DONUT 1: COMPETITIVE BALANCE
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked by ESPN’s Hannah Storm on Friday “If the dominance of the Warriors and Cavaliers is a matter of concern, in terms of competitive balance.”
“It’s not a concern,” Silver said. “I think that we should be celebrating excellence. … (it’s) fantastic to watch.”
DONUT 2: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Of course, the fact that we’re even discussing this serves as evidence that it’s a debate-worthy issue.
In my Fall 2016 one-on-one visit with Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle he cites evidence of the overwhelming health of the game, his logic being driven in part by the league’s TV contract. (You can read that visit with Carlisle here.)
But we cannot pretend that sentiment is unanimous. We cannot pretend that the NFL — over-fattened hog that is surely is — is anything but superior when it comes to mining the gold of “parity’’ over the silver of “dynasty.’’
DONUT 3: D-LORD ON THE SUBJECT
DBcom’s David Lord has the floor:
When in public on national TV, Silver should say exactly what he did here: ‘We are committed to offering greatness against greatness, so this is for you, basketball fans!’ To me, that's okay in context. He should be selling the game.
But when it's time for the league owners to meet, the owners of teams who have no REAL chance at winning a title (about 80-90 percent of the league, before each season even starts) should make sure the commissioner knows that this outcome is the polar opposite of all being "well" in the NBA world. A real chance to win is what brings fans to cheer for every team, and if that's only a handful, then it's a stupid way to run a league based on selling competition.
Fans become engaged and passionate when their team has a chance. In the NBA, 25 or more teams know season-long they are just running out the easy grounder to first, game after game, and the fans know it too.
I hear Silver's desires to even out the draft so the teams that are already stacked have a chance of making it even more one-sided, and that tells me he really doesn't get it. So backwards to the best interests of the vast majority of owners. That probably stems from the fact that Silver was incubated as a bureaucratic wonk, so if I was an NBA owner, he'd be hearing from me constantly until he gets a clue that genuine competitiveness, and a path to the top for every team that is hard but doable over a few years, are where the league really needs to set its aim.
DONUT 4: NOT KD’S FAULT
Much of the “blame’’ for the NBA’s imbalance is being shoved onto Kevin Durant, who in leaving OKC for Golden State ruined one franchise’s chance of being a true contender while cementing another’s as having one of the most talented rosters ever.
All Durant did, though, was make a heart-felt (and surely gut-wrenching) decision about what he felt was best for him — and that championships were “best for him.’’
DONUT 5: DIRK’S “FAULT’’ - KINDA
In DFW, we’re spoiled, because Dirk Nowitzki frequently passed on similar opportunities to instead remain in his adopted hometown of Dallas. But just because The UberMan is a one-town lifer doesn’t require his contemporaries to be the same.
And be honest about this: You, as a Mavs fan who dislikes Durant’s “team-jumping and ring-chasing’’ (or dislikes when LeBron did the same, and will dislike if/when Chris Paul lands in San Antonio) would be just find with “team-jumping and ring-chasing’’ if KD, LeBron and CP3 wanted to team-jump to …
DONUT 6: DIRK’S VIEW
This week, in a pair of media interviews, Dirk reflected on Warriors-Cavs, KD’s jump, the fact that this is the third straight Finals meeting between the two, and what it means to the other 28 franchises.
“It takes some of the drama away in the early rounds, which was usually so much fun,’’ he said. “It's ‘talent-pooling; going on right now where a lot of teams are loading up, and that takes some franchise players away from other teams.’’
DONUT 7: WHAT TO DO?
I have heard NBA lovers seriously propose, in the case of the Mavericks and whomever, that they “wait out the Warriors.’’ (For good teams in the East like the Celtics and the Raptors, I assume that is translated there as “wait out LeBron.’’
Ah, but LeBron is a young 32. Steph Curry is 29. Durant is 28. Klay Thompson is 27. Kyrie Irving is 25.
Somewhere in here is a legit argument for tanking. But nowhere in here is a legit argument for 28 other teams to think that one or two years of patience will mean these two superteams will have faded.
DONUT 8: WHAT WAS DONE
The recent implementation of the Designated Player Veteran extension becomes effective starting July 1. In short, a long-time, one-team guy will find it exceedingly lucrative to stay with that original team. This was, I think, the “small-market’’ teams’ push to try to keep a Thunder player in OKC or a Bucks player in Milwaukee.
The problem, of course: While every extra pile of money helps, by the time a superstar has played five or eight or nine years in one city, he already has piles of money. But if he doesn’t yet have a title, he’s stigmatized.
