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Life is good for Adam Silver now, but a potential lockout looms

Our intrepid conversationalists assess the second year of Adam Silver's reign as NBA commissioner and look ahead to the challenges brewing.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

From dap to rule changes to many podcast interviews, things are different in Adam Silver's NBA. Tom Ziller and Paul Flannery assess the commissioner's run in this week's Flanns & Zillz.

ZILLER: This week marks the second anniversary of Adam Silver as NBA commissioner. These days, he's most likely to be in the news for being noncommittal toward rule changes, or for giving incredible dap to league's millennial set. In short, everything is wonderful in the Adamdome.

Did you expect this to be so easy, especially considering the fraught intro to NBA politics he received via Donald Sterling?

FLANNERY: The Sterling situation was actually perfect for him because he had a chance to differentiate himself from David Stern in just about every conceivable way. Silver was not only empathetic, he was decisive and bold in a way that Stern hadn't been in years. And Donald T. Sterling was David Stern's problem, not Silver's, so there was a perfect opportunity to create new alliances and shore up blocks of support with the younger owners just coming into the league.

Right away, Adam Silver could take a bold stance and define himself as his own man separate from the huge shadow that Stern cast over everything. That dumping Sterling was immensely popular with just about everyone only made it more of a strong play. What's immediately clear in the first two years of Silver's term is that Stern stayed way too long.

ZILLER: That sentiment is fair, but it also makes you wonder how the prior decade would have gone without Stern. Would there have been more relocation without Stern's wistful nostalgia? How would Silver have handled a situation like Malice or Donaghy? And we can't go a sentence further without acknowledging those lockouts.

To me, that's the massive test Silver still faces: how will he handle the league's first labor negotiations? You can argue Stern HAD to be a hardliner because the owners had so much room to make up starting in the late 90s. Lockouts were a bit necessary to get the financial picture in a sustainable place. Silver won't likely have that sort of mandate.

I wonder what Adam Silver's dress code would look like.

FLANNERY: Well, we don't know and we never will. I know that's an unsatisfactory answer but the NBA that Adam Silver inherited is a much different league than the one Stern presided over in the Aughts, let alone the mid-80s. The stars are bigger in some ways, but they're also far more accessible. The media is larger, for sure, but also more focused on minutia. It's just a more relaxed environment, and I think Silver has shown in small ways that he's willing to let things slide -- he's been hands-off on the issue of resting healthy players, for example.

The lockouts are the thing and I think we're all anxious to see how Silver and Michele Roberts deal with one another and their respective constituencies. His claim that teams were still losing money last summer raised a few eyebrows and may have been a signal that he intends to be a hardliner, but we won't know for sure until the real bargaining begins.

Honestly, my only quibbles with Silver right now are over the age limit and the intentional fouling stuff. Both betray a more fundamentalist line of thinking than the rest of his persona projects. On several other issues, he's proven to be far more open and transparent than Stern ever was.

ZILLER: The cynic in me wonders if that's a trick. The dap, the Sterling matter, the focus on looking the part of the Cool Commissioner ... is it a Trojan horse? Is Silver gonna M.F. the players in labor negotiations? Is he hoping the baubles distract from something more conservative about his leadership?

I appreciate his conservative approach to big league reforms -- he hasn't pushed the age minimum with any force, he's been relatively skittish about major rules changes like intentional fouling. There's a value to that. But we saw Stern be perhaps TOO conservative as a business leader for too long, so that's something to guard against.

We both follow the NBA way more closely than any other league, but Silver is the reigning Best Commissioner In America, right?

FLANNERY: I've never met anyone who liked Gary Bettman and Roger Goodell is a buffoon, so there isn't much competition. I'd guess that Rob Manfred is enjoying the same kind of breath of fresh air that Silver is experiencing now that Bud Selig is gone, but I'd also wager that Adam Silver is more well-known to casual fans and more popular than any of them.

The draft exposure really helps in that regard. He just comes across as a decent fellow, and his press conferences are more good-natured than Stern's caustic broadsides. There's a lightness to Silver's office that wasn't part of Stern's. Could you imagine David making the podcast rounds?

Let's grant you an audience with Adam. What are the two or three things you'd like to address with him?

ZILLER: Ooh, good question. First, we're talking about the age minimum. I still haven't heard a great answer as to why putting teenagers into the NCAA system for two years helps the NBA product. Second, I want an honest discussion on public funding of arenas and whether the commish even thinks this is a problem.

Finally, I'd pitch him my five regions solution personally. Because, obviously, I'm a glory hound. You're up, with a bonus question of what non-lockout issue is Silver's biggest challenge in the near term.

FLANNERY: I don't know if this is the biggest issue, per se, but lottery reform should be revisited. Tanking has never bothered me as much as some, but when there's an obvious disincentive to win games in such a long season, that needs to be addressed.

The other is the schedule. I credit Silver with taking this seriously, but we've got to find a way to reduce the number of back-to-backs. It's not healthy for the players, or the product on the court. I'm with you on the regionalism idea and I'd like too see a more balanced playoff tournament that isn't bound by geography so we get the best teams competing at the highest postseason levels. The one big structural issue that I have with the Collective Bargaining Agreement is the rookie salary scale, but I doubt that's going away anytime soon. Oh, and can we get NBA TV games on League Pass?

These kinds of conversations are the most positive reflection of Silver's tenure. He seems to value input and collaboration on issues that affect the game, and our collective enjoyment of it. All in all, I'd say that the transition has been smoother than anyone could have predicted. We take this for granted, but Stern was such a towering figure in the league for so long and he's hardly been missed at all.

Alright cynic, do you think we're going to have an extended work stoppage? (I'm team optimist, if only because of the massive television windfall that may not come their way again.)

ZILLER: I think we're in for a stoppage that doesn't cost us games. All that money is at stake. Every percentage point in the revenue split matters, and after the high-dollar, high-profile franchise sales, I don't see the players budging on anything without the pressure of a stoppage. I also think Silver wants a harder cap, even if the revenue split isn't truly in play. That's a tough sell to a union that rightfully believes it got shook down in 2011.

FLANNERY: That's a smart answer and I tend to agree that while the fight will be bruising, the impact in terms of games will be minimal or non-existent. The lockout as a tool of force is David Stern's true legacy. Let's see if Silver can escape that shadow.