ESPN column puts cap in owners’ “competitive balance” argument

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We at PBT have been calling out the owners claim they want “competitive balance” from the start — it’s a more palatable way for small market owners to say they want more money from the players and larger market owners. Phrasing it as an issue of competitive balance is just clever spin, not reality.

But now you don’t have to take my word for it.

In a must read post at ESPN’s TrueHoop, Tom Haberstroh absolutely shreds the idea that how much you spend is what matters when determining who wins in the NBA.

The Magic spent $110 million last season (the same as the Lakers) and the Bulls shelled out a lowly $55 million, or half as much as its Eastern conference foe. And the result? The poor Bulls won more games than any other team and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. The Magic? The nine-figure payroll bought them an embarrassing first-round exit.

If you scan through team payrolls, you begin to see that money doesn’t decide games. If cash was king, then the Bulls wouldn’t have a chance against the Magic. If spending power ruled all, how do we explain the Utah Jazz and their $80 million payroll winning 16 fewer games than the Oklahoma City Thunder, who spent just $58 million? The Toronto Raptors boasted a higher payroll than the Miami Heat, so why did the Raps lose 60 games while the Heat came within two games of a title?

What makes this column amazing is Haberstroh goes into detail looking at what it takes to win in the NBA. The answer starts with the draft. He suggests that 34 percent of the variability in a team’s record over the past decade is about the draft. Payroll accounts for just seven percent.

Look at the most recent champions — the Mavericks got Dirk Nowitzki in a draft-day trade, the Lakers built around Kobe Bryant who they got in a draft-day trade.

One of the discoveries during that project was that the Spurs and Lakers were huge winners on draft day. Apparently, finding Tony Parker at No. 28, Manu Ginobili at the end of the second round and plucking Kobe and Andrew Bynum without picking in the single-digits helps lay down a dynasty foundation. But if you look at the list of the most efficient drafting teams (as in, making the most out of where they picked), you’ll notice that the best drafting teams tend to also be the best teams of the past decade. On the flipside, the basement-dwellers of recent times found themselves routinely striking out on the draft….

And the worst drafting teams? Yikes. The Clippers, Timberwolves, Wizards and Bobcats represent the doormats of the NBA and it’s no surprise that they’ve been drafting terribly as well. Many of these teams have been gift-wrapped prime opportunities to draft franchise players, and instead, they selected Adam Morrison and Jonny Flynn. Even drafting an MVP in Rose didn’t completely erase all the misfires the Bulls made in the early 2000s.

Just go read the whole post. It’s the best thing you’ll read today.

And remember, when the owners or David Stern say “competitive balance” what they are really saying is “I want more money.” It’s always about the money.