Why The NBA System Needs A Radical Rethinking

Why The NBA System Needs A Radical Rethinking

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kyrie irving
Photo: Ken Blaze, USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NBA playoffs were the worst NBA playoffs in this decade, if not this century. Few series were competitive and two teams utterly trounced their competition before Golden State flattened Cleveland in turn. And while NBA proponents want to claim that the league is in fine shape just because ratings for the NBA Finals were good through five games, total viewership was down because there were so many sweeps or five-game series.

And if the playoffs and the utter dominance of the Warriors is not enough to show that parity in the NBA is broken beyond repair, the announcement that Paul George has indicated that he wants to go the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 should make it clear. The Lakers have interesting prospects, but they are totally unproven and the team will almost certainly be a train wreck again next season.

It doesn’t matter. Paul George wants to live in Los Angeles, so he is going to be a Laker.

The NBA’s CBA ostensibly claims to be in effect both to protect parity and to give small market teams a chance. But Golden State’s utter dominance and George’s decision to go from Indiana to the Lakers shows that it has failed in that purpose. Ever since LeBron formed the Miami super team in 2010, the NBA has made small changes which would ostensibly protect the small teams’ ability to keep their stars. But those changes failed to help small markets, and in some instances like Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves made things even harder.

As small markets lose their stars who flock to Los Angeles or Cleveland at the first opportunity, they have no choice but to tank and hope that they will draft a star. Tanking has become so ubiquitous with the NBA that analysts routinely mock mediocre teams for not tanking and daring to do something as crazy as win basketball games.

The inability of small markets to keep their stars, the stars’ desire to flee to winning teams or even just sexy cities like Los Angeles, and the growing popularity of tanking has created a NBA product where the glow of Golden State obscures a miserable product. Two teams, Golden State and Cleveland, whose players are covered in tattooes, will be in the NBA Finals next year, and the year after that, and probably the year after that. A few other teams piddle around hoping for a miracle. And the other teams tank, intentionally lose games, and hope that maybe, just maybe, this star won’t flee to Los Angeles like the last one did.

If the NBA actually cares about parity and does not just talk about it every now and then to keep the small market fans hopeful and buying tickets, it needs to understand that the current system – the draft, free agency, all of it – has utterly failed and super teams are more dominant than ever.

Instead of making patches here and there and keeping outdated legacy rules, the NBA must build a completely new system, one which actually rewards intelligent dealing and promotes a NBA where fans can actually not know who will be in the Finals at the start of the season. Instead of haphazardly making rule changes here and there, everything must be looked at holistically to make the best, fairest product possible.