Would a Shortened Season Be Good for the NBA?

by October 12, 2011

NBA fans are understandably upset about the League cancelling games, but once the smoke clears, a shorter regular season may not be such a bad thing. The economics wouldn’t be great — hence why they normally play 82 games, not less — but quality of play might improve dramatically. Or so argue some of the people in this NY Times piece: “The 30 N.B.A. teams each play 82 games from mid-fall through early spring — and 16 of them make the playoffs, leaching some significance out of the regular season. Why not play fewer games? A lockout shouldn’t be the only reason to reduce a bloated schedule. Sanity might be. ‘Seventy would be great,’ said Jeff Van Gundy, the ESPN/ABC analyst who coached the Knicks during the 1998-99 season, which was shrunk to 50 games by a lockout. ‘But only if you stretched them out over the same amount of time as the 82-game season. That would eliminate almost every back-to-back situation.’ Bill Simmons, the editor in chief of Grantland.com, an ESPN site, said 75 games would be ideal. ‘That’s what the players say is the best length because of the wear and tear on their bodies,’ Simmons said Tuesday in a telephone interview. ‘To get rid of those seven games would have a huge effect on the quality of play. You’d get rid of the ‘schedule loss,’ where, say, the Suns come into New York for their fourth game in five nights; they lose and they don’t care. They toss it off as a schedule loss.’ Shortening the season would certainly have an effect on N.B.A. economics. Arenas accustomed to booking 41 games a year would be hurt. Commissioner David Stern might have to take a prorated pay cut. And the local and national television networks would clamor to pay less — unless they could be persuaded that the quality of play was better than the quantity of broadcasts. Ah, maybe not. But if fewer games kept players a bit healthier and the games more compelling, why not try it? … As for players in shape, David Thorpe, a basketball trainer at the IMG Academies who has an extensive N.B.A. client list, said that a significantly shorter schedule would not necessarily be beneficial. If players participated in fewer games in the same period as the 82-game schedule, their skills might actually slide — not that players with minor hurts wouldn’t welcome time off rather than play that seventh game in nine days. ‘If you jump more, you jump better,’ Thorpe said. ‘If you shoot more, you shoot better. One reason why we see a really high level of play in May and June, when you’d think the superstars would be the most tired, is that they’re in amazing shape and challenge themselves all the time.'”