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Old Man Yells, “Get Off My NBA”

The NBA needs to come out with its own brand of Pepto-Bismol to help with all the belly-aching that’s going on these days. With all the rants about what’s wrong with the game and what needs to change to make it better, I have a suggestion of my own. Stop whining.

There’s a steady stream of “fixes” for the game. Suggestions on how to stop the Hack-a-Whos, on conference realignment to fix fairness issues and on how to change the lottery to fix tanking. It’s enough to fill up the airwaves, the Internet and Twitter.

But let me ask you this: When’s the last time you watched a game and thought, “What we’re really missing here is another Jeff Van Gundy rant?” What if the biggest problem the league has right now is people complaining about things that aren’t really problems?

DeAndre Jordan just set a new playoff record with 28 first-half free throws. And it was, without question, unwatchable basketball. It was perfect ammo for the “change-a-hackas” crowd. But such rants usually hyperbolize the issue by addressing all the free throws that happened in the game and not just the ones from“hacka” fouls.

Kevin Pelton of ESPN recently addressed the so-called “problem” thusly:

Over the second half of the 2014-15 season, however, it’s become much more ubiquitous. According to my research, with help from ESPN Stats & Information and Basketball-Reference.com, teams intentionally fouled 104 times in the month of April — more than the first four months of the season combined (73), and more than I found in the entire 2012-13 season (102).

Jordan alone was intentionally fouled more times in the Clippers-Spurs series (30) than all players in either the 2013 (17) or 2014 (15) postseasons. Ten of the first 11 days of playoff action featured at least one intentional foul. And it’s not just Howard and Jordan anymore. Eight players have been hacked during the playoffs.

So consider that this was the best argument for why it needed to change. There were 120 games played in April and 102 hack-a-fouls, less than one per game. And that’s on the extreme high side. The Jordan game is an anomaly and we shouldn’t “fix” things based on anomalies.

The usual argument against the Hack-a-Whos is that it makes the game “unwatchable” and is, therefore, the reason people aren’t watching. And I’m not going to deny that it’s pretty horrible entertainment.

However, that position is usually bolstered with some tirade about the NBA being deaf about this because they just inked a new giant TV deal and don’t care what the fans want.

The string of sophistry to get from three or four fouls in the worst-possible scenario to saving the NBA is shockingly short and well accepted. Has anyone ever done the research to see if it’s true that hack-a-who lowers ratings?

Did people stop watching Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs because Gregg Popovich was employing Hack-a-Jordan strategies all series? I’m not a ratings expert, but I’m guessing that this means no. And that 64-free-throw game between the Rockets and Clippers seemed just fine, too.

In a strange twist of irony, many of the people who want to save the NBA from the Hack-a-Whos are also advocating for league realignment and abandoning conferences altogether. In the playoffs, the No. 1 seed would play the No. 16 seed and so on. I find this ironic because it would have the opposite ratings impact.

Let’s flip this one inside-out. Imagine there actually are no conferences. About midseason you reach a point where almost half your audience isn’t paying attention anymore because they’re out of the playoff hunt. What would you do to attract more audience?

I would address that problem by splitting the league into conferences and leagues. Doing so would put more teams in the playoff “hunt” thereby engaging more fanbases. One man’s problem is another man’s solution.

Having two conferences kept the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in contention until the last week of the season this year.

This is significant because while national TV ratings were down because the so-called “national” teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks were putrid, the local ratings were up this year. Keeping teams involved keeps fanbases involved.

In the last week of the season, there were 21 teams still with legitimate playoff hopes. That’s a good thing. More teams in contention means more fans involved. It was the thinking behind Major League Baseball adding more Wild Card teams a few years ago.

There’s an acceptable egalitarian fairness to the notion of a single-conference approach to the postseason, but if keeping fans engaged is the goal, is that really the best thing for the league to do?

If there were logical consistency, it would be easier to get on board, but the Fix-Its have yet another inherent contradiction. The Hack-a-Whos and Fairness Fosterers are also the Anti-Tankers. The complaint there is that the NBA Draft incentivizes losing by giving more draft balls to the worst teams.

I’m not going to argue that there aren’t teams who are rigging their rosters to fail so that they can improve draft position. I just don’t think that’s necessarily a “bad” thing.  Remember “Suck for Luck” in the NFL? I do. Remember how all the NFL writers were piling on the Indianapolis Colts for being the worst team in the NFL? Neither do I.

The NBA actually does more to mitigate that from happening than any other league. The lottery exists to help solve that very problem. At least in the NBA the team with the worst record isn’t guaranteed the No. 1 pick.

The problem with an entirely “even” approach to the draft is that any moves which take away the so-called “rewards” for losing are also making it harder for teams to rebuild. Thus the rich stay rich, destroying the competitive balance. Being bad means remaining bad.

And certainly, some teams stay bad regardless, but the Clippers (Blake Griffin), Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook), Cleveland Cavaliers (Kyrie Irving), Chicago Bulls (Derrick Rose), Washington Wizards (John Wall) and others have all built contenders at least in part by selecting high in the draft.

Wasn’t fundamental fairness the logic behind conference realignment? And if you’re against rewarding failure, why are you trying to do just that in changing Hack-a-Whos?

I feel like an old man yelling, “Get off my NBA.” I’m happy with it. Sure, we could use some tweaks here and there. I’d love to see a full-fledged farm system developed, with each franchise having its own developmental team. I’m not against improving the sport. But I’d rather see the collective energy towards change channeled in a positive direction like that.

However, the incessant stream of whining about what needs to be “fixed” needs to stop. It’s not all broken. At a certain point, it just seems like belly-aching for the sake of belly-aching, especially when it’s always contradictory. And frankly, it’s starting to make my tummy hurt. Someone get me some Pepto-Bismol.

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