The NBA is going old school.
Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN’s “First Take” Wednesday that the league is contemplating a return to the Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference All-Star Game format starting this upcoming season in Indianapolis. That would mean the end of the All-Star draft that’s been in place for the last six seasons.
“We’re looking at some potential changes in format,” Silver said. “Maybe a return to something more traditional in terms of how the teams are presented. We went to sort of this captain-draft notion, but clearly, historically, it was East vs. West, so that’s something we are looking at.”
Silver floated the proposal as part of an effort to add more significance to the All-Star game that’s under frequent criticism for its absence of competition.
“A lot of it comes down to reinforcing with our players and our teams how important this is for the fans,” Silver continued. … “We don’t expect playoff intensity. But we expect a competitive game for our fans.”
The NBA’s switch to an All-Star draft had the same intentions. The traditional format repeatedly produced casual games without defense or competitive intensity. So Silver and the league implemented the draft in 2018 to add a playground element to the game and hopefully stoke some competitive fires.
The drafts have featured LeBron James as a captain in every year since. He’s picked against either Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or Giannis Antetokounmpo in those six drafts. The drafts have made for novel and compelling viewing. The games have been comparatively hit or miss with some highlights alongside less-than-intense competition. The Elam Ending implemented in recent seasons has added some welcome spice.
But none of the format shifts have changed the fundamental challenge in producing a competitive All-Star game. There are no stakes involved. In a league where teams and players repeatedly don’t put stock in regular season games that actually count, there’s little reason to expect players at the end of a party-filled weekend during a welcome break from the grind of the regular season to take the All-Star game seriously.
It’s admirable for Silver to seek a solution. But a switch back to a format the league already ditched once doesn’t sound like the answer.