Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks

NBA owners want parity not for you but for their pocketbooks


When was the NBA at its peak of popularity? When one dynamic star — Michael Jordan — dominated the game and his team was a dynasty for the better part of a decade.

Based on that — and what we saw with Bird and Magic, and what we saw last year with the Heat — I see the idea of parity in the NBA as being to way to bring in more fans as flawed. The NBA is about selling its stars, but because that has worked.

The owners disagree. Strongly. The owners want their hard cap and parity with it. NBA owners point to the NFL where “competitive balance” is hailed as the reason for the sport’s success and massive television ratings. The league contends that if you don’t let the rich owners overspend and you put in a system where even the smallest markets can make money then the rising tide will float all boats.

Is competitive balance good for the NBA? Over at the Wages of Wins journal, Dave Berri destroys that idea (link via TrueHoop). They use a ratio that shows the NBA has been the least balanced of all American sports for decades, despite having a cap and limits on player salaires, and that has not slowed its growth.

David Stern and the NBA owners want to impose further limits on the spending of owners in the NBA. The NBA (in 1984) was the first to impose any kind of cap on team payroll. And in 1999 the NBA was the first league to cap the salaries of individual players. As one can see, the 1984 cap didn’t alter competitive balance. And since 1999, the average ratio in the NBA has been 2.7 (by far the highest in American sports). So the 1999 salary cap also didn’t seem to have much impact on balance.

This is not a surprising result. Martin Schmidt and I presented research this past summer that looked at the impact of various institutions (i.e. salary caps, luxury taxes, etc…) the NBA, NHL, NFL, and Major League Baseball have created to alter competitive balance. We found that none of these institutions had any statistically significant impact on balance in any of these leagues.

Berri notes that in the NBA market size does not help a team win — Utah and San Antonio have had great success in small markets in the last decade, the Knicks and Clippers floundered in large markets.

Berri also throws out there that the NBA was a much more balanced league before David Stern took over as commissioner, yet he has been heralded for the growth of popularity of basketball.

So why are the owners so driven on competitive balance? It’s about the money. It’s always about the money.

Henry Abbot does a great job looking at the issue of parity and television ratings over at TureHoop, using the English Premiere League and other sports. His conclusion is spot on about the issue of competitive balance in the NBA:

I must tell you, of course, that whenever, any economist is asked this question, they will say well, the league in question, and I’m not getting at the NBA here, it’s true of every league, including the European soccer governing body at the moment, every sports league when it proposes something to improve parity, says it is what the fans want.

But every such scheme also reduces the salary costs to the owners. It’s a way of containing costs.

Breaking news: Leandro Barbosa dunked

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The Warriors became the first team in NBA history to start 16-0.

In the process of getting that record-breaking win over the Lakers, something nearly as historic happened.

Leandro Barbosa dunked.

The 32-year-old Golden State guard last jammed in January 2011.

For a little more perspective, look how Barbosa handled a breakaway layup earlier in the fourth quarter:

You think that man can still slam?

Yes. Yes, he can.

Magic benching Victor Oladipo, starting Channing Frye

Stephen Curry, Victor Oladipo, Channing Frye
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Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have started eight of the Magic’s 14 games, including the last three.

But after Orlando dropped two straight, Scott Skiles hinted at lineup changes.

The Magic coach will deliver against the Knicks tonight, swapping Channing Frye for Oladipo.

Skiles, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.

“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”

Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the

  • Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
  • New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8

The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.

I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.

If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.

At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.

This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.

Dwight Howard says he’s cleared to play back-to-backs

Dwight Howard
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The 5-9 Houston Rockets need some wins.

The Houston Rockets have a back-to-back coming up, Sunday against the Knicks then Monday against the Pistons (both on the road). Two teams with quality big men.

Combine those things and you end up with Dwight Howard being re-evaluated by team doctors and getting the training wheels taken off, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

This, plus a mini training camp the past few days, is part of new coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s effort to turn Houston’s season around.

Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.

Byron Scott doesn’t see reason D’Angelo Russell should play more in fourth


The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.

Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.

Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.

This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.

Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.