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How to Make the NBA a 12-Month League

Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan have a few tweaks that would keep basketball going all year long

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

The 2015–16 NBA season technically ended when Cleveland won the championship on June 19, but the action has hardly died down. The basketball world quickly moved on to the NBA draft on June 23, which was immediately followed by the free-agency frenzy. And even that’s not over. (LeBron, when are you signing your contract?) It’s now mid-July, and we’re in the midst of the first lull in the NBA calendar since September, 10 months ago. Can’t the NBA find a way to close the gap by filling two more months? Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan discussed the topic on the latest episode of the Ringer NBA Show. With just a few tweaks, Adam Silver’s league could conquer the entire calendar. Bill and Chris already have a blueprint for how to do this. They’ve got some notes.

Move Free Agency Up and Make the Draft a Multi-Night Event

Bill Simmons: Mike Zarren from the Celtics had this idea, so I’m going to credit him. What if you flipped free agency and the draft?

The Finals end. The latest [possible] date for Game 7 is around June 21. [As it stands now], free agency starts the Friday before July 4 weekend. But during June, because there’s only two teams left, everyone else is ready for free agency. Thursday after July 4 becomes the draft, only it’s a two-night extravaganza. First night: lottery, one through 14. Ten minutes between picks, we take our time. Really blow it out.

Then Friday night, we go rest of the first round, second round. … That’s for the nerds; that’s for us. We get the whole extra day; we get to digest what happened.

The most interesting case for free agency being before the draft is — this is what Zarren was saying — it would determine who we drafted.

Chris Ryan: Yeah, it determines whether or not you’re two or three years away. If the Thunder knew that they were going to lose [Kevin] Durant or they had lost Durant, maybe they make a much more aggressive move to get to the top of the draft. Maybe they trade [Russell] Westbrook to the Lakers and take [Brandon] Ingram. “Bang, now we have [Victor] Oladipo, Ingram, and [Steven] Adams. That’s a bottom playoff team; we could see where we’re going.”

Invest in the D-League

C.R.: Add a third round of the draft where you’re drafting for the D-League teams. Then, start [the] D-League season early in August. Let’s say Ben Simmons would play one game a week for the Sixers’ D-League team, just to get his legs ... You would be able to see the late third-, second-round guy that got picked who’s showing some signs. Check in on James Young’s upper-body strength. You get to watch those young guys in August, and then the season starts.

B.S.: Maybe summer league becomes the D-League. And it just goes for 10 weeks in Vegas; it just never stops, it just keeps going.

Make it so that guys can come right out of high school and be in the D-League, and they’d actually make $200,000 a year. There’s a lot of stuff they could do.

Introduce a Meaningful Knockout Tournament, the David Stern Cup

C.R.: I would want to have a cup, a knockout tournament that goes parallel to the season. It’d be a knockout tournament that had some sort of incentive, whether it was lottery balls, or cap space, or a bonus structure for the players — a couple million bucks.

Teams could choose whether to play their benches or their starters [to] advance. Because what happens in these cups [in soccer] is a team like Manchester United will play its kids until the quarterfinals and then they’ll bring in the real guys. Maybe you shorten the season and add this. It would also be cool to have the Commissioner’s Cup and somebody would have something to win other than—

B.S.: The David Stern Cup?

C.R.: Yeah, the David Stern Cup. It’s just a frozen envelope.

B.S.: Yeah, a permanently frozen envelope trapped in a cup.

For more on their ideas on how to expand the NBA season, listen to the full episode here. Bill and Chris also break down the new-look Warriors with Kevin Durant, the outlook for the 2016–17 Sixers, and Russell Westbrook’s future. The text above has been edited and condensed.