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Lack of Playoff Competitiveness is Concerning

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Commissioner David Stern shocked us all last month when he revealed that the league’s projection for the 2010/11 salary cap had changed to $56.1 million – a substantial increase from its earlier projections of as low as $50.4 million.

In the past few days, the good news has continued to pour in for the Heat.

Early indications that Riley’s strategy to rebuild in the 2010 offseason are promising. Chris Bosh is clearly up for grabs, after being shut out of the playoffs. Joe Johnson has expressed a desire to play in South Florida, and his sub-par playoff performance would have you believe he can no longer command a maximum contract. Raja Bell has been even more direct in his praise, suggesting that Riley need only to call him and make an offer. Carlos Boozers’ ousting from the playoffs was so abrupt one would have to think he will be considering his alternatives, as he rests comfortably in his Miami-area summer home. Several teams reportedly have varying forms of interest in the underachieving Michael Beasley, which could be useful when the time comes. And, best of all, LeBron James is about to bow out early from the playoffs, which could prompt free agency’s biggest-ever prize to take a closer look at The Big Apple (Here’s a funny pitch from New York Magazine) or The Big Party (as Shaq would have you believe).

Hidden beneath the surface, however, is a bit of bad news.

The playoffs have been shockingly uncompetitive.

The NBA now appears to be the league where sweeps happen. The Magic, Lakers and Suns all swiftly dispatched their second-round opponents, leaving only the Cavaliers and Celtics as entertainment value.

Regardless of whether LeBron is able to pull his team out from the doldrums and force a decisive Game 7 in Cleveland, the first two rounds of the playoffs will have the fewest number of games played since the NBA expanded to a best-of-seven first round format. The first two rounds of the playoffs will be either 62 or 63 games long, down from the seven-season average of 67.7 from 2003 to 2009. The previous low was 64 during the 2007 playoffs.

Even if the Cavs/Celtics series goes to seven games, along with each Conference Finals series and the NBA Finals, the 2010 NBA playoffs will fall short of average for total games in all rounds of the playoffs (84.7). In fact, the all-time low of 79 games — also set during the 2007 playoffs — is in serious jeopardy.

That’s bad news for Heat fans. Revenues generated by NBA playoff games, in all their various forms, directly affect the NBA’s Basketball-Related Income (or “BRI”) for the 2009/10 NBA season. This BRI, in turn, directly affects next season’s salary cap.

Depending on how Riley deals with his upcoming roster decisions, the Miami Heat could require a salary cap as low as $55,825,160 (and certainly no higher than $57,932,930) in order to be able to offer three maximum contracts.

The announcement of a $56.1 million projection was very encouraging. However, given that the projection was made prior to the start of the playoffs, it is safe to assume the record-setting pace of the playoffs was not incorporated.

In a postseason where every dollar generated counts, the dollars just aren’t flowing.

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