Blog Entry

Does the league care about competitive balance?

Posted on: October 24, 2011 12:26 pm
 
Posted by Royce Young



The NBA wants you to believe something. We’re fighting for the little man. We’re sticking up for the small market team that can’t fend for itself.

That’s what Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver hammered home this week while basically announcing that the league is screwed right now.

“I know we’ve had lots of back and forth with people in this room, but we think that a team that spends $100 million on its payroll versus a team that spends $50 million is at a huge competitive advantage. It’s not a perfect one-to-one correlation, but there’s a huge competitive advantage that comes from the ability to spend more time. And there’s a reason we believe why the NFL has been so successful from a competitive standpoint with a hard cap and a reason that the NHL has been so successful from a competitive standpoint with their flex cap type system which has a hard, absolute cap at the top of the band.”

Before that, David Stern went on and on during his media blitz about how the Sacramento Kings are trying to live in a world where they spend $45 million to the Lakers $100 million. It isn’t fair. No way around it. It’s not. Historically, the trophies live in the big markets. Chicago, New York, Boston, Los Angeles — over the past 60 years, 36 championships were won by those cities (40 if you count the four won by the Minneapolis Lakers). Four cities accounted for 60 percent of the NBA’s champions since 1950. There’s never, ever been a precedent for competitive balance in the NBA. Never has the playing field been level.

And has the league grown? Has it succeeded? Yes and yes. Most would say the top of the mountain for the NBA was the 1990s with Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Or if not that, the 1980s with Magic’s Lakers battling Bird’s Celtics. Or if not that, maybe right now with the plethora of talent littered throughout the league.

This isn’t to say small markets haven’t ever won. There’s the Spurs, who have served as the beacon of hope for little guys. Except remember: When those boring Spurs were winning, that was kind of a dark time for the league. Scoring was down, ratings slipped and interest waned. That could’ve been because of a post-Jordan hangover, but the 2000s weren’t great for the league.

LaMarcus Aldridge, who plays in a small market, wouldn't speculate on what the league's real intentions are.

"If they're saying it, then hopefully they're trying to do it," he said after Sunday's charity game in Oklahoma City.

Which is kind of what you have to think with it. If they're saying it, then hopefully they really mean it.

But even with the league preaching that, I get the feeling it’s a red herring to divert attention away from the fact the owners are trying to squeeze the players out of a 20 percent (or so) paycut. It’s the owners’ version of “Let us play!” Preach fairness and tug at the heartstrings of small market fans to win support. All while reaching in the back pocket of the players. Preach parity and win public support. It’s a brilliant move. Maybe they mean it this time, but the league’s never really cared much for competitive balance, so why now? With proper revenue sharing, big market success often leads to more small market money. Or at least, more money and more success for the NBA. Which is what it’s really all about, right?

"I just want the fans to trust us and know that we're far from greedy," Chris Paul said following the charity game. "We just want a fair deal. We want to get out there and play more than anybody. But we understand that at the end of the day, we're the product. We're the reason the fans come and we just want a fair deal.”

The league though, says it wants to make life fair for a team like Paul's Hornets (which it happens to own, but nevermind that). The league wants to give equal opportunity to everybody not in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Boston. Last season's champion Mavericks? They had a payroll upwards of $90 million. That would never happen in Sacramento, Minnesota or Oklahoma City, where all the stars gathered Sunday.

The Thunder have become a poster child for parity, the beacon of hope to every struggling small market franchise. Before them were the Spurs. Even playing against the system, both teams built a perennial contenders. Why? Brilliant management, shrewd financial discipline and a good amount of luck.

Luck? Yeah, don’t deny it. OKC's general manager Sam Presti’s done wonderful work in the draft, but let’s face it: He drafted No. 2, 4 and 3 in 2007, 2008 and 2009. In 2007, he snagged the fifth pick in Jeff Green. Kevin Durant fell in his lap after Portland whiffed on Greg Oden. Now to Presti’s credit — and you won’t find anyone that sings his praises louder and more often than me — he’s three-for-three. Where other general managers pick duds — Hasheem Thabeet, Oden, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo — Presti has taken players that not only fit well into his roster structure, but have develop-able talent.

The Thunder thrive on rookie contracts and high-value veteran. Why? Because it’s the cheapest labor there is. There’s no coincidence that on every “underpaid NBA stars” list the Thunder register three or four players. The question is though: What happens with Serge Ibaka and James Harden? After Durant and Westbrook see their paydays, will Clay Bennett have the pockets to keep Ibaka and Harden too? If the Thunder were in Los Angeles or New York, it would happen. Will it in OKC?

