1. Limit super teams
Think back to the time immediately following the NBA Finals in 2016. The Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans were basking in the glory of winning a championship. The Golden Warriors and their fans were trying to figure out how they didn’t win a championship after a 73-9 season. Everyone else was wondering if anyone could keep these two teams from getting back to the finals for a third straight year in 2017.
With all due respect to the San Antonio Spurs, there was one real hope. The Oklahoma City Thunder had the Warriors down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals. Maybe they could break through. Of course, one thing was necessary. They had to re-sign Kevin Durant.
This is scary. pic.twitter.com/3DykPxU9HJ
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 4, 2016
So much for that.
Durant’s signing was unique. Unlike some of the past super teams, the Warriors were already loaded. To find a comparison, we’d probably have to go back to the Los Angeles Lakers adding Wilt Chamberlain after losing the 1968 Finals.
Now, make no mistake, super teams created by free agency are no less noble than those created by trades, no matter what Paul Pierce would want you to believe. In fact, a free agent going where he chooses is significantly more noble than a superstar signing a big contract with a bad team, only to whine until he gets traded.
But regardless of how a super team is formed, it’s a problem for the rest of the league. Once Durant signed with the Warriors, teams had to ask themselves a question regarding potential moves:Will this move put us ahead of either Golden State or Cleveland?
Nearly every time, the answer was no. It’s why the trade deadline was so boring. It’s why the Boston Celtics — a good team with genuine assets — did essentially nothing to improve. They weren’t going to mortgage so much of the future only to guarantee losing to LeBron James and company in the playoffs.
In the complete interest of fairness, one other point needs to be made. Great teams are traditionally good for the NBA’s health. In the 1970’s, parity reigned and the league was at its nadir. NBA Finals games weren’t even televised live, and the league was genuinely not far from going under. In 1979, incoming rookies Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed all of that and the rest is history. The Lakers and Celtics reigned in the 1980’s and the league was never healthier. For the most part, it hasn’t looked back since.
The league had teams that casual fans would watch to either see them win, or hope they’d lose. In Cleveland and Golden State, the league has those teams now.
But this is a byproduct. When one or two teams reign too supreme, the rest of the league becomes unwilling to do anything to challenge them because they know that it won’t work.
We don’t know exactly how to limit super teams. That’s something that would have to be left for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. We’re not even sure that the league would want to do that. But when super teams exist, what’s happening in the 2017 NBA Playoffs becomes a genuine risk.