation is different, I think you can look at our guidelines now on resting. I think to the extent players are rested, to the extent players are rested for long periods of time, I think we’ll be looking to our guidelines and assessing whether those teams are acting in compliance with our rules.”

Later, Silver seemed to put the onus on the owners to do the right thing.

“I think the owners all understood when we were discussing them that sort of the devil is in the details here, in terms of how it is we will enforce them, and we’re going to do our best,” Silver said. “But my hunch is that once we see them in operation, we’ll be back having additional discussions as to just the right way to calibrate it. But at the end of the day, it comes down to our teams. It comes down to a sense of obligation our teams have toward the league that they’re a part of.”

A showdown on player protests could be coming
Silver is perhaps the most progressive commissioner in sports, and on Thursday he reiterated his support for players, saying he was “extraordinarily proud” of them. But on the issue of kneeling during the national anthem, Silver was direct.

“On the anthem specifically, we have a rule that requires our players to stand for the anthem,” Silver said. “It’s been a rule as long as I’ve been involved with the league, and my expectation is that our players will continue to stand for the anthem.”

When pressed on how he would respond if some didn’t, Silver was noncommittal.

“All I can say is if that were to happen, we’ll deal with it when it happens,” Silver said.

Could this turn into a fight between the players and the league? Maybe. Silver made it clear he has no issue with players linking arms during the anthem, which has happened before. And the league’s biggest star, LeBron James, has said he will not kneel. But many players have said they will spend time thinking about how they will respond to the divisive comments by President Donald Trump, and the expectation is they will do something. How Silver responds could be one of his biggest tests.

So … are NBA teams financially healthy?
Many were taken aback by an ESPN report, citing confidential financial documents, that said 14 teams lost money last season and nine were in the red after revenue sharing. Appearing on The Vertical Podcast this week, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said she didn’t believe it, and Silver downplayed the numbers shown in the report.

“I think I should say those financials that got leaked are just a snapshot at a moment in time,” Silver said. “I believe those numbers that were leaked relate directly to revenue sharing, and I think mischaracterize, I would say, sort of the financial situation of some of our teams. I would say from the league standpoint, revenue sharing, for example, looking at the financial health of a team pre-revenue sharing, to me makes no more sense than looking at the health of a team pre their national television payment. We have one holistic system in place. It’s something, by the way, we spent a lot of time talking about yesterday, in terms of how revenue sharing should work and what the incentives are.”

Asked if he was comfortable with the financial health of every NBA team, Silver said yes. Though he added that the league should constantly be looking at changing demographics.

“Ultimately, the country changes,” Silver said. “Populations move. So one of the things we talked about as a league is, is it something we should constantly be looking at, where populations are going, and always revisiting whether teams are in the right cities? But I’m very comfortable where our teams are located right now.”

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