Competitive balance: It’s not the market, it’s the owners
The NBA lockout is no longer a financial fight. With both sides firmly (for now) at the 50/50 split everyone predicted at the beginning of the summer, perhaps it never really was.
Players were always going to have to concede on the financial aspects of this fight. That this has dragged out so long is because the union is trying to get the most value for their lost money. For each percentage point of BRI they “spend” in these negotiations, they are hoping to maintain some control over the system they work under.
Unfortunately for the players, we are only a year removed from “The Decision”, an hour long spectacle that was the culmination of one player forcing owners to get on their knees and kowtow to the self-proclaimed King’s every demand. And while this lockout goes back years before LeBron James became everyone’s favorite villain, the timing and collective wound to ownership’s egos has certainly played its part in strengthening their resolve.
With every BRI percentage point now played, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver finally laid the owners’ cards on the table.
“In order for us to have the competitive balance we want, it restricts player movement to a certain degree.”
The simple narrative is that years ago the NBA entered an arms race with the creation of the current incarnations of the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. This proliferation has been escalated by teams like the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, and Orlando Magic—enough so that even the San Antonio Spurs dipped their toe in the waters. If the NBA’s largest markets are nuclear powers, the rest of the league, comparatively, are third world countries with no chance of competing under such a system.
This being the case, most fans can get behind the idea of creating an equally competitive system. To reach that mythical and coveted parity the NFL seems to enjoy so much—because it would be nice to have a successful NBA team in cities like Green Bay, or New Orleans.
NBA owners are counting on fans buying this dreck. They need you to. Because the only other reason to pin this competitive imbalance on is the owners gross, incompetent mismanagement of their NBA team.
In keeping with the arms race theme, you cannot hand the Lakers a nuclear missile and then cry about them having nuclear missiles. In reality, the Los Angeles market size did not create the current Lakers superpower. Michael Heisley and Chris Wallace of the Memphis Grizzlies did.
you cannot hand the Lakers a nuclear missile and then cry about them having nuclear missiles. In reality, the Los Angeles market size did not create the current Lakers superpower. Michael Heisley and Chris Wallace of the Memphis Grizzlies did.
[/pullquote]Rewind to the months before the Pau Gasol trade and you will find a Lakers team on the brink of collapse. Kobe Bryant was pushing for a Bynum-Kidd trade, and when he did not get his way, a petulant push for a Bryant trade. The Lakers were capped and had few assets to bring in talent. Check the landscape of the Western Conference that year and realize that the Spurs, Hornets, and Suns were all very prominent and viable championship contenders.
There were many markets that would have absorbed Pau Gasol’s contract while returning better financial and talent assets. Wallace and Heisley chose to send him to Los Angeles. The rest of the Lakers were built on a tough decision to let go of an aging Shaq.
While the trade did eventually work out for the Grizzlies with Marc Gasol in the same fluke-ish way that Manu Ginobili worked out for the Spurs, and the Grizzlies are now competitive, the trade also set the championship bar so high that even at their best the Grizzlies cannot financially hope to compete for an NBA title.
Market size did not dictate the Toronto Raptors overpay for Hedo Turkoglu. Or that the Suns acquire him a year later. It did not make the Cavs burn their last lottery pick on Luke Jackson, overpay Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, pin your expiring contracts on Atawn Jamison, and deem JJ Hickson untouchable.
Market size does not employ David Khan or force him to draft Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn back-to-back in the same draft. It doesn’t create secret under the table deals with Joe Smith, trade your second best player and draft picks for Marko Jaric, and extend Troy Hudson to a long term deal.
Market size did not lure LeBron James to the Knicks. Nor did it prevent other owners from having the same foresight as Miami. It did not take the max deal that Amare Stoudemire was seeking and spend it on Hedo, Josh Childress, and Hakim Warrick. It did not max out Joe Johnson.
Restricting player movement does not create competitive balance if the player you pin all your hopes and dreams on in the first place is a guy like Joe Johnson. Or David Lee. Or Vince Carter. Or Eddy Curry.
The system is not even the reason for the San Antonio Spurs financial and playoff losses. Age is. Like any aging person trying to stay fit, staying healthy is more expensive the older you get.
The truth is, if you want to compete for an NBA championship, bottom out. Land a franchise player and an All-Star player or two through the draft, and then don’t screw up. No system change is going to change that.
If the owners truly want to create competitive balance in this league, they should hire better people. Or fire themselves.