Once upon a time, Geoff Petrie was Mr. Genius in Sacramento when he was rolling with Chris Webber. Kevin McHale drafted Kevin Garnett in for the Wolves and built a playoff contender. Eventually the well runs dry. At some point, Tim Duncan’s going to retire. And the Spurs will either reload or have to go through some small market pains.

(The opposite example has been the Knicks over the past decade though. Tons of money, tons of spending and tons of futility. Money doesn’t always equal wins. Management does. The league is cyclical. Sometimes your team is good, sometimes it’s not. Do the big markets have an advantage? Sure. But does it always matter? Nope. Do I like asking myself questions? Sometimes.)

But it’s worked so far in Oklahoma City. It worked in San Antonio. Which is why some are quick to wonder why it can’t work in Sacramento, Minnesota or Milwaukee. Why? Because there aren’t 10 Tim Duncans. There aren’t 10 Kevin Durants. And there sure as hell aren’t 10 Sam Prestis or R.C. Bufords. It’s the world we live in — some people are better at things than others. And when you’re better, you see success. Are organizations like the Thunder, Spurs, Wolves and Bucks at a competitive disadvantage? Sure they are. But is it a death sentence for mediocrity? Absolutely not. History says it’s harder to win, but it’s not impossible.

History also says the league doesn't really care. The league always has and always will look to do what's best for it, and its owners as a collective whole. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop put it well: “Instead, the league asks us all to celebrate competitive balance—so long as the pain of creating it is felt primarily by the players. When owners could do something real to make the league more competitive, like change the playoff format or pay Chris Paul far more on the open market, they lose interest.”

What does the league want this upcoming season? An NBA Finals featuring the Celtics and Lakers or a competitively balanced Finals with the Bucks and Kings. I think we all know the answer to that. Don't sell me on looking on for the little man, because we all know what you're really after -- getting your checkbooks competitively balanced.

Comments

Since: May 29, 2010
Posted on: October 31, 2011 9:30 am
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

"The NFL achieves competitive balance because the schedulemakers are kind, not because the teams are evenly balanced. Take a look at the schedule from any losing team last year and see how much of a cakewalk their schedule is this year while the good teams last year have tough schedules this year. Translating that to basketball would basically put the Clippers playing a majority of their games against eastern teams(since thats where the majority of the below 500 teams are) while the lakers would play the majority of their schedule against the heat, mavs, celtics etc. The stars are not evenly distributed in football and anyone who continues to use the NFL as the model for what basketball should be is an idiot. 2 different leagues with 2 vastly different systems."

_________

Incorrect on several different levels, but nice try.



Since: Jul 24, 2011
Posted on: October 29, 2011 10:52 am
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

@BRock2145.  What happens when OKC loses its free agents in a few years and drafts a couple of busts and has some injuries to players?  That scenario is just as likely as them becoming a cash cow dynasty.  Maybe the T Wolves struck gold in the draft and Rubio is the real deal.  The issue goes far deeper than just who happens to be doing well right now and who happens to suck right now.  Small market teams have their ups and downs, but the favored teams are always in the conference championships.  If OKC is to have any hope of building on the success they currently have, then they will need a system that allows for them to keep their young talent and not have it sold off to the favored teams after their rookie contract is up.  Theres no hope for the NBA without a hard cap.



Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: October 28, 2011 2:08 pm
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

@6timechampion, its not that I disagree with you because in the case of some franchises I do agree.  The problem is, take OKC for example, you get a franchise that is TERRIBLE but you bide your time, draft well and make smart decisions in free agency.  They become a powerhouse over a few years and a cash cow.  Then you take the T Wolves, they draft terribly(outside of the obvious 2 of KG and K Love), strike out in free agency, and generally manage their team in a way that leaves a lot to be desired.  Both small market teams, both have pretty much the same opportunities but one now has to help the other because of mismanagement.  I agree though, franchises that are managed well and still come up in the red do need assistance.  The Bucks, rockets(although they arent in the red), Kings, hornets do need something more creative to help them out because they arent hot beds for free agency and they actually do draft particularly well. Teams like the Clippers, who are one of the 2 largest markets in the states, who simply draft badly and manage badly dont deserve that same creativity. 



Since: Apr 7, 2009
Posted on: October 28, 2011 11:31 am
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

It doesn't matter what the league or owners do to try an even the playing field, the all around system is to flawed.  When has any fan ever paid the same ticket prices to watch a Lakers home game as you would a Kings home game, it's never going to happen.  It's time to get more creative about helping small market teams. 




