A Modest Proposal To Fix The NBA
Really, both issues reduce to one thing: some franchises perform better because they have better owners. "Better" is sort of a catchall for acumen in hiring and firing coaches and executives, willingness to spend money appropriately, and more often than not, getting the hell out of the way. So, I wonder, why should we nibble around the edges of problems such as tanking, revenue sharing and free agency designed to improve competitive balance? Why not cut to the source?
So to that end, I present my Modest Proposal to fix all that ails the NBA: Relegation for owners.
The genius of the idea is this: the franchises stay where they are. But, if the conditions are met, the owners have to sell. (At this point I have the total attention of every Manchester United, D.C. metro handegg and Baltimore Orioles fan in the palm of my hand. Want the Glazers out? Hire David Moyes, wait for results to flag sufficiently, and voila, new owners! Wait, the system doesn't actually exist yet?)
So how would this system work? First I have to explain the ways in which it would differ from the seasonal relegation system those of you schooled in the joys of "proper football" know and love. Given the size of the transactions, we simply can't force the same franchises to be sold over and over again. Further, basing relegation on a single season's results isn't completely fair, nor is it desirable, as being forced to "compete every year or else" would turn even the wisest GM into Bryan Colangelo or Joe Dumars at the first hint of trouble, with owners even less qualified than former players to do the job swinging wildly for some move, any move, that would allow them to stay in the club.
To build in a little bit of stability, the "relegation table" will be based on the aggregate record of the previous four seasons. Since four years in the length of a rookie contract, four years seems like a reasonable time frame in which to evaluate a rookie owner. Franchises cannot have owners relegated twice within any four year period, to give the new owner a little bit of a chance to sort out the mess he, she or they were had dumped upon them. In the event of a work stoppage (read: lockout), games of that season are prorated to an 82 game schedule, because who knows what kind of nefarious dealings would happen if certain owners had incentives to "rig" the relegation system. There might even be under the table deals to convince players to sign contracts for more years and less total money than the existing one they are opting out of.
At the end of every season, the eligible owner in each conference with the most losses over the previous four years is gone. Forced to sell at a fair price to be determined by a neutral arbiter such as David Stern, since he has time on his hands and would ever adjudicate a transaction for any reason other than its own merits. Speaking of judgments, instead of teams being fined for nefarious deeds, NBA discipline could take the form of additional losses on the relegation chart. Of course Gregg Popovich wouldstill spit in the eyes of any disciplinarian and might even sit his second string as well as his first and play a TNT game with 4 healthy bodies and a mascot, given that the Spurs are around 130 games above relegation for the foreseeable future, and he can take the hit.
The benefits are immediately obvious. Not only does the league have leverage to rid itself of undesirable elements, be they predatory slumlords, frustrated blues musicians, or just large-market cheapskates (even the most tech-savvy gadfly would not be above reproach), but run-of-the-mill incompetence will be weeded out over time as well. No more 93 game losing streaks to end the season like Philadelphia is doing this year - Josh Harris would be eligible to have his new toy taken away from him (for a price in excess of what he paid, of course) as early as 2016. Owners would have every incentive to hire good basketball minds while not letting situations arise where the GM's interest differs from that of the franchise.
Finally, think of the excitement at the end of the season. The race for this-year's Eastern Conference Owner Relegation only features two teams, but man would it be a nail-biter:
Sadly the Western Conference feautres far less drama. With Sacramento ineligible after the Maloofs were relegated last season (and by the way, they would have been under this system), keaving new ownership in the first year of the 4 year grace period, there is barely a race to cover:
The only thing left unanswered is where do the new owners come from? Well, the relegated owners are not left in the lurch. They will trade spots and instead try their hands at running MLS and NHL franchises, perhaps even NASCAR teams. Not to mention that the fine people who run athletic departments at places like Alabama have a great deal of experience administering and sustaining a model professional franchise.
What could possibly go wrong?