The NBA owners and the myth of competitive balance

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The owners got their money and it was not enough. The players offered to come far enough down on the split of revenue to cover all of the owners claimed losses of $300 million a year.

And it was not enough. The owners demanded changes to the system so that any team can compete for a title if well run. The Bobcats want to compete with the Lakers.

It’s all crap. First off, if you are defining competitive balance as parity like the NFL has, you will never have it in the NBA. If you define competitive balance as the chance for any franchise to win if well managed, it already exists.

Closer games and more teams able to compete for a playoff spot is not going to increase NBA popularity — the NBA is a star-driven league and its popularity will always ebb and flow with those stars, how they do and where they play.

There have been a couple great blog posts on this issue in recent days (by two of the best in the business).

One talks about the importance of the draft, as reported by Henry Abbott at TrueHoop.

Sources say the Bobcats, for instance, feel they lose so many games because they will never be able to afford the Lakers’ payroll. But basketball is not baseball. The Bobcats have not been forced to give up top young talent to basketball’s equivalent of the Yankees. ….

The problem the Bobcats — and most consistently bad teams — have is that they have made bad decisions, which is especially noticeable in the draft. From 2004 to 2008, Charlotte had a top 10 pick — the holy grail of NBA assets — every single year. They picked second, fifth, third, eighth and ninth. Picks like those are the way teams get superstars. They are the way small-market teams like the Thunder (thanks to Kevin Durant) and Spurs (Tim Duncan) have been able to compete with small payrolls.

And out of all that, the Bobcats got Emeka Okafor, Raymond Felton, Adam Morrison, Brandan Wright and D.J. Augustin. Only one of those players even plays for the Bobcats anymore, and none are centerpieces of any franchise. For the same money they paid their picks, the Bobcats could have employed Rajon Rondo, Joakim Noah and Nicolas Batum. Instead, the Bobcats’ own decisions left better players to other teams.

Once you get that star player via the draft (or stripping your payroll down so far you can attract someone as a free agent), then you spend to win. Which is why you can say teams that spend win in the NBA, but you confuse causation and correlation, as Zach Lowe points out at Sports Illustrated.

The Mavericks, Lakers and Knicks are the prime examples of (big spenders) the last decade. These teams do have an advantage. They can use the mid-level exception every season and re-sign all their own guys via Bird Rights, though that, too, is a function of profitability. They can act as predators, sending unproductive guys on expiring contracts (i.e. Kwame Brown, Erick Dampier) to cheap teams in exchange for productive guys on big contracts (Pau Gasol, Tyson Chandler)…

But I don’t see any of these rules tilting the balance in any significant way. Why? Because we’re talking about rules that might limit big spenders from signing expensive fringe starters (Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal, Trevor Ariza), so-so bench players (Steve Blake, Quentin Richardson, James Posey) and out-and-out busts. We are not discussing solutions that would change the distribution of star players….

Again, I’m open to the idea that putting more Artest-level cogs on the open market might help competitive balance a bit; the Mavericks are proof that if you keep spending to adjust your mix of such players, you might eventually find the right ingredients. But they are also proof that a top-20 Hall of Famer remains the most important cog of a champion.

The owners are fighting for a system that will help save them from bad general managers and poor basketball decisions. That doesn’t exist. The Clippers squandered great picks for years, but a few years back they started to get it right (Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, etc). And what do you know, the Clippers are on the verge of going from a low payroll to high payroll team. Because you spend when you have the cogs in the NBA.

Nothing in the new CBA is going to change that. This is not worth being still locked out over.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.