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Olajuwon doesn’t think “super teams” are good for NBA

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We’ve heard this all before. Part of what fueled the owners during the lockout was what happened in Miami — that was well behind the financial motivations for the owners, but it was there. Owners didn’t like players controlling their own destiny to form a “super team.”

The argument is that super teams not good for the NBA — small market teams need to have a chance and be able to compete or the NBA becomes MLB with a handful of rich teams and everyone else playing catch up. That argument looks at the NFL’s parity as a model to strive for.

I don’t buy it (and we’ll get to that). But a lot of people do, a lot of people think the super teams are bad for the league.

And Hall of Famer and current big man guru Hakeem Olajuwon is one of them. Look what he told the USA Today.

“That’s the dilemma the league has to balance to make sure each team at least has the opportunity to have a superstar and has the opportunity to be a championship contender. That’s the goal of every team, but now the quality of players, true franchise players, is less than what it was…

“There are superstars and then there are franchise players,” Olajuwon said. “There are superstars in their own right, but a franchise player is a player who can carry his team to the next level. There are always very few of those in any era, true franchise players. Once you have that player, you can build your team around him. Today, the ones who are franchise players are teaming up together, which makes it more difficult for the teams without a superstar or a franchise player.

“I think in time, when you have guys coming from college who have the potential to be a superstar, they’re going to be drafted by a losing team that can then ultimately be a contender, and that’s what we need to see more of. We need to see college players who are superstars or can be franchise caliber players who can take those teams from being average teams to being a contender.”

Here are four reasons I don’t think this holds water.

First, the NBA has always been a league of super teams. What do you think the 1960s Celtics were? So the Lakers went out and had to get Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain together to compete with them. It was true in the 1980s (Boston trades for Robert Parish and pick that becomes Kevin McHale for peanuts to pair with Larry Bird). Yes, those teams were assembled differently in an era before free agency, but they were still super teams. And for the record, Olajuwon himself was part of one, his Rockets went out and got Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, they needed more star power to compete.

Second, fans love super teams. Look at the television ratings from the past couple years. Fans watch the Heat more than anyone else. It’s the same way fans were drawn to the Bulls in the 1990s and the Lakers and Celtics before them. Some NBA fans claim to want parity, but their eyeballs don’t lie and they tune in to watch these super teams in a way they do not parity.

Third, you can never have NFL style parity in the NBA anyway because great players can control the game in a way no single football player can. If you have LeBron James or Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant or even peak Olajuwon you have a player who can change the game on both ends of the floor for 80 percent of the game’s plays. Superstar basketball talent has a huge advantage and if you have one of those 10 or so guys franchise guys at any given time you are going to win a lot whether or not you pair them up.

Finally, fourth and to Olajuwon’s point directly — small market teams in the NBA do have a chance if they are smart. Oklahoma City is a small market that is smart and drafted well. San Antonio is a small market. New Orleans is a small market that just got potential franchise player Anthony Davis. Cleveland is a small market and the reason they lost LeBron James is not the bright lights of Miami but their own missteps in building a team and how they let LeBron have too much power around the organization. LeBron didn’t have to grow up in Cleveland, they enabled him in a way Pat Riley didn’t in Miami.

The same is true in Orlando — they had a chance with Dwight Howard, they lost him. The fact he went to L.A. may gall Magic fans, but the organization lost Howard long before a destination was chosen.

Small market teams in the NBA have a chance — their margin for error is smaller than for Los Angeles or New York, but they have a real and legitimate chance. Fans will tune in to watch a small market super team just like they will a big market one. So long as they have the star power in uniform.

Because the NBA is a league of stars. Not parity.

Way too early look: Who could make up USA’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic basketball team?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Kyle Lowry #7 of United States stand on the podium after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Let’s start with the obvious: This is an exercise in futility. There is no way to predict accurately what the 2020 USA men’s basketball team headed to the Tokyo Olympics will look like. There will be injuries that sideline guys. There will be contract situations where key guys decide it’s in their best interest to sit out. Plus, there could be a guy just now entering his junior year of high school who we don’t know well yet but in four years will be a clear choice for the team.

