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Power Rankings: Cutting dead wood from NBA tree

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Updated Dec. 28

As David Stern envisions taking the NBA global, LeBron James made an obvious observation last week: There already are too many teams.

I agree, but not necessarily for the same reason that prompted James' remark.

Addition by contraction: The NBA would be a better place without Donald Sterling. (Getty Images)  
Addition by contraction: The NBA would be a better place without Donald Sterling. (Getty Images)  
Even if the league's most powerful voice now wants to back down from his statement, it's clear the NBA would benefit from contraction. Fewer teams means more quality players per roster, as James desires.

But fewer teams also means fewer bad franchises that do little but suck money from their more favorably situated competitors.

Imagine a league with less travel, better arenas and greater revenues. You get higher quality games, a friendlier destination for fans and additional funds to pour into the depths of each roster.

How can you not do it?

Well, here's the problem: Who gets the bad news?

Cutting back to 24 teams seems logical. You could stick with the six-division format, trimming one team from each. Or go to four divisions of six, further diminishing the chances of getting an NFC West-type champion stealing a playoff berth from a more deserving club.

Finding six teams to ax is easy. Some choices are no-brainers. Others are tough only in that there are many candidates.

Here are the six I would send packing:

Los Angeles Clippers: The NFL gets along just fine without a team in Los Angeles. The NBA doesn't need 1½. And look at it this way: Is the league better off with or without Donald Sterling? Case closed.

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New Jersey Nets: If the Lakers get to divorce themselves from their ugly housemate, then the Knicks should be given the same privilege in regards to their down-on-its-luck cousin from across the river. Even new owner Mikhail Prokhorov would have to admit: No one wants to play for this sad franchise.

Sacramento Kings: The honeymoon is over in the glorified San Francisco suburb. When the only game in town has trouble getting an NBA-quality arena built, the message is clear: Don't let the turnstile hit you in the pocketbook on the way out of town.

New Orleans Hornets: Terrible arena. Terrible support. Terrible history. ... Now that the NBA owns the franchise, there's one fewer reason why a terrible mistake (giving New Orleans a second chance) cannot be corrected.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Oklahoma City got a franchise in large part because, during the Hornets' Katrina-related relocation, it demonstrated it was more worthy of a franchise than New Orleans. If you've read this far, you recognize that doesn't score many points in my buyers' guide.

Memphis Grizzlies: There are many potential directions to go here. Take a team out of Texas? Florida? The Southeast (Atlanta or Charlotte)? The Great North (Minnesota or Milwaukee)? Alas, I've settled upon another city that can't get a sniff from any other major professional sport and is owned by a guy (Michael Heisley) who now has to realize this adventure was misguided.

OK, what does that leave us with? Glad you asked.

Attached to this week's CBSSports.com NBA Power Rankings is one new player apiece from the six folded franchises (drafted in inverse order of these ratings; all selections exempt from salary-cap restrictions) that would help produce the more attractive and competitive product James has helped create. (And you should see the list of guys who didn't make Round 1. In a word: Impressive.)


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