If you recall how this decade started, LeBron James had announced to the world in the summer of 2010 that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami. While it was not anything new for a superstar player to change teams, it helped kick off a disturbing trend of super teams forming, particularly in “destination” locations like in Miami, New York, or Los Angeles. For the most part cities across the Midwest or those in non-traditional sports markets were left to rot and fight over the scraps. Teams were losing their drafted talent and there was nothing to be done about it. Almost every team has a story about how they had a good player and then lost him to a bigger city. LeBron had left Cleveland, Carmelo Anthony wanted out of Denver and was sent to New York, Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers from New Orleans, etc. There were countless stories like this. There were exceptions, of course. Several teams had built their teams through the draft and were able to keep their talent and even win championships with them. San Antonio and Dallas had achieved success largely because of the players they drafted; however, these kinds of situations were far too rare. The best way to build a championship contender was to conspire to form a super power of all-stars and outspend the competition.
Our beloved Cleveland Cavaliers ended up right in the middle of this paradigm shift. During the time period when most teams were unsure of if they could stay competitive or not and were desperately trying to keep whoever they drafted from leaving, LeBron James returned to Cleveland, his hometown team. There is no doubt that had LeBron been from literally anywhere else, he would never have returned to the Cavaliers. We were extremely fortunate that he returned. It gave us the best basketball player of all time back on our team, allowed our current players to stay, and attracted new talent. We suddenly became the place to be and players were lining up at the door to play here. That’s something of an anomaly for a small market team in the NBA.
Still, WE were part of the problem of today’s NBA. We had created one of the strongest super teams of our own and went to the NBA finals for four straight seasons. A part of me argues that we did nothing wrong because we were a small market team and this was the best way for us to compete. Still, I think it is important to acknowledge that we helped add fuel to this out-of-control wildfire. Who really sent the league into a tailspin were the Golden State Warriors.
A team mired by mediocrity of decades, the Warriors had concurrently become a super power with the second LeBron era Cavaliers. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and their enforcer Draymond Green were a formidable foe for LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. They had constructed their team through the draft and sprinkled in a few quality free agents, much like the Cavaliers. After splitting the first two titles, things really got out of hand when Kevin Durant, a former critic of NBA super teams, had ditched his small market Midwestern team for a destination location in California. The tough Warriors team became unstoppable and easily won the next two championships. The chaos theory of the NBA had been multiplied to exponential proportions.
What do you do when one team starts hoarding an ungodly amount of talent on their roster? You attempt to do the same. Suddenly what little parity the league had was gone. Teams like Houston, Boston, Oklahoma City, and Toronto were doing everything they possibly could to form super teams of their own, while teams like the Cavaliers, Spurs, and Clippers withered away to give life to these new teams.
So this is where we are in 2019. Players meddle in the affairs of other teams and actively recruit their players to join them while they’re still under contract. Super star players are unhappy unless their team is in Los Angeles or Golden State and demand trades to better destinations. Teams seem to have no power at all to stop their players from leaving or demanding trades. New York had sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas. Kyrie Irving has all but confirmed he’s leaving Boston. Anthony Davis literally said he wants to play for the Lakers and nowhere else, leaving New Orleans in a crippling dilemma. These players have ruined the league and competition seems to have evaporated in this league. What’s happening in the league isn’t new, it’s just worse than it’s ever been.
To put things into perspective, of the major four sports leagues in North America, here are the number of different teams that have made the finals in their respective leagues. In the NHL, 13 different teams have made the finals since 2010. In the NFL, 14. In the MLB, 11. The NBA has had only eight different teams since 2010, and only two since 2015. There is literally no competition in the league except within a small minority of teams. The league has become nothing short of ridiculous.
I don’t know exactly what the solution is. No team is going to deny a superstar coming their way because it will preserve the balance of the league. This falls on the league itself to start enforcing fair play and balance. Maybe it’s to increase the luxury tax on teams willing to overspend on their superstar players or rewarding affected teams with higher draft picks. I don’t know what the best course of action is. All I know is that the NBA is not fun at all to watch when your team is struggling, and most teams don’t have a hometown superstar coming their way to play for them. Until something is changed, most teams in the league will continue to suffer while a select few teams continue to thrive. It simply is not fair.
We have a voice in all of this, and so do our owners. It’s crucial for owners of teams like the Cavaliers, Hornets, Jazz, Magic, the Timberwolves and many others to come forward and say enough is enough. To form some sort of pact. How much longer must we witness teams withering away and dying simply because one player had enough of playing there? NBA ratings will continue to fall until this is resolved. Until then, all we can do is voice our displeasure and concern.