Over the last three seasons, six franchises have reached the NBA Finals. The league has seen five Eastern Conference champions in the last five seasons. This will be the fourth consecutive year that the team which hoists the trophy won’t be the same as the one who did the year before.
Adam Silver likes all these numbers.
The NBA commissioner, in his annual NBA Finals address Thursday night held just before Game 1 of the series between the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, repeated his familiar refrain that he doesn’t care who wins. But he also sees the value in some unpredictability from one year to the next as far as which teams make it to the title round.
“Of course, I do care though about the platform that we’re presenting and the competition itself,” Silver said. “Anybody running a league wants to see not necessarily in my mind parity on the floor every year, but parity of opportunity. You also want a system where the best players, the best-managed teams can also excel.”
The league has seen five different East champions in the last five years — Cleveland in 2018, followed by Toronto, Miami, Milwaukee and now Boston. It’s the first time since 1998 through 2002 when five different franchises have won the East in a five-season span.
The Western Conference is on its third different champion in three years: The Los Angeles Lakers won in 2020, Phoenix did last year and now Golden State. The last time the West had a longer such run was 2010 through 2013, when the titles were won by, in order, the Lakers, Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
“We do focus a lot on ensuring through the salary cap system that teams, in essence, have the same fair opportunity to compete,” Silver said. “And that is something we’re always looking at as part of our system, something we’re constantly talking to the Players Association about. ... All 450 players presumably want an equal chance to win championships and be a part of a championship team. So, I’m I’m pleased with where we are. I’m thrilled with the teams that are here in the finals.”
Among the other topics Silver addressed:
Silver said he believes the Portland Trail Blazers will be sold. The question is when.
ESPN and other outlets reported Thursday that Nike co-founder Phil Knight and Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky made an offer to buy the Blazers for more than $2 billion. The Blazers then released a statement saying the team is not for sale.
The Blazers remain owned by the Paul G. Allen Trust, after the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft died nearly four years ago. Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, is the trustee of the estate.
“At some point, the team will be sold,” Silver said. “I don’t have any sense of the precise timing. I read that same statement today in which she or someone on behalf of the estate said the team is not currently for sale. But at some point it will be for sale. This is a hugely a complex estate, and although it’s been several years, these things take time.”
Silver said the NBA’s preference, and his own hope, is that the Blazers — whenever they are sold — remain in Portland.
Silver has spoken many times in recent years about his hope to add an in-season tournament, modeling it after some of the trophies that soccer teams in Europe vie for during their seasons. It remains a priority, but nothing is yet finalized.
“We’re not there yet,” Silver said.
The league commissioned a study in 2019 that showed 60% of NBA fans want a shorter regular season, 68% of fans were interested in an in-season tournament and 75% were interested in a play-in tournament. The play-in tournament has since been implemented; the in-season tournament and decision to shorten the regular season — one proposal the league has considered calls for moving from 82 to 78 games — remain in the idea phase.
But the NBA has had a format in mind for nearly three years already: Teams would play eight divisional games in the group stage of the event, counting toward their regular-season total. The six group winners and two wild cards would qualify for the quarterfinals, then semifinals and the final would be played at a neutral site like Las Vegas. Players on the winning team would split $15 million; the winning coaching staff would split $1.5 million.
“We want to make sure we have a system where our best players are incentivized to be on the floor,” Silver said. “At the same time, we obviously don’t want to see them injured. And so, what we’re hoping is we can all work collectively, the 30 teams together in a non-competitive way, together with our Players Association and figure out what is optimal on these players’ bodies so that they’re incentivized to play but aren’t overdoing it to the extent where they end up playing too much and pushing through injuries.”
Silver said “a fair amount of consideration” is going into potentially changing the system by which All-NBA teams are selected.
The voting panel of 100 media members is tasked with choosing three teams of five — two guards, two forwards and one center on each team. That led to Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers being second-team All-NBA in both 2021 and 2022 behind fellow center Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. Jokic was MVP in both seasons, Embiid was the MVP runner-up.
But in a largely positionless league, the NBA continues to insist that the All-NBA teams be done by positions. That may change.
“We’re going to discuss that with the players and sit down once again and see if there’s a better way to do it,” Silver said.
Silver said any talk that the league is targeting Seattle and Las Vegas for expansion in 2024 “is not true.”
“We are not discussing that at this time,” Silver said.
It’s no secret, and Silver said it again Thursday, that the league will eventually expand past its current 30 teams. Diluting player talent remains a major impediment toward expansion, though.
“Expansion does create a certain amount of dilution,” Silver said. “And even sort of adding another 30 players or so that are roughly comparable, there still are only so many of the truly top-tier super talents to go around. That is something on the mind of the other teams as we think about expansion.”
He did, however, call Seattle and Las Vegas “wonderful markets.”