Silver talks player anxiety, potential NBA changes

BOSTON -- NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he would consider shortening the regular season, but only if the league could develop something meaningful to do to replace the games -- and revenue -- it would be giving up.

Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday, Silver raised the idea of replacing the All-Star Game with a midseason or preseason tournament in which teams would compete for a separate championship, like they do in European soccer. Or groups of teams could compete in mini-tournaments in Asia or Europe.

"The All-Star Game didn't work,'' he said, calling it "an afterthought'' of the weekend, despite changes such as a player draft that was made public for the first time. "I get it. We put an earring on a pig.''

Silver also talked about the vibe he gets when he meets players, who sometimes feel isolated and unhappy, despite the league's prosperity and their own.

"We are living in a time of anxiety," Silver said. "I think it's a direct result of social media. A lot of players are unhappy."

"I'm an anxious person myself," he said, joking a little. "That's why the players like talking to me."

The commissioner talked about the difference between this generation of players and those in the days of Michael Jordan.

He said the Jordan era teams had more camaraderie, quoting Isiah Thomas: "Championships are won on the bus."

It's a function of their generation, he said, noting that now everyone on the bus wears headphones.

In addition to discussing the players' well-being, Silver talked about the health of the league. He shared his concern about the league's television ratings, noting that from 2010 to 2018 among 18- to 34-year-olds, the league's core audience, pay TV's viewership is down almost 50 percent.

The league is unlikely to make any changes to the length of the season -- at least not anytime soon -- if only because a 70-game schedule like the one Silver discussed would require each team to give up six home games. Although players and coaches would love to see a shorter season, no one is excited about taking a 20 percent pay cut.

But the analytics conference in Boston gives Silver the opportunity to think aloud about ways to make the NBA better. In past years, he has addressed possible changes to the draft to discourage teams from tanking, but this year's hot topic was New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis.

Silver said Davis' public trade request (through his agent) was a problem for the league but not all that different than other players making requests behind the scenes. The more frequent shuffling of stars among teams was an unintended consequence of a collective bargaining agreement designed to shorten contracts so players aren't earning huge salaries long after they are productive.

"Maybe that was a mistake,'' Silver said.

Davis told the Pelicans that he would not accept an extension, but the team did not trade him before the deadline and mulled whether to sit him to minimize the risk of injury -- and maximize its draft position. Davis is expected to be traded over the summer.

"It's a bad dynamic,'' Silver said. "It's a bit of a mess.''

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.