NBA Playoffs: The “Ward System”

I have a crazy idea for improving the NBA Playoffs, one that fixes the problems that arise from devastating injuries, keeps more cities and fans involved as the playoffs progress, and generally creates deliciously intriguing scenarios.

The “Ward System” comes from “Game of Thrones.” In the fantastic television series — based off of the even more fantastic books — when one warring faction vanquishes another, “wards” from the loser are taken on by the winner, as a form of collateral against future wars. Typically the ward is a child from a highborn family. The child is raised by the group he/she is taken in by, and treated as if they are another member of the family.

Theon Greyjoy, Ward of Winterfell

Theon Greyjoy is probably one of the more well-known wards, taken in and raised by the Starks when they presided over Winterfell in the early run of the show.

I believe the NBA should do something similar.

After each playoff series, I propose that the winner can take on as a “ward” one player from the opposing team. Oklahoma City could take Dirk Nowitzki; The Spurs (sorry for this “luck” of the draw) could take on Vince Carter; if Toronto wins, they could take on Paul George; and on.

Even more important, look at a team like the Los Angeles Clippers. In the span of one game, the team that had a chance to potentially compete with Golden State, lost their leader and arguably best player, Chris Paul, and potentially their second-best player, Blake Griffin. Just like that, their season is pretty much over. They could fight valiantly to win the first-round series with Portland, or they could just go quietly. They certainly have no chance now to hang with the Warriors, even without Steph Curry. They kind of end up in the same exact position that Memphis entered the playoffs, without their leader/point guard and best down-low force.

But, what if the Clippers knew that by winning the series, they could bring on Damian Lillard as their ward? That might change the calculus. It gives new life to the Clips. And, it gives continued life to the city of Portland. Won’t they be interested to see how their favorite son continues on in the playoffs?

Across the country, this same thing would happen. If you extended the system to before the playoffs, where players from non-playoff teams can be drafted by playoff teams, so many cities keep a true rooting interest. What if Cleveland — as the #1 seed, I propose they get the first pick — added Carmelo Anthony to their squad or Toronto added Jimmy Butler. Who wouldn’t want John Wall?

All of the cities get the chance to continue watching their players (almost like an All-Star feel, but where the games matter) and the playoff teams get fortified and benefit for going after better seeding.

Players might also be more apt to stay in one place, and trust the process, knowing that they will still get a chance at a ring, without the fear of frittering away their prime years.

It’s a crazy, crazy idea. But isn’t it fun?

Listen to the Mix-Minus Podcast, where the “Ward System” is discussed at the 28:38 mark: