Nixing Super Teams Would Kill The NBA

By now you have been informed that ex-Thunder superstar Kevin Durant has recently signed with the Earth-shattering Golden State Warriors. Despite failing to record a second consecutive NBA championship, the Warriors — led by “Splash Brothers” Steph Curry and Klay Thompson — figure to be an immovable force in the NBA for years to come.

Add one of the top five players in the league in Kevin Durant to an already loaded roster, and there you have it: another NBA super team.

Forget the loyalty-preaching talking heads and pyrotechnical OKC fans for a moment — the NBA commish isn’t too content about KD’s West Coast escapade either. In his press conference at the Las Vegas Summer League this week, NBA commissioner Adam Silver revealed his distaste for having two teams thoroughly dominate the Association. In reference to the 2016 NBA Finals participants, Silver explained that he doesn’t believe having two super teams is “good for the league.”

Silver makes a reasonable point. It’s mid-July and we can gently assume which teams will be playing in the NBA Finals next year: Golden State and Cleveland. Just like friends spoiling the end of a book you’ve spent hours reading or a movie you’ve been dying to see, no one likes to know the conclusion before they reach it. None of us are Marty McFlys, right?

However, the NBA has been reliant on its dominance and star power since its creation. In the late 50's/early 60’s, Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics were crowned eight (!!!) consecutive times. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers were the following dynasty, winning five championships in a 10-year span. Next up was the player and team that changed it all: Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, hoisting the trophy six times in eight years.

Sports fans — whether die-hard or casual — live for dominance.

The NBA reached its peak popularity during the Jordan/Bird/Magic era because fans craved to tune in and witness the once-in-a-lifetime superstars in action.

Over on the gridiron, the 2011 New England Patriots entered Super Bowl XLVI with an unblemished 18–0 record, resulting in the second-best Nielson TV Share rating for a Super Bowl in the last 31 years.

Just this past year the Golden State Warriors began the season 24–0 and cruised to an NBA-best 73–9 record, a benchmark that most believed would never be rewritten. The Warriors’ Game 7 win over Oklahoma City was the most-watched NBA game on cable networks (ESPN/TNT), pulling in an astounding 16 million viewers. The NBA Finals Game 7 between Cleveland and Golden State amassed 31.02 viewers, the highest-viewed NBA Finals game on ABC.

Believe it or not, the current generation is the most parity-driven era in NBA history. Since 2008, seven different franchises have won championships, with only the LeBron/Wade/Bosh Miami Heat and the Kobe/Gasol Lakers taking multiple Larry O’Brien trophies home.

However, Adam Silver is concerned about the current state of the league. Despite falling into a 3–1 hole in the Western Conference Finals, many pundits still believed that Golden State would manufacture a comeback to extend its fairytale season. Now that the Warriors are recharged with the addition of a five-time NBA scoring leader, there are legitimate concerns of whether a team outside of Golden State or Cleveland can realistically contend for an NBA title in the near future.

“For me, part of it is designing a collective bargaining agreement that encourages the distribution of great players throughout the league,” Silver spelled out in the press conference. This should be an eyebrow-raiser for all NBA fans alike, because major changes are imminent.

Don’t think for a second that the NBA won’t flex its muscles and make decisive moves in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). As recent history has shown, the NBA’s sovereigns have not been bashful when shooting down potential transactions. We all remember the great Chris Paul debacle, in which then-commish David Stern cancelled (and then denied cancelling) a three-team deal that would have dealt the best point guard in the NBA from the dismal league-owned New Orleans Hornets to the Kobe-led Los Angeles Lakers. The original offer would have sent Paul to Los Angeles, All-Star forward Pau Gasol to Houston, and role players Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Lamar Odom to New Orleans. Stern cited “basketball reasons” for the trade’s eventual collapse, and its controversy has become the epicenter of conspiracy theories since. As for his explanation of whether nixing the trade was the right decision, he sharply responded, “buy a ticket and see.”

Because the probability of super team-negating CBA changes is about as likely as the sun rising tomorrow, two questions should be asked: Why and how?

First off, Silver’s desire for a parity-filled league should be fairly comprehensible. Although no one wants a version of the NBA in which each team finishes between 30 and 50 wins, parity simply makes the NBA (and other sports) more interesting. When results and outcomes are pre-determined, fans’ interest wanes, and therefore the NBA loses money by failing to fill seats or sell TV packages. Why spend money if you already know the outcome?

The complicated— and more difficult — question to be answered is how the NBA could implement rules in the CBA that would prevent super teams from forming in the future. Due to the NBA’s complicated CBA, the commissioner will have many hoops to jump through in order to halt superstars from joining forces.

The most obvious and effective way to stop the “super team epidemic” is to rid the CBA of max contracts.

Max contracts were designed to improve and maintain the talent on the lesser teams from smaller markets. When salary offers are capped, these weaker teams are more likely to re-sign its own star players because other teams aren’t able to outbid the players. However, the main drawback to max contracts is that the salaries don’t differentiate the premier players from the average players. Unlike the NFL, where players who are considered elite are paid elite wages, the salary difference between a future HOFer like LeBron James and a role player like Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll is almost non-existent.

Because the NBA’s salary cap skyrocketed this summer (and will in the future due to a major TV deal in 2014), max contracts carry basically no weight. Teams are able to sign max contracts regardless of the talent that is already in place (i.e. Golden State) and it eventually leads to the aforementioned super teams. Without max contracts, players are proportionally paid based on their production and talent. It would be an obstacle for teams to stack up on the NBA’s elite because the top players will earn significantly more than the average players, resulting in less cap flexibility.

What is stopping Kevin Durant from taking a max contract from a top-notch Golden State squad instead of a not so Golden State-talented Oklahoma City Thunder team? If money is not a factor, then it should be no surprise that Durant would want to play for a team that has a better chance of winning the title. I would have a hard time finding any players across the NBA universe that would want to play for a lesser team if the money was identical. I don’t think KD is that attached to the state of Oklahoma.

Another direction the NBA could take is disallowing players who have earned specific accolades from joining teams. For example, a potential rule could prevent a team from signing a 5-time All-Star if they already have one, or an MVP if there is one on the roster prior to the signing. It gets more complicated, however, if a team that already owns an MVP has another player who earns an MVP during the contract, because the team obeyed the rules that were already put in place, but would then enter the super team discussion regardless.

In spite of what the NBA decides is the appropriate action towards ousting super teams, it may not be beneficial for the league after all. Fans adore stardom, and the idea of perfection in sports not only entices lifelong fans but also casual followers of the game. Everyone loves an underdog story now and again, but who doesn’t want to see LeBron take on KD and Steph Curry in a seven-game series? The NBA is the pinnacle of pro basketball, and it’s about time we treat it for what it is.

Be careful what you wish for, commish.