Are the Spurs a dynasty? That's not the question ...

A lot is being made right now of the Spurs and the question of whether they are a dynasty. And while I think it's definitely a valid question, its dominance on the airwaves last night underscores a more pressing issue: The decline of interest in The Finals themselves.

I was interested in the NBA Finals last year, what with Dwyane Wade and Shaq teaming for an unlikely championship victory over the Dallas Mavericks. But that hasn't been the norm for me over the past decade or so.

I find it hard to pinpoint the reason I just haven't been able to get into The Finals. Maybe it's the fact that the Sonics haven't been relevant in the NBA in about that same amount of time. After all, I am a Seattlite, proven to be among the most provincial sports fans in the country -- if our teams aren't involved, we usually just don't care.

But I don't feel that way about the baseball playoffs, the NFL playoffs or the NCAA Tournament. Heck, I even follow the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we haven't had anything higher than junior hockey in Seattle in anything even close to my lifetime.

So what is it about the NBA that just doesn't get my sports fan juices going? I guess the big thing is that I just don't really care for the product.

Now, I'm not one of those self-righteous old people who points to the "lack of fundamentals" in the league and yearns for the "good old days" when Magic and Bird and the rest of the league "really knew how to play the game." To me, the bigger issue is the style of play, and how it absolutely kills the drama of the games.

Let me ask you this: Why were we all so entertained by the Warriors and their improbable victory over the Mavericks? Was it because of the sheer size of the upset?

Or was it maybe because the Warriors were doing something no one else in the league does -- and doing it successfully?

The NBA has become an incestuous league of copycats, and it has absolutely killed the game. Everybody runs basically the same kind of offense, they all run basically the same kind of defense. And they do it because it works.

When you watch an NBA game next year, watch how man times you see these three plays in a game: 1) The two-man isolation post up/kick out; 2) The high pick and roll; and 3) The one-man isolation dribble drive/kickout. Virtually every offensive play in the NBA is a variation on those three plays, because the results of those three plays get rewarded with either a foul or an open 3-point shot more often than any other.

It's the absence of that that makes other sports so exciting. It's Mike Holmgren figuring out a way to get his West Coast offense to beat the Steelers' 3-4 defense. It's the up-tempo style of Lorenzo Romar's Huskies trying to beat the slow-down style of Tony Bennett. It's the confrontation between a pitcher and a batter, trying to figure out how to beat each other.

With very few exceptions, that kind of creativity has been eliminated from the NBA. Don't believe me? George Karl failed to win a championship with the Sonics on the back of his trapping defense. The Warriors couldn't get past the second round with Don Nelson's style of play, and the Mavericks never made it to the Finals until they scrapped Nellie for Avery Johnson's copycat approach. The Suns haven't been able to get out of the conference finals for three years.

All had truly unique approaches of some aspect of the game. All have failed to win championships.

I can't say I really blame all of these organizations for going with what works. After all, if efficient offense and lockdown defense was good enough for the Spurs to win four championships with Tim Duncan and 35 other guys over nine years, then it's good enough for everyone else.

I blame the NBA for allowing it to get to this point. I blame the NBA for allowing its referees to become part of the story, year after year, dictating the outcome of games. I blame the NBA for not realizing that there's nothing less exciting than the final minute of a close game that takes 20 minutes to complete because of eight different time outs. I blame the NBA for allowing virtual literal muggings night after night that keep the best players from truly showcasing their talents.

For being such a visionary off the floor, David Stern has focused so much on image and marketing that he's ignored the very thing that truly pays the bills in his sport: The product.

Word was, he was just waiting for the next Bird or Magic or Michael to come along and pull the league out of its doldrums. Well, guess what -- he's here, he carried his team to the Finals, and it still didn't amount to a hill of beans in the ratings.

The NBA should take a cue from the NHL, which was willing to make radical changes to restore balance to its game. It eliminated old rules, such as two-line passes, designed to slow the game down. It implemented 4-on-4 overtime and shootouts to give fans exciting resolutions to its games. It cracked down on clutching and grabbing so that the smaller, more creative players could find a place in the league once again. It disciplined referees who refused to call penalties in the playoffs. And while it hasn't resulted in higher ratings yet, one can hardly deny the improved product on the ice.

The NBA has tried to do this before, what with eliminating illegal defense and such, but the reality is that teams have simply adapted the same mindset to a slightly different set of rules. The NBA is in need of a radical approach from someone with the vision to make it happen. Without it, the league will continue its slide into irrelevance.

Oh, and by the way, the Spurs are not a dynasty. Dynasties dominate their eras. The Spurs have yet to do that. End of discussion.


AJH said...

My interest in the NBA has been declining for years. I play basketball all the time. I love the college game. Here's what I see as the main problems for the NBA:
- the season is too long
- the playoffs are too long
- the fouls, free throws and timeouts ruin the last 2 minutes of a close game

Solutions? 60 game season.
Best of 3 playoff series.
Play games to 120 instead of using a clock. If a team is losing, it doesn't have to foul. Just play defense and keep scoring. Get to 120 first.

Nuss said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your three problems -- especially the last one.

I'd be all in favor of shortening the regular season, for sure. I like the playoff series' the way they are in terms of number of games, but I'd be in favor of playing some back-to-backs in there. They do it all season -- why is it that they all of a sudden must have a day off in between all games?

And why does it take a week to start the Finals after the end of the conference finals?

DrPezz said...

One of my favorite seasons was the strike-shortened season of about 50 games. Every game mattered, and the shortened season heightened my interest and excitement. Without a doubt everything has been ridiculously stretched (same problem in baseball, too), but I think some rule changes could help.

I'd like:
- all defenses to be legal--no more illegal defense.
- traveling called.
- no more backing a guy down by hammering into him to knock him back.
- a trapezoidal key.
- international goaltending rules applied.

I guess I like the international rules better.

DrPezz said...

How much was made of the exhibition at UW with the 11 foot rims? Here no one really mentioned it, but I thought this might have made some news your way.