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CBSSports.com National Columnist

If lockout is needed to save NBA, then bring it on

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Hate Mail: Enough to make up for kind words

The owners have to lock out the players. I'm sorry, but I don't see any way around it. It'll hurt while it lasts, but there has to be a work stoppage before next season. For the long-term good of the game.

No, not the NFL. Not that game. And not those owners. Those idiots don't need a lockout because they don't have real problems -- not like the owners of the NBA. The NBA is in major trouble, maybe not today, no, but soon. Major trouble is coming.

James Dolan probably isn't worried about the NBA's lesser franchises now that he has Carmelo Anthony. (Getty Images)  
James Dolan probably isn't worried about the NBA's lesser franchises now that he has Carmelo Anthony. (Getty Images)  
Carmelo Anthony reminded us of that.

This isn't a Carmelo rant, either. The rules of the game are clear, and he played them to his advantage. He played them legally, and he played them as tolerably as possible. He didn't crave the spotlight so much as the spotlight craved him. He didn't fool his franchise and city into leaning one way and then, like this was some game of gotcha, stun them by going another. He didn't pull a LeBron James, is what I'm saying. He didn't go on national television and make love to himself for 15 minutes before announcing that his talents deserved a brighter stage.

But Carmelo Anthony did demonstrate just how broken the NBA could get, how irrelevant three-fourths of the franchises could become without a major adjustment to league rules.

Even with a salary cap, the NBA is looking more like cap-free Major League Baseball than the hard-capped NFL. In the NFL a team can go from worst to first, and then back again. Look at the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2008 and 2010 they were one of the most awful teams in the NFL, winning just four games each year. Yet they won the AFC North in 2009. That's the NFL, where teams can rise and fall from one season to the next.

Not the NBA, which is about to become as redundant as Major League Baseball, where 20 or more teams begin every season out of the playoff picture. The problem in baseball is that revenue flows freely in certain markets -- New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles -- but trickles almost everywhere else.

The problem in the NBA is similar: Talent is flowing freely to certain markets -- like New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and of course Miami -- but fleeing everywhere else.

If you can believe it, the NBA soon could become more top-heavy than Major League Baseball, which is dominated by the rich Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies but still allows for an underdog team to ride the combination of chemistry, health and luck to the playoffs. A baseball team has 25 players, uses about 40 over the course of a season and cannot be carried all year by just two or three stars. In baseball, Minnesota can kick ass. In the NBA, Minnesota can only get its ass kicked.

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The concentration of talent on an NBA team -- 12 players, only three or four who truly matter -- is so powerful that one player can make or break a franchise. Dramatic case in point: Cleveland. The season before LeBron James showed up in 2003, the Cavs were 17-65. This season, their first without James, they're on pace to go 14-68. In between? The Cavaliers averaged 50 wins and went to the playoffs five times. One player did all that.

And that was fine. That was the NBA for years. Larry Bird shows up in Boston in 1979, Michael Jordan in Chicago in 1984, David Robinson in San Antonio in 1989 -- LeBron James in Cleveland in 2003 -- and everything changes. Lots of teams had a star, but if your star was better than their star ... you win. You might even win it all.

Now, as Carmelo Anthony reminded us, stars want to play with other stars. A humbled city still has a shot at a franchise-altering superstar in the draft, but as soon as it's feasible, that star is gone. They see what happened in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and in Boston with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and they want some of that for themselves. And they've figured out how to game the system.

So they package themselves like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did in Miami. Like Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul will try to do in New York. Like Dwight Howard probably will do after next season in New Jersey now that Deron Williams is there.

That's great for cities that offer the currency of the modern NBA star -- some combination of beaches, nightclubs and TV market -- but it's bad for everyone else. Because there aren't enough stars to go around.

Look at Cleveland this season. Look at Memphis. Sacramento. New Jersey. Minnesota. Charlotte. Denver, now that Carmelo is gone. Utah, without Deron Williams. New Orleans and Orlando, once Chris Paul and Dwight Howard leave. Those are or will be NBA franchises in name only -- empty husks, exoskeletons hanging on David Stern's tree, serving no real purpose other than victory fodder for the league's five or six elite teams.

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires June 30. Without a change in the rules -- a hard salary cap, less guaranteed contract years for players, more flexibility for teams -- the NBA will continue its obvious march toward an era marked by four or five Snow Whites and 25 or more Dwarves.

Players won't listen in June when owners say the rules must be rewritten, so owners will have to play hardball and lock them out. The 2011-12 season would be in jeopardy, and you don't want that. I don't want that. Nobody wants that.

But if the players aren't stopped, they're going to make a joke of their league. Anyone want that?


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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