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.


Since: Feb 3, 2009
Posted on: October 25, 2011 8:49 pm

Does the league care about competitive balance?

Maybe the NBA should stop moving teams to podunk dust bowls like Royce's town?  You have job from CBS because of it, stop whining about your team not getting enough bread crumbs.  Maybe Clay Clay can give a bj to Stern again to keep Ibaka and Harden.

Since: Aug 2, 2011
Posted on: October 25, 2011 6:59 pm

Does the league care about competitive balance?

Would competitve balance be more in line with paying out costs, including wages to income from external revenues such as ticket sales, merchandise and memorbilia as well as domestic telvision and international streaming/ television rights in proportion to their on field success.

So a small market team to compete effectively, needs to earn the extra revenue teams like the Lakers and Heat earn by promoting overseas tours to countries such as UK, France, China to help build a world wide fanbase that the big market team s already have as well as establish link ups with teams in Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Teams should not exceed between 50% & 60% of their revenue on wages and other costs.

Profits should be a maximum of 25% per franchise with the remaining 15% - 25% set aside for unforseen circumstances.

Players wages should be in the region of around 20% of the teams earnings, with the chance of increasing their earnings through endorsements and PR activities.

Since: Jan 13, 2011
Posted on: October 25, 2011 5:02 pm

Does the league care about competitive balance?

The diehard fans are the ones who get bored seeing the same teams win. In the playoffs, it's the casual fan that makes the difference between a ratings bonanza and a series with much less interest. The Spus-Pistons finals was a great series, but had a low rating. It didn't draw the casual fan.

Since: Oct 25, 2011
Posted on: October 25, 2011 1:34 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Sep 19, 2011
Posted on: October 25, 2011 1:30 pm

Does the league care about competitive balance?

Does anyone really think a hard cap is the key to competitive balance? Seriously? Telling each team they can spend no more than XX million dollars doesnt give each team an equal footing and if you believe it does your an idiot!  Markets like LA, NY, FL and Chicago will continue to draw stars who will do just as the big 3 in Miami did and take less money to play together in a large market and make up their salary in endorsement.  A hard cap wont stop David Kahn from drafting point guards!  A hard cap wont stop Atlanta from signing Joe Johnson to a max deal. There are not 30 superstars in the league to put one on each team and expect them to carry the load.  There simply arent that many gamechangers(sorry Danny Granger/Rudy Gay but your just not it!) who can support this "parity" that everyone seems to be shooting for.  A hard cap will simply make the teams that are currently unwatchable even more DISGUSTING because even their second/third tier superstars will leave for major markets to make up what they lose in contracts.  Sorry T Wolves fans, with a hard cap, kevin love is now GONE!  Sorry Magic fans, with a hard cap they cant afford to keep D Howard(even though chances are he is gone anyway).  Sorry Mavs fans, that championship you just won, with a hard cap you are now 30-40 million over the cap and you dont have that team together to make that run BUT Miami however(with its big 3) is still right at the cap.  New York, 2 superstars and with Billups 16 mil a year coming off the books next year, a hard cap means CP3 takes less money to go there, have a chance to win AND make all his money from endoresements, while the team stays under the cap.  All your hard cap will do is allow teams not to be able to retain their players and allow them to go somewhere for less money without having to take accountability for it.  Honestly, If Cleveland had a hard cap last year and couldnt afford to resign Lebron he doesnt have to stand up and say "I'm leaving because I want to join my friends", he can now say "they are over the hard cap, even if I signed for $1 they cant because they are over the cap". 

Since: Oct 25, 2011
Posted on: October 25, 2011 11:15 am

Does the league care about competitive balance?

umm, that was a football player with the concealed weapon in the strip club, basketball players don't conceal theirs, they wave them around in the locker room when they threaten other players.  please get your thug definitions correct.

Since: Oct 25, 2011
Posted on: October 25, 2011 11:13 am

Does the league care about competitive balance?

umm...that was a football player carrying the concealed weapon in the strip players instead openly wave their weapons around in the locker room.  get your thug definitions correct please.

Since: Nov 28, 2006
Posted on: October 25, 2011 9:38 am

Does the league care about competitive balance?

I'm not sure how this league has survived.  I mean, you send half the league to the playoffs and you still have 60 percent of the championships in Chicago, Boston, LA & NY. How many Does NY have?  They have no salary cap, no competition.  I agree with other posters, that they need to dismantle some teams, shorten the season by removing the first month or two. 

My plan:

1. make the season a 60-65 game season
2. have a salary cap
3. cut the 4 teams from the playoffs(make it like the NFL) top 2 seeds get a bye.
4. make 18 year olds able to play unless they sign with a college. wait three years
if you leave college(MLB rule)

Since: Sep 20, 2007
Posted on: October 25, 2011 8:07 am

Does the league care about competitive balance?

The real solution is contraction but neither side has the will to do it - yet.  Maybe a cancelled season is the answer; go down a road similar to the one the NHL traveled.  I'm OK with that!

Since: Aug 22, 2006
Posted on: October 25, 2011 4:31 am

Does the league care about competitive balance?

its called ratings! if the bucks and kings game could draw the NATIONAL MARKET of a la AND boston game it would be on primetime

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