Out of the possible 105 NBA playoff games that can be played during the league’s championship tournament, the league and its television partners have only had 81 games as content. With the Cavaliers currently down 3-0 in the NBA Finals, there’s a good chance that number tops out at 82 or 83. That’s bad news for players. It’s bad news for owners. It’s bad news for television partners. It’s bad news for anyone associated with the business of basketball.
It’s not like the NBA can change the fact that there were short series for each conference semifinal. The NBA can’t change that the Warriors are far superiors to the Cavs and may sweep them in the NBA Finals. All the conspiracy theories about the NBA don’t hold water when looking at the last two years and the shortened playoffs. The NBA wants as many series to go as long as possible because it means more money for the league. It means more basketball-related income (BRI). It means more content for its television partners. It means more exposure for the league. The shortened playoffs will have a cascading effect on the NBA that will effect its offseason, and that’s not good for anyone.
The playoffs are a boost to BRI because it’s the most expensive piece of content the NBA has. It means more television money. It means more sponsorship dollars. It means more exposure. It means more ticket sales. It means more people spending money on things related to the NBA.
Teams have to project BRI. The number isn’t set until immediately after the season ends. BRI affects the salary cap, and therefore it affects player movement. It affects how much teams can plan on spending on new players or how much they are going to resign their old players for. It affects how much teams get hit with tax penalties. It essentially affects the entire business of basketball when it comes to team building. That’s a problem.
It’s a problem because front-offices start figuring out how much cap space they may — or may not — have before the number is set. They project for the X amount of money to be generated by the playoffs. When that number comes in lower than expected, it puts teams in a cash crunch. Teams that could theoretically clear enough cap for two max players may have to gut their teams to make that space when BRI comes in lower than projected. Teams may not even have the option of signing two max-cap players.
Here’s why that’s really bad for the league: it means less player movement, which means less exposure. It means fewer big-time singings, which means less television coverage. The NBA wants to be a 24-7, 365 league. When players are staying put, that lessens the intrigue. ESPN isn’t going to spend days on where Paul George is heading if he’s just resigning in Oklahoma City because the Lakers can’t clear enough cap room. It also means fewer players joining new teams, which affects things like jersey sales and ticket sales. Using Oklahoma City as the example, it would mean that everyone who has a Paul George jersey isn’t buying a new one. Fans who know that the Thunder will end up a four or five seed and eliminated in the second round at best won’t be as eager to purchase tickets. Contrast that with an increase in BRI where the George/LeBron James option to Los Angeles would be big news. It would get constant coverage. It would sell tickets and jerseys. That all means even more money for the league.
It’s obvious how BRI affects players as well because they are entitled to a percentage of the cap contracts. If the cap is smaller, the contracts are smaller. Some of this can be blamed on the players as the NBPA refused any type of cap smoothing after BRI skyrocketed when the NBA signed its most recent television deal. A smoothed out cap would’ve created more cost certainty going forward. Now front offices are still trying to figure out exactly where the cap is going. This won’t be an issue in a few years, but it’s an issue now. The NBPA was right to take the money immediately. It was in the best interest of its players at that time. Hindsight in 20-20 in this case. No one knew that the 2017 playoffs and the 2018 playoffs were going to be so short. Of course with a smoothed out cap, the Warriors may not have been able to sign Kevin Durant, and the league wouldn’t have the issue of a dominant team sweeping the NBA Finals — or winning it in five games in 2017.
It’s simple. Short playoffs mean less BRI. Less BRI means less player movement. Less player movement means less excitement, exposure, and coverage. This can lead to less money being spent by fans in the next year, which brings us back to lower than projected BRI the following year.
Of course, the NBA could just make sure the Cavs win games four and five of the NBA Finals, but the Warriors are so good they could figure out how to win anyway.