Rockets GM Daryl Morey went on First Things First this morning to chat it up with Nick Wright and Co. The crew asked Morey, ever the innovative soul, what he would do to "fix basketball" given the widespread criticisms about the lack of variation in play and the overall lack of interest in the game outside of the playoffs.
Morey mentioned the introduction of an Elam Ending, used in the most recent All-Star game, as a potential change that could come in the next few years. He also suggested an alternative foul system that would allow players who earned their sixth foul to stay on the floor, because nobody likes it when a star like James Harden doesn't play as much as he could because of foul trouble.
Both of these would be fundamental changes to the on-court product, but Morey doesn't think the style of play is the only issue. He pointed to the constant barrage of criticism teams and players face from broadcasters about their play as a big-picture problem that prevents fans from enjoying the game to its fullest (starting at the 6:30 mark):
"One thing I would change, too, is the fact that right now, if you tune into a lot of NBA telecasts, the announcers are hate-watching their own game," said Morey. "You'll tune in, they'll be like, 'What's happening here? They're shooting too many three-pointers.' It's crazy."
Wright then drew a parallel from the NBA's coverage to the NFL's style of coverage, and while he admits it can be too much, the NFL's coverage from pre-to-post-game is in many ways a celebration of the sport. He also points out that Tony Romo will be making a million dollars a game next year because he is genuinely excited and enthusiastic to call the games, leading to this next argument:
"There is an element-- and it's not everyone -- but there is an element of the people who are constructing the narrative, while we're watching, right after we're watching, that are just old men yelling at clouds," said Wright. "[They're] just saying, 'It was better back in my day.' Or, 'This isn't as good. This isn't the way I like it.'
"If you're there to celebrate the game, celebrate the game. You can still point out if a guy screwed up or if a coach made a bad decision. But as opposed to just picking at, 'This isn't the way the game is supposed to be played.'"
Morey agreed, and while he thinks the problem will be fixed over time, he also said that broadcasters perpetuate the view that regular-season basketball doesn't matter in the slightest.
"The other thing that happens when you tune in, they go, 'Why are we watching tonight? Nothing matters, nothing matters 'till the playoffs. Nothing,'" said Morey. "It's almost like cognitive dissonance. They tune in and are being told how they shouldn't watch and how it's not a fun game to watch. It's bizarre to me."
This is a really interesting viewpoint from an NBA general manager, and one that can be hard to disagree with. All you need to do to learn that is flip on Inside the NBA one of these weekday nights. As extraordinarily-entertaining as they are, Shaq and Charles Barkley spend a good chunk of their screen time criticizing guys like Joel Embiid for not posting up more. A Jeff Van Gundy-Mark Jackson broadcast is good for at least a half-dozen "Back in my day" comments that either directly or indirectly bash the new style and pace of play. In a more roundabout way, the emphasis on rings as the only deciding factor in legacy arguments makes everyone wonder why we care about any player's individual regular season and the accolades they may earn.
I'm a big enough basketball fan that whatever the broadcasters are spouting in the background doesn't matter all that much to me. But it's easy to understand a casual fan tuning in to something like the Pelicans-Lakers on Sunday night and getting turned off by the steady stream of criticism towards the game they just watched. That casual viewership audience is most affected by the critical style major network personalities tend to trend towards. Junkies like me are going to watch the game no matter what. But if the general discourse is less of a celebration and more of a roundtable discussion about when things were better, how can any fan develop a passion for the game?
It isn't an easy problem to fix, even if Morey is probably right that it eventually will be. As Wright notes, TNT is already trending in a positive direction with the hiring of Adam Lefkoe, a personality far more likely to highlight the good in what happens on the court rather than the bad. But given how much the game has changed and the current crop of talent's tendencies in how they discuss it, we're still a while away yet.