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So far this summer, we have seen some serious moving and shaking throughout the NBA. First, the 76ers drafted phenom Ben Simmons first overall. The Lakers followed with a Kevin Durant look alike, Brandon Ingram. Also on draft night, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded one of their pillars when they sent Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic. We’ve seen former league MVP Derrick Rose get traded to the Knicks. We’ve seen the Atlanta Hawks franchise player leave his team for Boston when the Celtics agreed to a 4-year deal with Al Horford. Money has been thrown around like never before, which is a good thing despite many disgruntled fans and analysts voicing their opinions for the opposition. Money being spent means the league HAS money to spend which means the league is thriving. Everyone should be happy. And then we get to the biggest domino to fall this summer. Kevin Durant decided to leave the only team he has known and join the Golden State Warriors. This is a direct result of the thriving nature of the NBA. With the money coming in from a new TV deal with ESPN and ABC, the salary cap exploded this summer and will continue to rise next summer. As a result, some teams who already had a bunch of big contracts on their books were still able to have flexibility in free agency. This allowed the Knicks to absorb Derrick Rose’s $21 million contract for next season while still being able to acquire a few expensive free agents like Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee. It has also allowed the already talent-rich Golden State Warriors to add one of the top 3 players in the league.
From the Warriors standpoint and from Durant’s standpoint, this was a great move. The rich get richer and it seems like this team will be absolutely unstoppable going forward. This, however, is bad news for the rest of the NBA. The balance of power in the NBA was already lopsided with no legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference other than Cleveland. And even the much stronger Western Conference only featured 3 or 4 teams who legitimately had a chance of winning a title this past season. Now those numbers are going to drop. It’s hard to envision any team being able to match up talent wise with the Warriors. This is a team that has four bonafide superstar players now. This is not a good thing for the NBA. Sure, the ratings of any game featuring the Warriors will probably go through the roof, but what about the other 29 teams? What about the small market teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Milwaukee Bucks who simply can’t afford to build a team that way? This is exactly what the collective bargaining agreement was supposed to prevent when the league and the players union created it in 2011.
Back in 2011 during the NBA lockout, one of the major issues at hand amongst the owners was how smaller market teams could afford to sit at the table with the big boys. To teams like the Knicks and the Lakers or the Miami Heat, going over the salary cap and paying luxury tax penalties is a non-issue. This allows them to be more free with their spending. The same can’t be said about teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets. Now, with the salary cap exploding, the smaller market teams are being left in the dust. They don’t stand a chance in this new NBA where players are more willing to walk away from their original teams to join forces in an effort to win championships. If your team isn’t ready to win a title, you stand no chance when it comes to retaining your homegrown superstars or acquiring All-Star talent in the free agent market. Today’s NBA is all about playing with other stars and winning championships. It makes the NBA very predictable which is a bad thing for competition. With an opt-out of the CBA coming in the summer of 2017, we may be inching closer to another lockout next season. It’s easy to see small market owners getting very frustrated with what’s going on throughout the league. So what’s the answer?
The NBA salary cap is a soft cap. This means that as the revenue of the league rises, so does the salary cap. Makes sense when put in simple terms. The league makes more money, the players make more money. However, with the way it’s going, it may be time to start looking at alternatives. With the salary cap rising year after year, teams can afford to sign a guy to a max contract this summer and have that same contract be worth a much smaller percentage of the cap the following summer. This makes it rather simple for teams with All-Star players to go out and acquire more All-Star players. Maybe a rule stating that a team can only carry three contracts that are within 10% of a league maximum would help in preventing rich teams from getting too much richer. Who knows what the best answer is but soon, someone is going to start asking the questions.
There was a time in the NBA where players would rather go against eachother than play together. There was a sense of pride in going against the best and beating the best. In today’s NBA, players just want to team up with the best. There’s no truth behind the played out response of “I want to go against the best.” That’s just simply not the case anymore. It seems more and more players would rather toss that competitive mindset to the side and just find the easiest route to a championship. It makes NBA players seem kind of soft to be perfectly honest. Where’s the pride? Where’s the competitive spirit? What happened to watching the best players in the world dig deep and do things we’ve never seen them do before in their pursuit of greatness? There was a time when all the best players in the league would elevate their games to God-like levels during the playoffs or when going against a bitter rival or other great players. That’s missing in today’s NBA. We saw LeBron do it in the Finals this past season and everyone in the world watched in amazement. We want more of that. We don’t want more of these super teams. It takes the fun out of the competition and on a more selfish level, it gives our favorite teams no chance. All in all, it’s just a bad look for the best players in the world to prefer to play with eachother instead of against eachother. I have no choice but to agree with Stephen A. Smith when he called the Durant move “soft.” Hopefully there’s a resolution to this growing trend in the NBA because if it continues, soon there will only be one or two teams in the league that have a legitimate chance at a title. Nobody wants to watch a two horse race for the entirety of a 9 month NBA season. The league may be making money, but the fierce competition is starting to fall off aggressively.
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