And he leaves, trading in another pile of money for a chance to do what Kevin Durant has done. And in fairness, what LeBron did in bolting to Miami before boomeranging back to Cleveland.
DONUT 9: WHAT SHOULD’VE BEEN DONE
The toothpaste is out of the tube now, but it’s unfortunate the NBA didn’t launch an investigation into Pat Riley’s dark-alley dealings that put LeBron with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. The involved parties, after the ink was dry, admitted — no, boasted — about their slyness in tampering, about their actions together during the previous season, when LeBron was in a Cleveland uniform, literally, and still somehow being courted by Riley and company.
The league opted to look the other way, quite possibly for the same reasons I’m now reporting that pre-NBA Draft visits from prospects, which used to be about kids visiting 30 NBA cities for tryouts, is now about 30 teams sending scouts to gyms in LA, Vegas, Chicago and New York:
Because the teams don’t run the workouts anymore. The agents run the workouts.
In baseball, the players run the game.
In football, the owners run the game.
In basketball? The agents run the game, and had somebody opted to cross the agents that cooperated with Riley to cheat his way to a superteam, that “somebody’’ would lose an invaluable connection with the true powers of the NBA.
So they sat on their hands … but cheered, privately, when the 2011 Dallas Mavericks gave Riley’s Heat a too-rare comeuppance.
DONUT 10: RE-DO THE CAP RULES?
From a recent GQ article:
“The clear remedy is a more even distribution of talent. Superteams are possible because a franchise can sign as many as four players to gargantuan deals and still make the money work. If the cap were lowered or made more stringent, players would have to make financial sacrifices to join a superteam—which, despite the huge deal made about LeBron taking less to play for the Heat, is a negative incentive.
“This same end could be accomplished by stipulating exactly what kind of contracts teams had to throw around, thus limiting their ability to stockpile stars. Say, for instance, each were allotted two max salaries, two lesser but still sizable deals, and so on, down the line. This might be the ideal solution, as it doesn’t put players in an unfair situation where they have to choose between maximizing their earning potential (albeit with fewer max deals to go around) and contending for a championship. From a team standpoint, it borders on basketball socialism. But …’’
Stop. This is a wonderful collection of ideas for a new league starting up right now. It’s a ridiculous collection of ideas in the sense that the players and the union would laugh you out of the negotiating room.
Lower the cap? Limit the stars? Basketball socialism?
Why would any union agree to such things? Only when the NBA’s health is severely threatened — that is to say, when basketball is dying on the vine — will such drastic measures be considered.
Basketball socialism? Why would rich people, who’ve worked hard to become rich, agree to socialism?
DONUT 11: ALL THAT’S LEFT
I’ll tell you what works, in terms of assembling a team of multiple superstars:
Get one first.
You know why OKC, even post-KD, put together a 2016-2017 campaign that was fascinatingly watchable? Because in Russell Westbrook they employ a superstar. Why is Houston in better shape than most? James Harden. Why is San Antonio in better shape than most? Kawhi Leonard.
That is truly Dallas’ most immediate problem, before it ever gets to its more gargantuan problem. Before you can have multiple superstars, so you can have a “superteam,’’ you must have ONE superstar (in his prime, making All-Star Games and getting MVP votes.)
The Dallas Mavericks, with all due deference to the legendary Dirk, do not employ that one player.
The NBA may or may not have a superteam problem. But the Mavs do. Forget competing with the Cavs and the Warriors; until Dallas can match Russ, Harden and Kawhi, the Mavs can’t truly compete with the second-tier teams, either. Then look around at Memphis and New Orleans and elsewhere and ponder whether Dallas can even compete with the third-tier teams.
A big-fish free-agent snap of the fingers is always worth a try — and man, Mark Cuban’s Mavs have certainly tried that every summer. But this must be an all-eggs-in-all-baskets approach. Harrison Barnes as a medium-fish free agent? Good. Nerlens Noel in a steal of a trade? Good. Make the June 22 NBA Draft work in a way that brings you another potential standout? Good.
Good enough to beat the Warriors? Well, no.
DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD
So we’ve got the Mavs doing everything thing they can to form a talent base that somehow, someway, some day, can allow true contention. That’s the best they can do.
But we’ve got Silver swearing there isn’t a competitive balance problem. Is that the best the NBA can do?
Wait … Here’s Adam Silver, speaking last summer in the wake of KD’s bolt to the Warriors:
“I don't think having two superteams is good for the league," Silver said.
Good. He gets it. In public, at this moment, with the NBA Finals on center stage, the commissioner is saying one thing. But his gut reaction to super-teaming reflects another thing.
Hey, you can’t cure a problem unless you first recognize that you have that problem.