NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the media following the league’s annual Board of Governors meeting on Tuesday in Las Vegas, and was asked about his thoughts on “superteams”.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors appear to be a step above — perhaps a big step above — the rest of the NBA, especially with the Warriors stealing Kevin Durant away from the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason. And Silver said that he believes having two superteams is not good for the league, even with the great TV ratings these teams can bring:
“I’ve read several stories suggesting that that’s something the league wants, this notion of two superteams, that it’s a huge television attraction… I don’t think it’s good for the league, just to be really clear.
I will say that whoever is the prohibited favorite, try telling that to the other 430 players who aren’t on those two teams. I mean, we have the greatest collection of basketball players in the world in our league, so I’m not making any predictions.
But there’s no question when you aggregate a group of great players, they have a better chance of winning than many other teams. On the other hand, there’s lots of things that have to happen. We’ll see what happens in Golden State; you had a great, great chemistry among a group of players, and you’re adding another superstar to the mix.
So, it’ll be interesting to see what happens, but just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that’s ideal.
While it’s not surprising to hear these thoughts from Silver, it’s certainly refreshing, especially for the other 28 teams in the league and their fans.
In the NFL, MLB, and NHL, nearly half of the teams in the league have legitimate title chances. Just hang around, find a way into the tournament, and you have a chance. You can be a Wild Card team in these leagues, sneak into the playoffs with a record barely above .500, and still have a very real chance.
In the NBA? Um, no. We know going into most seasons what handful of teams have a realistic title chance. And we know 11 months (!) before next season’s NBA Finals that there may be only two teams with a realistic chance.
Yeah, The Finals and Conference Finals are frequently going to be amazing with this system, but it also makes for two months of some nearly unwatchable basketball, in the playoffs. That should not be the case.
And here’s the other side of it: The teams that aren’t realistic title contenders are usually better off trying to be worse. Being in the middle in the NFL, MLB, and NHL can give you a chance. Being in the middle in the NBA is the worst place to be (unless it’s a young team clearly trending towards a potential title contender). The only way you’re going to have a shot at a title is by finding the superstars, and it seems the only way you’re going to get superstars these days is by being one of these superteams, or having the lottery balls go your way by being bad. So you’re basically encouraging the non-title contenders to be worse, which only makes the league even more imbalanced.
Silver did express optimism on improving the system, citing the collective bargaining cycle (via The Washington Post):
“The good news is we are in a collective bargaining cycle, so it gives everyone an opportunity, from the owners to the union, to sit down behind closed doors and take a fresh look at the system and see if there’s a better way we can do it. My belief is we can make it better.”
The league and the Player’s Association will have the chance to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in December, and it’s expected that at least one side will choose to do so. And then what? The Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps offered a couple potential solutions:
There are many ways to take the phrase “we can make it better.” One of them is the possibility of the elimination of maximum salaries, something the NBAPA has said it might consider as part of its push in the next round of bargaining. The other is the possibility of a hard salary cap, something the NBA was interested in during the last lockout in 2011, but ultimately relented on in favor of more stringent luxury tax penalties that were designed to prevent super teams like the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.
It worked for a few years, but the massive increase in the salary cap this summer because of the league’s new television contract broke the system, creating a situation where Durant could join the Warriors without them having to break up their star trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
So, it will be interesting to see what the NBA chooses to do about the system over the next several months, but it’s at least good that the league’s commissioner admits it’s a problem and is hopeful it will be improved.
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