Daryl Morey’s Surreal Plan to ‘Save’ the NBA: 58 Games, Single-Elimination Playoffs
Never accuse Daryl Morey of lacking imagination. The Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations was on the front lines of the analytics takeover of the NBA. He went from strategy and statistical consulting to the front office of the Houston Rockets.
Now he’s got ideas on how to fix the NBA. Critics continue to rail on the 82-game schedule as tedious, a byproduct from the bad old days of the league when owners needed as much inventory as they could get to break even.
Morey is a revolutionary. As the general manager of the Rockets, he assembled small-ball teams that did two things exceedingly well. They shot 3-pointers at unprecedented volume and attacked the rim for layups and dunks. It never added up to a title, but Moreyball received the ultimate compliment.
The rest of the NBA followed.
Daryl Morey helped shepherd a new era in the NBA
To give Daryl Morey sole credit for the changes in NBA play over the last decade-plus would do a disservice to the many other analytics pioneers. But he was at the vanguard as the first to move into a decision-making position in a front office.
His most significant acquisition in Houston was James Harden. When The Beard came to the Rockets in 2012, he was the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year. With fellow young stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the precocious Oklahoma City Thunder reached the NBA Finals before running into the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh Big Three.
Morey wanted Harden badly. He saw the left-hander as a prototype of his mathematical-driven basketball strategy. The Los Angeles area native could shoot, and he could drive. The Thunder had committed financially to Durant and Westbrook. Keeping Harden would push OKC into luxury-tax territory.
The 10-time All-Star was as good as Morey hoped. But he didn’t mesh well with several other star players the GM brought in, and the Moreyball era capped out with two Western Conference Finals losses to the Golden State Warriors dynasty.
Daryl Morey’s extreme NBA makeover plan
Commissioner Adam Silver continues to champion a plan to shorten the regular season a bit and add an in-season tournament. Other top-tier leagues around the world have done this for years.
However, Daryl Morey wants to up the ante.
He told Colin Cowherd on The Volume podcast that shortening the schedule to 74 games isn’t nearly a big enough move. The host floated his idea: Add a round of playoffs and change the first round back to the best-of-five format used from 1984–2002.
Morey said that’s not even scratching the surface:
“You’re too timid. You gotta go farther. I like 58. Every team plays every team two times. The playoffs, I 100% agree, shorter is better. I would have it one-and-done. There’s a reason everyone tunes into every game at huge ratings in the NFL. It is literally one-and-done. And the NCAA Tournament, in 63 games (it’s actually 67), gets more money than we do in our entire regular season.”Daryl Morey
Morey said a single-game championship could eventually rival the Super Bowl for television ratings.
The idea is bold. But the reality is that it’s also dead on arrival.
The NBA is negotiating its next media rights deal and, according to Jabari Young of CNBC, the league is aiming for a $75 billion payday. The current contract, which expires in 2025, is a $24 billion package that pays $2.6 billion annually. The targeted agreement would increase the yearly figure to around $8 billion.
That figure is based on the following inventory:
- 1,230 regular-season games
- A maximum of 105 playoff matchups
- Four play-in tournament contests.
The TV networks won’t pay more money for less inventory
Daryl Morey’s plan for a home-and-home round-robin against every other team creates an 870-game regular-season schedule. That’s a 29.3% decrease in inventory. It’s even starker for the playoffs.
The scheduling format would allow for a straight 1-16 seeding configuration (challenging with the current unbalanced slate). However, reducing the postseason to single-elimination cuts the potential 105-game inventory to a firm 15 contests.
Assuming the play-in tournament remains, it’s four pseudo-playoff games followed by 15 single-elimination battles.
That’s a maximum inventory drop of 82.6%. Is that something the television networks will fork over a 207.7% increase in rights fees to acquire?
Further, Morey’s idea overlooks the danger of upsets. March Madness is rife with favorites biting the proverbial dust in the first two days of the main bracket. The odds of upsets increase with professionals playing.
The easy joke to make about Morey’s plan is that his Houston teams fell short in the playoffs. Harden had some of his worst performances late in crucial series. Additionally, Sixers coach Doc Rivers, is the only bench boss in NBA history to lose three playoff series after holding a 3–1 lead.
Since 2001, road teams (i.e., the lower-seeded teams) are 93–222 in Game 1 in the playoffs, per Stathead.com. A .295 winning percentage may not seem impressive, consider that the favorite will be eliminated 30% of the time in Daryl Morey’s one-and-done playoff scenario.
Does an NBA Final between two middling teams that got hot at the right time seem like must-see TV?
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