Before the Dallas Mavericks added their names to the list of title winning teams, only 8 different teams had won an NBA Championship in the previous 30 years. The big spending Mavericks were able to stretch that less-than-impressive list to 9 teams over 31 years. Something feels wrong with that, and it lies in the current NBA system. Until the NBA does something to help teams retain their own players and do away with guaranteed contracts, there’s little hope for change.
Since 1980, I counted 16 different Super Bowl winners and 19 different World Series winners. Even the salary cap-less MLB can produce more than double the amount of winning teams over a 30 year period than the NBA, and if the NBA continues to trend toward super teams that leave their scraps for small markets the next 30 years could be even worse! Four winners in 30 years? No thanks. There’s no rule that says the NFL has to be the most exciting sport for America, but the reality of every single fan being able to somewhat realistically hope for their team to become a Super Bowl contender is what keeps them excited. Look at the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have been absolute dog meat since their last Super Bowl visit over a decade ago, but would it be that far fetched to think the Carson Palmer/Darren McFadden duo, combined with good coaching and a solid defense, could return to be playoff contenders? They could absolutely do it. Contrast that to today’s NBA. Could one make the same argument about over half the teams in the NBA? Absolutely not. I hate to be a Debbie-Downer, but there is just zero chance that Charlotte, Philadelphia, Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit, Indiana, Milwaukee, Washington, Golden State, Phoenix, Sacramento, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, New Jersey, Atlanta, Denver, LA Clippers, Minnesota, Portland, and yes, even Utah have any reasonable chance of winning an NBA championship with the way things are going. A balance must be created in the league for the NBA product to continue to grow.
So what would happen if NBA teams had real purchasing power over other teams when it came to re-signing their own players? And I’m not talking about the current BS that allows them to offer a 6 year deal instead of a 5 year deal that can ultimately be avoided by sign and trades, I’m talking about a real, substantial advantages, i.e. 6 year deal vs. 3 year, $15 million max vs. $8, etc. Would LeBron still be in Cleveland? Would Amar’e still be in Phoenix? Would Bosh still be in Toronto? Would Williams still be in Utah? In other words, would there still be parity in the league? I’ll let you decide.
The other item on my Christmas wishlist is the destruction of guaranteed contracts. In the current lockout, players make the argument that the NBA is unprofitable in large part due to bad deals made by owners, and that now the owners are asking the players to pay the price for those mistakes by taking less money. Well, the players are right (sort of). There are, in fact, some horrendous deals out there that completely cripple teams’ ability to stay competitive. So why do owners make these deals? To be funny? To waste money? No, in a sink-or-swim business, owners take risks to stay competitive. Look at the Utah Jazz & Andrei Kirilenko. Of course hindsight is always 20/20, but when the Jazz were faced with the decision to pay up for (what seemed to be) the most dynamic player in the NBA, or let him walk & return to starting Quincy Lewis at Small Forward, it didn’t seem like there was any choice. So what would happen if players were actually held accountable for the contracts they signed in the same way owners are? After all, I’ve never seen an owner just stop paying a player half way through a contract, but I’ve sure seen players stop playing. I’m tired of watching players sign huge deals while basically giving owners the finger as they walk out of the room. What if teams were able to release Gilbert Arenas, Eddy Curry, Tim Thomas, Greg Ostertag, Rashard Lewis, Brandon Roy and Michael Redd? What would that do to the competitive balance of the league if every player knew that if they didn’t produce, they may not have it made for the next 6 years? Also, would the ability to cut high paid, non-contributing players help teams like Washington, Orlando, Portland, and Milwaukee free up cap space to replace talent and remain competitive? I know what I think, but again, I’ll let you decide.
So wouldn’t that be nice to pattern the NBA after a proven, successful system of the NFL and begin to create some real balance? Is it unfair for fans of all teams to be able to feel realistic in their desire for winning? I guess so. Instead, all we get to listen to is how “unfair” offers have been that continue to provide players guaranteed millions over multiple years. I admit, during the lockout I’ve at times been the 7-year old in the back of the van asking over and over “are we there yet?” But with what appears to be the players’ and owners’ inability to recognize the fan in all of the negotiations, I see myself growing into a punk teenager in that same van; headphones in & eyes closed. Wake me up when we get there.