Since: Nov 14, 2007
Posted on: October 27, 2011 10:25 pm
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

This isn't 1980.  All NFL schedules are fixed forever except for 2 games every year.  Each team plays every team in their own division 2 times (6 games), each team in another division in their conference once (4 games), and every team in a division from the other conference (4 games) the division match ups rotate each year based on a fixed rotation.  Only 2 games are left.  These are determined by the finish order of the previous year.



Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: October 26, 2011 3:42 pm
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

One last thing, competitive balance through a hard cap is a retarded idea!  Its easy to say the lakers win and the kings lose because they spend more money but no one remembers that Orlando spends about as much money as LA and Chicago spends relatively close to the kings (about 10 million more) yet Chicago won the most regular season games last year and made it to the ECF while the Magic lost in the first round.  Competitive balance comes from smart management, luck and not paying subpar talent superstar money. 




Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: October 26, 2011 10:07 am
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

The NFL achieves competitive balance because the schedulemakers are kind, not because the teams are evenly balanced.  Take a look at the schedule from any losing team last year and see how much of a cakewalk their schedule is this year while the good teams last year have tough schedules this year.  Translating that to basketball would basically put the Clippers playing a majority of their games against eastern teams(since thats where the majority of the below 500 teams are) while the lakers would play the majority of their schedule against the heat, mavs, celtics etc.  The stars are not evenly distributed in football and anyone who continues to use the NFL as the model for what basketball should be is an idiot.  2 different leagues with 2 vastly different systems. 



Since: Aug 17, 2006
Posted on: October 26, 2011 9:30 am
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

The current system does allow the Lakers and a few other teams to skirt the salary cap for a while and still be good but the real secret is revenue sharing and growing revenue.   If the NBA does it right and get competative balance right, like the NFL, then that would be great for all teams and players.   Without revenue sharing a hard cap would give the small advantage that a team with too many stars could not keep them all, real revenue sharing is better because small market teams can keep their superstars.


By the way 4 of the 5 smallest markets have played for in the Super Bowl recently and the NFL is stronger than ever,  Green Bay, New Orleans, Pittsburg, and Indianapolis.   &nbs
p; 



Since: Sep 7, 2007
Posted on: October 26, 2011 12:49 am
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

OKC is hardly a "podunk" or dust bowl" town. The Thunder treats its fans like gold. Dozens of tickets given away every game in a drawing, stands and a big screen in front of the arena for those who can't get in, a stage with a band outside, and other activities. I have seen people from management walking throough the crowd before games out front, and people would thank them over and over for what they are doing for this town. So, kindly go screw yourself. :)



Since: Aug 22, 2007
Posted on: October 26, 2011 12:33 am
 

Does the league care about competitive balance?

said from someone that lives in a city that is large in population that couldn't keep the Sonics there.  How does that make any sense???  I never understand how ignornant people can really be regarding the competitive advantage one gets by having a higher payroll.  It explains a lot about our economy and our country when we have idiots like the fellow below that chime in with their 2 cents.  Last time I checked there weren't ANY NBA teams that played in "dust bowls" of cities.  I suppose when you live in a city of 1/2 million, you shouldn't have the right to celebrate winning championships as say perhaps a city like NYC which has 4/5x more people in it?  Does that make any freaking sense?  Sometimes I wonder why I even respond to the complete idiots that post on these things.  I understand you want to be good at something.  I mean take NYC for example.  If you live in NYC, you probably make more then the average person salary wise, which buys you zero land and a shoe box apartment.  Your city smells like garbage and you live in your own feces but in choosing to live in such crowded areas, chasing the city dream....you should at least have a better shot at winning an NBA title...just like buying a WS championship.  Sorry folks but playing at a competitive advantage of someone isn't respectable, nor should it be allowed.  When you go to the courts in your neighborhood, the local hockey rink, the local baseball field, you don't find little kids to plaly because you want to destroy them....you find someone that is competitively equal to you, or so they think, and you play a respectable game.  There is nothing DUST BOWL about cities like New Orleans, Charlotte, Seattle etc etc that have a hard time filling the stadium because of a competitive disadvantage.  How many years of bad sports play would you watch before you decided catching it on the tv is a better option than wasting an entire night on an almost certain LOSS.  It doesn't have to be a total hard cap like the NHL for example where there is a set limit....but you can overspend as the avg of the contract is the cap hit, not the actual paid salary.


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