Adam Silver's anger felt around the NBA - but can league fix its All-Star Game problem?

INDIANAPOLIS – The NBA’s All-Star issues won’t be solved at a media hospitality event on the fun side of the midnight hour.

But that didn’t stop NBA writers – and NBA social media chatter – from tossing around ideas aimed at improving the fan experience and creating a better product for the league on Saturday and Sunday nights.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has a team of people doing the same, and his frustration at the players’ competitive ambivalence in Sunday’s All-Star Game was apparent when he awarded the winning trophy to the East, saying “Well … congratulations.”

The pause was a silent scream.

Answers aren’t easy, especially when it comes to the Saturday dunk contest and the Sunday game.

In Indianapolis Saturday and Sunday, 3-point shot contests salvaged the weekend – first Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard capturing his second consecutive 3-point contest and Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry and New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu delivered delivering a 3-point contest that elicited excitement and a thought-provoking exercise in whom can do what just as well or better than someone else.

But the dunk contest lagged, an event stuck in neutral for a variety of reasons, and the All-Star Game didn’t generate the competitive spirit that Silver had sought and that Basketball Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Charles Barkley tried to shame the players into providing.

“We're not necessarily looking for players to go out there as if it's the Finals necessarily, but we need players to play defense, we need them to care about this game,” Silver told reporters Saturday, concluding, “I think we're going to see a good game tomorrow night.”

That did not happen.

Jalen Brunson dunks during the 73rd NBA All-Star Game, the league's highest-scoring ever.
Jalen Brunson dunks during the 73rd NBA All-Star Game, the league's highest-scoring ever.

Complaints and criticism are necessary not only to capture what happened, but to generate the ideas and solutions that are paramount to reinvigorating the weekend.

The NBA has tinkered with All-Star Weekend. Some ideas have worked. Some have not. And some ideas worked until they no longer did.

Let’s start with what works. The celebration of basketball, the NBA and its stars shines in every All-Star city. The spectacle of the weekend provides entertaining options, including ones that are not NBA-sanctioned events. In a compact downtown such as Indianapolis, the joy of basketball was everywhere.

The 3-point contest remains a popular event and even more so with the importance of the 3-ball in today’s game at almost every level.

The added bonus of Sabrina vs. Steph in a 3-point contest exceeded the hype especially when Ionescu made her first seven 3-pointers. The excitement was palpable in the stadium.

Free idea for next year: Curry and Ionescu vs. Damian Lillard and Caitlin Clark.

More: LeBron James indicates at NBA All-Star Game intention to remain with Los Angeles Lakers

Now, onto what’s not working.

The dunk contest is stagnant but can be revived. The addition of G Leaguer and viral dunk sensation Mac McClung last year worked. And even though he had some nice dunks this year, it didn’t elevate the event. That’s not McClung’s fault. He searches for creative dunks.

Let’s also acknowledge the players have stretched the boundary of human gravity to its limit. They have jumped over objects both inanimate (cars) and animate (people) and a 720-degree dunk is unrealistic.

The larger problem is the visibility of the field. The actual All-Stars used to participate in the dunk contest and give Boston’s Jaylen Brown credit for his participation Saturday. But it’s been a decade since an All-Star entered the event.

Silver has said he can’t force a player to enter the dunk contest. Fine. That’s where the National Basketball Players Association needs to step in. New NBPA executive director Andre Iguodala, a former player, needs to implore his members. If Silver needs to coerce with more prize money, discuss that. The winner receives $105,000.

And the game’s best dunkers and high-flyers need to reconsider their lack of involvement. That’s Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards, among others. (And, you know, Morant could do the league a solid here).

Don’t forget, we’re not that removed from Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon producing worthwhile dunk contests.

The All-Star Game is trickier. The league has tinkered, going with captains to pick teams instead of East vs. West, and the league used a targeted score format to end the game. It provided blips of improvement but nothing sustained.

All-Star after another Sunday said the game can be more competitive but specifics weren’t provided. No one is asking for Game 7 intensity, but Silver, fans and sports writers want something more than an unguarded layup line and 3-point bonanza.

There is a sentiment that if the players don’t care, why should the fans, and that’s not a message that makes Silver rest easy.

It’s also worth examining if the game needs to be any more than that. We could be holding onto an antiquated idea of what the game should be in today’s world. It’s an exhibition, two months of the regular season remain, and for some teams, another month or two of playoff basketball. No one wants to get hurt, and if you’re the fan of a team, you don’t want your star player missing big games because of something that happened in the All-Star Game.

If money remains the answer – and not sure how well that would sit with fans though there are whispers of such a thing among stakeholders – then it should be explored. According to the collective bargaining agreement between players and the NBA, players on the winning All-Star team received $100,000 and the losers receive $25,000.

Players seemed to respond for a $500,000 incentive for winning the In-Season Tournament.

Ideas need to be realistic, too. A one-on-one event sounds promising but buy-in will be difficult. Scrapping the game – an idea that has sprouted on social media – isn’t an option either.

The commissioner wants something more than what has been delivered the past two seasons so that’s what the league will address. The NBA is not alone in this issue. The NFL, NHL and MLB have tinkered with their all-star events.

Away from what just happened in Indianapolis, the NBA’s basketball ops staff will begin searching for improvements. If Silver didn’t already have staffers working on it on the flight home.

Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on social media @JeffZillgitt

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA All-Star Game needs fixing. Do Adam Silver, league have answers?