Competitive Balance

The Owners and David Stern will tell you that the NBA Lockout is not just about money but competitive balance. That they are striving to put rules in place that allow all 30 teams to legitimately compete for championships.  This is a lie. The NBA lockout is all about money and the owners wanting more of it.

With the exception of the decade of the 1970s when a court order forced the league to allow free agency and the NBA did not have a salary cap, the league has never had competitive balance at any time in its history.  During the 1970s 8 different franchises won NBA titles, in fact the only titles in the history of some franchises came only in this decade. In any other era of NBA basketball there has not been anything resembling competitive balance.


The NBA is the least competitive league in North America. In the last 32 seasons only 9 NBA franchises have won championships and by extension only 8 coaches have won championships in the last 32 years. Compare that to the NFL since 2000 where 7 different franchises have won Super bowls or major league baseball which has seen 9 different World series champions in the past 11 seasons.  Why are those leagues more competitively balanced than the NBA? I will try to explain.


Baseball and Football has free agency rules that are far less restrictive on player movement, therefore good players change teams far more frequently than in the NBA. Also both leagues have far less restrictive trade rules which make it easier for teams to acquire players to become more competitive. Lastly both leagues have better draft systems and therefore are able to bring in young players who are actually ready to compete at the pro level and help their teams win games.


None of this is possible in the NBA and it is largely the fault of David Stern. When Stern took over the league in 1983 he decided on a policy of marketing players over teams.  That makes player movement more problematic because the fan interest is tied up more in a particular player or players a team has rather than the team itself. That is not the case in football and baseball where the majority of the fans root for laundry. Fans that were filling the stadiums before Albert Puljos ever played a game in St. Louis will continue to fill the stands should Puljos choose to leave the Cardinals. The Steelers could trade Big Ben or James Harrison tomorrow and the stands will still be full. Let the Oklahoma City Thunder trade Kevin Durant or let Durant leave via free agency and see how many people show up to their games. So by making the players more important a fan draw than the teams you need to have a restrictive system of trades and free agency, and that makes it harder for teams to add talent, not just star player talent but also other good role players that a team trying to compete may need.


Next when you have a system built around star players you are constantly in need of new stars in the pipeline. This caused the NBA to relax its rules about the draft. Now Stern as a result of having to deal with discipline problems that came from putting high school kids in locker rooms with grown men, tried to fix this by making rookies at least spend one year outside of high school before coming into the league.  However he did not address the problem from a competitive standpoint.  Far too many players are drafted by NBA teams that are not ready to play in the NBA, thus bad teams have a far more difficult time improving themselves through the draft, unlike NFL teams. The Cincinnati Bengals are 6-2 this year and while a lot of attention is paid to their rookie QB and WR, the Bengals have 13 players playing considerable roles who are either 1st or 2nd year players. They were able to become a competitive team in a hurry through the draft. Yet in the NBA we see the same teams year after year in the draft lottery, why because they cannot draft enough good players to make them playoff teams.


Now the NBA draft system has had some successes. Derek Rose and Kevin Durant are not the worse for wear for being one and done players in college. But for every one of them you have 5 guys like Tyrus Thomas or Anthony Randolph who were also one and done players. Now I am not crying the blues for either Thomas or Randolph, they have made millions of dollars to be mediocre players in the NBA. But think of the impact that drafting them had on their teams competitiveness. Also think about the bottom line.


We complain all the time about players being grossly over paid players. Yet it is often the result of bad drafts that players get overpaid. If Anthony Randolph turned out to be the stud that the Warriors hoped he would be, would they have agreed to pay David Lee his ridiculous 82 million dollar contract? Probably not. Would Carlos Boozer be getting over paid in Chicago to do his annual disappearing act in the playoffs if Tyrus Thomas turned out to be a legitimate NBA star as the Bulls hoped when they drafted him?


Competitive balance in the NBA is a pipedream and David Stern and the Owners he represents want it that way.

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