Silver's first year as commish praiseworthy

After a first year full of obstacles, Adam Silver deserves high marks for his work as NBA commissioner. Steven Freeman/Getty Images

Damian Lillard. Or DeMarcus Cousins.

Two uber-qualified rising stars from the NBA's 25-and-under set who possess a worthy claim to the solitary available spot on the Western Conference All-Star squad as an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant.

Choosing between them, to step in for Kobe, sounds agonizing.

Yet something told me NBA commissioner Adam Silver wouldn't have to dwell on it too long.

The degree of difficulty, daunting as it would appear at first blush, wouldn't crack the top 10 in terms of curveballs flung at Silver in his first 12 months as David Stern's successor.

The many legal and social complexities of the Donald Sterling Saga. The Atlanta Hawks' racially charged ownership scandal that dribbled into the Hawks' front office, too. The NBA's very own domestic violence controversy in the shadow of all those Ray Rice headlines.

Silver had to immediately deal with all that and plenty more after moving into the job his mentor did in an unmistakably stern and authoritarian manner from Feb. 1, 1984, through Jan. 31, 2014. Sunday marks a full year in charge for Stern's more collaborative-than-combative understudy.

"A-plus," Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban declared, when asked by ESPN.com to grade Year 1 of the Silver era after a decade-plus of butting heads with Stern.

"Love everything he's done. He has handled every obstacle perfectly‎."

A-plus. Love everything he's done. He has handled every obstacle perfectly‎.

-- Mavs owner Mark Cuban

As much as he tries to operate as an NBA contrarian, frequently vowing to zig in the opposite direction he perceives most teams zagging, Cuban can't help but espouse the consensus view when it comes to Silver's maiden job review.

You're not going to find too many owners dismayed with the new commish after Silver hard-lined Sterling into the $2 billion sale of the Clippers, driving him out of the game in spite of Sterling's three-decade insistence that he would never sell.

You'll likewise hear little protest from Cuban and his counterparts after Silver swiftly locked in a new $24 billion national television deal to run from 2016-17 through 2024-25 … at nearly three times the value of the current TV contract.

It also surely didn't hurt Silver's approval rating when Forbes Magazine, in its freshest round of NBA valuations published last week, asserted that the average worth of a franchise in this league has spiked to $1.1 billion, accounting for the biggest year-over-year gain (74 percent) since Forbes began assessing values of teams in the four major North American sports leagues in 1998.

The notion of perfection, of course, is hyperbole. It's folly to suggest everything went according to plan for Silver; just one example is the eleventh-hour resistance in October to lottery reform after he spent much of the summer pushing a new structure to the draft lottery to hush the rising discontent with the perceived commitment from the Philadelphia 76ers (and others) to try to lose their way to the No. 1 pick.

The honeymoon phase will come to an end soon. There is much to do in Year 2, whether it's the ongoing challenge to find the right formula to phase in the new TV money and keep the salary cap from a wild spike of its own … or negotiating a workable truce between the various big- and small-market teams haggling behind the scenes over the future of revenue sharing … or the looming prospect of contentious labor negotiations with Michele Roberts, new executive director of the NBA players' association.

Roberts, after all, has quickly left an impression around the league that she's looking for a fight.

There's lots more, too, beyond dueling with the union and taking on tanking‎.

Legalized sports betting.

Increasingly loud calls for tougher drug testing.

Potentially shortening the preseason to reduce the number of back-to-backs in the regular season.

And, of course, addressing that stubbornly pesky gulf in quality between the ultra-deep Western Conference and the much easier East.

So many bold-faced agenda items to tackle in 2015 and beyond.

Yet what Silver has already shown, through these first 12 months, is that there really is more than one way to govern this league, after Stern did it so forcefully for 30 years as one of the most distinctive personalities in the sport.

Silver won't be able to simply keep winning points for inviting ideas from every corner of Planet Roundball on how to make the game better. He'll eventually have to act on some of the suggestions and make increasingly difficult policy decisions. But give the man his due: Know-it-alls like me wondered how long it would take Silver to find his own commissioner's voice, but he's been quite stern himself when necessary.

His first year confirms what we all knew going in: Adam is an A+ Commissioner.‎

-- Former commissioner David Stern

As both Sterling and Jeffrey Taylor could tell you.

Silver is the first commissioner in the history of major North American team sports to ban an owner for life. He later suspended Taylor for a whopping 24 games after the league conducted an independent investigation into domestic violence allegations against the Charlotte Hornets forward, but then made it clear to Congress that the NBA -- unlike the NFL -- was determined to reserve the right to judge domestic violence matters on a case-by-case basis instead of instituting a blanket DV policy as the NFL ultimately did post-Rice.

Appreciation from the players in Silver's league, meanwhile, is tangible. Sources in the room say Silver, at All-Star Weekend 2014 in New Orleans, addressed the All-Stars in both conferences and vowed to seek the players' input to grow the game and make the league better. LeBron James, sources said, promptly responded with a plea to make the All-Star break longer and reduce the number of back-to-backs for each team. Silver assured the audience he had gotten the message … and here we are heading into an extended break next month for the first time in league history.

The natural inclination for us helpful media cynics is pointing out now that the only direction for Silver's fortunes to go is down. How do you improve on a debut that saw the Sports Business Daily rank him in December as the most influential figure in the world of sports business already?

Yet it's only fair that our union of professional second-guessers lets Silver revel in the success of his opening act for at least a weekend.

Reached this week by ESPN.com, commissioner emeritus Stern said of his protégé: "On every subject, from dealing with charged ownership issues to successfully negotiating television extensions, from digital development to international basketball and business expansion, Adam has succeeded with a deft touch that reflects his keen knowledge and hard work. His first year confirms what we all knew going in: Adam is an A+ Commissioner.‎"

You read right.

After all these years, Mark Cuban and David Stern have finally found some common ground.