Culture of Hoops

44 Minute NBA Games: The Circle of Time v. The Sphere of Influence

Photo by Steven Covella | Baller Mind Frame.

Photo by Steven Covella | Baller Mind Frame.

Time is money. Both the NBA league office and players know that, but they’re measuring it with different instruments. Adam Silver and company are looking at their watches, while players ponder over calendars. Minutes versus months – years, even.

The amount of basketball played by NBA players, particularly stars, has become an annual wonder and debate over recent years. Following an offseason where Paul George and Kevin Durant both suffered injuries that will force them to miss significant time on the court, the league may be finally looking to address the problem.

This Sunday, the NBA will experiment with a 44-minute game (as opposed to the typical 48-mintue one). The league said the trial was suggested by coaches as a way to improve the flow of games. There would be one less TV timeout in the second and fourth quarters, which would help in the pursuit of that goal, but eliminating those timeouts is something the league should consider regardless of the game’s length.

Aside from the effect such a change would have on game flow, its most important impact would be how it affects the length of the season, how long players are on the floor. If applied to the entire season, 44-minute quarters would cut down games by 328 minutes total, which would equate to about seven and a half fewer games a season.

It’s a good start, but players would probably see a 65-game season (with 48-minute games) as ideal. Years ago, Shane Battier made the radical suggestion of shortening the season to 50 games. More recently, with the news of Sunday’s preseason experiment, Dirk Nowitzki said mid-60s would be his preference.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks got knocked out of the first round and Nowitzki still managed to play 87 games, at over 33 minutes a night. After the long season, he opted to sit out of the FIBA World Cup, but it’s still hard to imagine that kind of year won’t have a negative impact on the 36-year-old this season.

In many ways, LeBron James is often taken for granted, but how many years can even he continue at the pace he’s going, without breaking down? In his four years in Miami, James averaged over 95 games a year – even with him sitting out a few at the end of each regular season – and one of those years was the lockout-shortened season.

The San Antonio Spurs have found the most effective way to mitigate the effects of a grueling regular season – no one on their roster played over 30 minutes per game last year, and Gregg Popovich frequently sat out players – but the league fined them a mind-numbing $250,000 for following their strategy to keep players healthy.

Now, that was a different commissioner, but history suggests we know where the league’s priorities are at, and they may be short-sighted; it all comes down to money. Teams wouldn’t have to charge any less for tickets to a 44-minute game, and, even better, there would still be 82 of them a season.

Mark Cuban recently shot down the idea of a shorter season (take a guess why):

“I can’t get enough NBA,” Cuban told via the Cyber Dust messaging app. “Best entertainment in the world. So more is better.”

Cuban understood Spoelstra’s point about the value of games but noted that trimming the NBA schedule would have a wide-reaching economic impact.

“More games are always a risk,” Cuban said. “But we play in facilities and employ a lot of people who benefit from those games.”

Michael Jordan gave a little more ground on the issue, but the majority of owners (probably by a vast margin) are going to voice similar opinions to Cuban.

Shortening the season would become an argument over who is willing to lose money as a result. The players would have to get paid less for playing fewer games each year, and the owners are going to lose money on ticket sales.

The players would likely accept taking a pay cut, because a shorter season would mean better health, which would allow them a better chance to make up the difference on the back-end of their lengthened careers. Owners, though, aren’t going to be as receptive. While players have an opportunity to eventually make up what they’d lose each year, in a 65-game format, owners would simply miss out on 17 games worth of annual revenue.

They’d mitigate that loss somewhat by cutting down players’ salaries, but when have sports franchise owners ever been OK with less when there’s more to be had? They’d likely see the benefits of shortening a season from a player’s perspective, but it’s hard to imagine them getting over millions of dollars lost at the gate each year.

And that’s short-sighted, because, ultimately, the shorter season would benefit the NBA long-term. The league suffered when Derrick Rose essentially sat out two years, when Russell Westbrook went down in the 2013 Playoffs, and it will suffer this year for however long George and Durant are out of action. It’s reasonable to believe a shorter season – in which these guys are putting incredible amounts of pressure on their joints, muscles, etc. – would lower the risk of players dropping out. Healthier superstars would mean bigger draws and even more lucrative TV deals.

The NBA makes money because of its superstars, time to recognize that.

Featured image courtesy of Josh Hallett/Flickr.

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