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NBA commissioner Adam Silver discusses league’s ‘positionless basketball’ at annual Finals press conference

Adam Silver: ‘We’re a league that has moved increasingly towards positionless basketball’

SAN FRANCISCO — There might soon be an adjustment to account for the apparent illogic of Philadelphia center Joel Embiid finishing second in Kia NBA Most Valuable Player balloting, yet rating no higher than Second Team status among All-NBA selections, commissioner Adam Silver indicated Thursday.

Silver, speaking at his annual news conference prior to Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals, acknowledged the discrepancies between MVP voting, All-Star selections and the elite All-NBA teams chosen annually.

“We’re a league that has moved increasingly to positionless basketball,” Silver said at Chase Center about an hour before tipoff. “We’ll have discussions with the players on changing the way we vote for All-NBA teams. These decisions do have a financial impact on players.”

MVP voting essentially is positionless, with five players ranked by a media panel of 100 voters. Denver’s Nikola Jokic won for the second consecutive season, getting 65 first-place votes to Embiid’s 26. Using the MVP point system, the Nuggets’ big man finished with 875 points to Embiid’s 706.

All-NBA honors adhere to league traditions, however, with two guards, two forwards and one center named for each of three honorary squads. Because Jokic and Embiid both played exclusively at center in 2021-22, one had to land on the second team. That’s how he wound up as the NBA’s second-most valuable performer, yet not among the so-called Top 5 of the All-NBA.

Then there is All-Star voting, where fans and media vote for the starters in each conference according to a hybrid distinction: two “backcourt” spots and three “frontcourt” spots. It was a change instituted several years ago as a nod to the diminished role of traditional “centers” – and the resulting difficulty of finding All-Star caliber talent at that position.

There is a secondary issue related to the voting because some of the awards and honors are used to qualify players for “supermax” contracts worth tens of millions of dollars extra. That gives the media voters some influence over the process, a situation no one — players, agents, media folks — seems to relish.

Said Silver: “It has impact on incentives and player contracts, and it has deep meaning for their legacy as well. So we will look at those things.”


Silver touched on a variety of topics in his opening remarks and in the Q&A session that followed:

• With six different teams participating in the past three Finals, the topic of parity came up. Silver preferred to focus on “parity of opportunity”:

“When I say I don’t care who wins, I mean, of course, I do care, though, about the platform that we are presenting and the competition itself,” he said. “Anybody running a league wants to see not necessarily in my mind parity on the floor every year, but parity of opportunity.”

• Chatter about injuries and the length of the 82-game season is a perennial subject here. The commissioner reminded folks that last season, due to COVID considerations, was reduced to 72 games, without any appreciable difference in injury avoidance.

“I’m not against potentially changing the format of the season,” Silver said, “possibly even shortening it a bit, if we can demonstrate that that’s going to have a direct impact on injuries.”

League data doesn’t seem to support that.

Any future introduction of an oft-discussed in-season tournament would be to “create more meaningful games” potentially replacing some chunk of the regular-season schedule.

• Either the owners or the National Basketball Players Association can opt out in December of the final year of the collective bargaining agreement, which would move up the deal’s end to summer 2023 instead of 2024. Silver said discussion of that possibility is premature, though he did acknowledge the value of having some urgency to move along negotiations.

“What was effective last time around was using that opt-out as a self-imposed deadline by both sides,” he said, calling it “really helpful to get people to push their best offers across the table.”

Those upcoming negotiations will be handled by the union’s new executive director, Tamika Tremaglio, who recently replaced Michele Roberts.

• Silver had nothing definitive to offer on a report that the Portland Trail Blazers might be available for purchase, though the team issued a statement that owner Jody Allen is not currently selling the team. The commissioner said the NBA would hope that, whenever the franchise does get sold, it remains in Portland.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he’s “working side-by-side” with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert in order to get detained star Brittney Griner out of Russia.

• WNBA star Brittney Griner remains detained in Russia for more than 100 days, Silver said, and the league is working “in lockstep” with the U.S. government to gain her release.

• Now that there are 15 black head coaches in the NBA, half of all teams, Silver said he was encouraged by the progress but still wanted to be dedicated up and down organizations, not just by race but by gender.

“You have to talk about these issues all the time,” Silver said. “If you care about diversity and inclusion in your workplace, you’ve got to look at the data. You’ve got to constantly present it to your colleagues, to your department heads, to your teams, and it has to become a focus.

He added: “The goal is that that’s not newsworthy, and that when people are hired, their first reaction isn’t the color of their skin.”

Of seeing more women coaches and referees, Silver said: “We have made progress in both those areas … but we do have to break through that glass ceiling.”

Adam Silver on diversity and inclusion: ‘You have to talk about these issues all the time’

• Asked about the NBA’s business relationship with China, Silver said the league’s games were put back on CCTV weeks ago. The telecasts had been disrupted by friction in October 2019 over Philadelphia exec Daryl Morey’s support on social media of Hong Kong.

“My position is, said this many times, that I think engagement is positive, particularly through sports,” Silver said. “I think to keep people safe and prosperous, that using sports as a platform to keep people around the world talking is critically important.”

• A report that the league was planning to expand to Seattle and Las Vegas in 2024? “That talk is not true,” the commissioner said.

• Silver expressed sadness in his opening remarks about the recent passing of Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier. Long after his playing career ended in 1984, Lanier served as an ambassador for the league, helpful both to Silver and his predecessor David Stern.

• Silver encouraged the Boston Celtics in their application to host All-Star Weekend in 2025 or 2026. After a period in which the league had some difficulty attracting host cities, he said, a “long list of cities” now are interested gaining the league’s annual showcase.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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