THE NBA’s ONE PERCENT & A Looming Bankruptcy

When Kevin Durant went to the Golden State Warriors to join forces with his Western Conference rivals in July of 2016, many had correct premonitions that the structure of the NBA as we knew it was changing, and changing fast.

For the most part, that was the biggest piece of news from the 2016 offseason, as every other major development automatically lost importance.

The following season, Chris Paul left for the Rockets in exchange for Beverly, Williams, Dekker, and a 2018 first round pick.

Soon after, Paul George left to the Thunder, trailed by Carmelo Anthony.

The top scorers in the NBA are beginning to rally around each other at a rate faster than we’ve ever seen before in the NBA. Following the 2010 offseason when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, fans assumed that other players would begin to follow suit, forming their own powerful trios — which they did. However, now we are beginning to see something unprecedented.

Below are player combinations of note, and their scoring ranking in the 2016–2017 season according to ESPN.

Rockets: James Harden (2nd, 29.1 PPG) + Chris Paul (18th, 18.1 PPG)

Thunder: Russell Westbrook (1st, 31.6 PPG) + Paul George (20th, 23.7 PPG) + Carmelo Anthony (34th, 22.4 PPG)

Cavaliers: LeBron James (3rd, 26.4 PPG) + Isaiah Thomas (10th, 28.9 PPG)

Warriors: Kevin Durant (5th, 25.1 PPG) + Stephen Curry (11th, 25.3 PPG), Klay Thompson (38th, 22.3 PPG) , Draymond Green, (49th, 10.2 PPG)

By just looking at the distribution above, we see that the NBA has begun to splinter into exclusive clubs. Twenty-two percent of the leagues top 50 scorers are split between four teams. What’s more, nine of the top ten are in the West.

It goes without saying that the West has been the more competitive of the two divisions for the past decade. The last time that the top ten players in the East and West were split evenly was around 2004, when Iverson, Garnett, James, O’Neal and Stoudemire reigned on the Eastern Coast.

However, times have changed. There’s more money on the table to draw superstars to each other as a result of several factors, including the 2014 $24 billion deal between the NBA and Turner sports, and new salary caps.

What’s scarier is that some teams are beginning to lose out already. The Brooklyn Nets don’t have a single player on the NBA top 50 players list, nor do the Knicks, and a couple other unfortunate clubs.

Teams such as the Bucks or Magic only have one player, which further illustrates the emerging misbalance in the league of the league.

The importance of the phenomenon is this; superstars attract superstars — and there is currently an exodus from weaker performing teams. A lottery pick can only carry so much potential behind it.

What we can expect is cliché, but worse teams will keep declining in performance due to their lack of draw, and the best teams (mainly in the west) will become even more competitive.

Consider this.

According to ESPN, over the 2016–17 NBA season, nine teams lost more money than they earned.

Those teams were:

Atlanta Hawks

Brooklyn Nets

Cleveland Cavaliers

Detroit Pistons

Memphis Grizzlies

Milwaukee Bucks

Orlando Magic

San Antonio Spurs

Washington Wizards

What’s more, 7 of of those teams that lost money was from the Eastern Conference.

Though each of the teams in the NBA has the same salary cap of $113 M, some teams simply don’t have the money to pay players a competitive rate after they account for financial losses during the regular season.

Consider this.

Remember in 2011 when David Stearn blocked a trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers with Kobe Bryant, suggesting that the Lakers would become to strong of a team? Under the new structure of the NBA, those trades are happening every couple of months.

As the flight of superstars from perennially underachieving teams continues, financial woes will only get worse. Top talent will continue to flock to the West, where more money as well as greater career prospects are on the table. In the next few seasons, it’s almost a guarantee that not a single superstar will seek to go to one of the teams above, where career and salary prospects are starkly lower.

In the next few years, it may be inevitable that as a result of all of these unfavorable factors, one NBA team will be forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of a poor record, an unpromising roster, and a dark outlook for the future. This will prompt a massive reorganizing of the league, and an abandonment of the policies that let teams aggregate themselves into haves and have-nots.

What will that day look like, and which team will it be?

You tell me.

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