SAN FRANCISCO — Over the past three seasons, six teams have reached the NBA Finals. The league has seen five Eastern Conference champions over the past five seasons. It would be the fourth year in a row that the team that lifted the trophy was different from the team the year before.
Adam Silver loves all these numbers.
In his annual NBA Finals speech Thursday night, just before Game 1 of the Golden State Warriors-Boston Celtics series, the NBA commissioner repeated his familiar claim that he doesn’t care who win. But he also sees value in some of the unpredictability from one year to the next, in terms of which teams make it to the championship game.
“Of course, I do care about the platform we show and the game itself,” Silver said. “Anyone who runs a league would like to see in my mind not necessarily equality on the field every year, but equality of opportunity. You also need a system where the best players, the best managed teams can excel. “
The league has produced five different Eastern Conference champions over the past five years — Cleveland in 2018, followed by Toronto, Miami, Milwaukee and now Boston. It was the first time since 1998 to 2002 that five different teams have won the Eastern Conference championship in five seasons.
The Western Conference is the third different championship in three years: the Los Angeles Lakers won in 2020, Phoenix won last year, and now the Golden State Warriors. The last time the West had such a long run was from 2010 to 2013, when the Lakers, Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio won championships in that order.
“We do put a lot of focus on making sure teams have essentially the same level of playing field through the salary cap system,” Silver said. “It’s something we’ve always seen as part of our system, something we’ve been discussing with the Players Association. … All 450 players presumably want to have an equal chance to win a championship and be part of a championship team. So, I’m happy with where we are. I’m very excited about the teams that make it to the final.”
Among the other topics Silver talks about:
Silver said he believed the Portland Trail Blazers would 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 Smoliniski made an offer to buy the Blazers for more than $2 billion. The Blazers later issued a statement saying the team was not for sale.
Trailblazers are still owned by the Paul G. Allen Trust after Microsoft’s billionaire co-founder died nearly four years ago. Allen’s sister Jody Allen is a trustee of the estate.
“At some point, the team will be sold,” Silver said. “I don’t have any sense of the exact time. I read the same statement today in which she or someone representing the estate said the team is currently not for sale. But at some point it will be. It’s a very complex estate, though It’s been several years, but these things take time.”
Silver said the NBA’s preference and his own hope is that the Blazers — whenever they are sold — stay in Portland.
Silver has spoken several times in recent years about his desire to add an in-season tournament, modeled after some of the trophies that European football teams compete for during the season. It remains a priority, but not yet finalized.
“We haven’t,” Silver said.
A study commissioned by the league in 2019 showed that 60 percent of NBA fans want a shortened regular season, 68 percent are interested in in-season tournaments, and 75 percent are interested in playoffs. Participation has since been implemented; in-season tournaments and a decision to shorten the regular season — a proposal considered by the league to move games from 82 to 78 — are still in the conception stage.
But for nearly three years, the NBA has had a pattern: Teams will play eight divisional games in the group stage, which count toward their regular-season total. The six group winners and two wild cards will advance to the quarter-finals, and then the semi-finals and final will be played in a neutral location like Las Vegas. The players of the winning team will split $15 million; the winning coaching staff will receive $1.5 million.
“We want to make sure we have a system that motivates our best players to play,” Silver said. “At the same time, we obviously don’t want to see them get injured. So we hope we can pull together and have the 30 teams work with our players’ association in a non-competitive way to figure out what works best for those players’ bodies. , thereby motivating them to play but not so much that they end up playing too much and getting injured.”
All the NBA changes
Silver said “considerable consideration” will potentially change the system for selecting NBA teams.
A voting panel of 100 members of the media was tasked with selecting three teams of five each – two defenders, two forwards and a center each. That has resulted in Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid being the All-NBA second team in 2021 and 2022, second only to Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. Jokic was the MVP for two seasons, and Embiid was the MVP runner-up.
But in a league largely without positions, the NBA continues to insist that all NBA teams are determined by position. This may change.
“We’re going to discuss this with the players and sit down again to see if there’s a better way to do it,” Silver said.
Silver said any suggestion that the league is targeting expansion in Seattle and Las Vegas in 2024 “is untrue.”
“We’re not discussing that at the moment,” Silver said.
It’s no secret that Silver reiterated Thursday that the league will eventually surpass the current 30 teams. Still, diluting player talent remains a major hurdle to expansion.
“Expansion does create a degree of dilution,” Silver said. “Even adding another 30 or so players would be about the same, but there are only so many really top-tier super-talents. When we think about expansion, that’s what other teams think.”
He did, however, call Seattle and Las Vegas “wonderful markets.”