Now that we’ve gotten through the tedious disclaimer, let’s have fun:

What will the 2020 USA Basketball team look like?

First, it will have a bit of a business attitude — Gregg Popovich is coaching now. Not that Mike Krzyzewski ran a college party Team USA, far from it, but with Popovich’s demeanor and the scare put into the 2016 team (and some improving world powers, such as Canada), expect the USA to be a little more focused next time around.

For the roster, who from the 2016 gold medal team in Rio returns for more gold? At the top of the list: A 31-year-old Kevin Durant will be back for one more run (and to climb on top of the USA Olympic scoring list). He will be the unquestioned team leader. The alpha. It will be his team.

After that? Young stars who want one more go at it such as Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Klay Thompson will seriously consider a return. Maybe Jimmy Butler. Those guys will have a leg up having Olympic experience and a commitment to the program.

After that, some big names that passed on Rio are going to suit up in Japan. There will be far less defection of top talent this time around — the fears around Brazil will be gone, and NBA players wanting to sell more shoes in Asia will be eager to sign up. I expect you will see Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and maybe James Harden decide they are in for the next round. LeBron James said he felt left out and may consider a return, but he will be 35 years old with 17 NBA seasons on his body by that point, does he want to put his body through an international curtain call? Probably not.

Rounding out the roster, expect a few guys from this year’s USA Select Team — the team the Olympic squad practiced against in Las Vegas at the start of camp — to make the leap up (as Kyrie Irving and others did this year).

Who? That’s the hardest thing to predict, it depends on development. Guys to watch include Victor Olidipo, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker, Brandon Ingram, and Jabari Parker — some of them will be ready to make the leap.

One clue to the 2020 roster: Players that you see in China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup will be more likely to make the 2020 team. (Yes, the World Championships are now the year before the Olympics, welcome to more of FIBA’s wisdom, as is the fact the Cup qualifiers fall during the NBA/Euroleague seasons.) Guys from the select team now that head to China in three years and perform well in that setting will likely have the USA across their chest in Japan.

Whatever team we send will have the most talent in those games. The question is will that be enough?

Check out the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays from last season

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 24: Kyrie Irving #2 and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers prepare for tip off against the Detroit Pistons in game four of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 24, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With athletes such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays of last season were going to have some special moments.

Yes, the block by LeBron and the stepback three by Irving that sealed the first Cleveland title in 52 years are on top of the list.

But there are some other ridiculous Irving handles and even a Timofey Mozgov dunk in there (a $64 million dunk, apparently).

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.

Corey Brewer: “James (Harden) is going to play defense this year”

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets walks across the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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James Harden‘s defense is not as bad as its reputation.

Well, at least it wasn’t two seasons ago — his near MVP season he was in good enough shape that he could put in a respectable effort on that end and still handle his massive offensive load. There were still some mental lapses, but his focus was better and his improvement lifted the team defense. Last season, he regressed back to youtube “highlight” defense Harden — his conditioning was not where it needed to be, he didn’t expend as much effort on that end, and it showed.

Harden got a massive contract extension this summer, and Dwight Howard is Atlanta’s problem — now Harden has to lead the Rockets. By example. Corey Brewer told ESPN you’re going to see that on defense.

“I think this year he’s going to play better defense, We’re going to let the past be in the past. It’s the future of the Rockets, man. James is going to play defense this year.”

We’re all Missourians on this one: Show me.

Remember that the Rockets will be out and running — Mike D’Antoni is the coach now, and Daryl Morey is going to get the up tempo ball he wants (which Kevin McHale had them doing, but Harden didn’t like him so…). D’Antoni’s teams in Phoenix played better defense than their reputation — points per possession they were middle of the pack — but that has never been his focus.

Will Harden be able to run like he needs to on offense and still defend at a reasonable level?

If he can, it’s a big step toward the Rockets being a dangerous team in the West because if he does it others will follow. Otherwise, every Rockets game will be a shootout, which is entertaining but not going to get a team deep into the playoffs.