NBA’s only parity problems are perception, LeBron James

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When LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with Miami in 2010, many bemoaned the end of competitive balance, complaining LeBron had guaranteed himself a title that year. When LeBron return to Cleveland in 2014, similar angst emerged: LeBron again worked the system to guarantee himself a championship.

Of course, neither the 2010-11 Heat nor 2014-15 Cavaliers won a title.

But the same hysteria took hold when Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors last summer, and maybe this time, the hand-wringers will be right. Golden State enters the 2017 NBA Finals as heavy favorites over the Cavaliers in a widely expected matchup.

Has parity suddenly ended, or did the handwringers just finally happen to get one right?

This is the first time in the last dozen years, as far back as Sports Odds History records go, where the preseason conference favorites actually met in the Finals:

Season Expected Actual
2016-17 Cavaliers-Warriors Cavaliers-Warriors
2015-16 Cavaliers-Spurs Cavaliers-Warriors
2014-15 Cavaliers-Spurs Cavaliers-Warriors
2013-14 Heat-Thunder Heat-Spurs
2012-13 Heat-Lakers Heat-Spurs
2011-12 Heat-Lakers Heat-Thunder
2010-11 Heat-Lakers Heat-Mavericks
2009-10 Cavaliers-Lakers Celtics-Lakers
2008-09 Celtics-Lakers Magic-Lakers
2007-08 Celtics-Spurs* Celtics-Lakers
2006-07 Heat-Mavericks* Cavaliers-Spurs
2005-06 Heat-Spurs* Heat-Mavericks

*Conference favorites weren’t available, but I used the top team in the title odds from each conference.

None of the biggest preseason title favorites in this era – 2010-11 Heat, 2005-06 Spurs and 2013-14 Heat – have won titles. (The 2016-17 Warriors, favored over the field, could change that).

You can’t call that a fair die will land on 2, watch it land 4-3-6-4-2 then claim to be all-knowing after the last roll. Or at least you shouldn’t be taken seriously if you do.

But, to a degree, that’s what’s happening here.

The perception of a predictable outcome is sweeping over the actual predictability. This season was never guaranteed to end with a Warriors-Cavs Finals. Both teams had to earn their way here. They were favored against the field for good reason, but they still had to avoid injury, chemistry issues and upstart challengers. Play out this season 100 times, and it doesn’t always end with a Warriors-Cavs Finals.

But it feels that way, because it’s an unprecedented third straight Finals matchup between the same teams.

Yet, is feeling clouding reality? These other three- or four-year periods featured just three different teams in the Finals:

  • 2012-14 (Heat, Spurs, Thunder)
  • 2008-10 (Lakers, Celtics, Magic)
  • 1996-98 (Bulls, Jazz, SuperSonics)
  • 1988-90 (Pistons, Lakers, Trail Blazers)
  • 1984-87 (Celtics, Lakers, Rockets)
  • 1982-84 (Lakers, 76ers, Celtics)

Is that really so different than the two teams we’ve gotten in the last three years?

Again, it feels way different, and I get that.

I’m just not sure how the NBA can reconcile the issue.

LeBron’s teams have been favored to win the East the last eight years. Once he got good enough to actually carry them that far annually, nobody has touched them. As long as he remains elite, his teams will be favored in most regards.

The West has been far less predictable, though Golden State looks poised for a lengthy run. As much as fans wants parity, they also want teams to have the inside track for retaining their own players. Now that they have so many good players – Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – the Warriors can keep their core together (as long as they’re willing to spend).

But it’s hard to stay on top. LeBron is 32, destined to decline eventually. Golden State’s payroll and egos could become too outsized to manage.

Just because the Warriors and Cavaliers feel inevitable doesn’t make it so. They have both been favored to win their conference and actually won their conferences precisely one year – this year. Don’t let recency bias trick you into believing it has always been and will always be this way.

Rockets to add Spurs buyout DeMarre Carroll, free agent Jeff Green

Spurs forward DeMarre Caroll
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that DeMarre Carroll and the San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a buyout. Carroll will then sign with the Houston Rockets:

ESPN’s Tim McMahon added in a subsequent report that the Rockets will bring in free agent forward Jeff Green:

Green will first sign a 10-day contract with the Rockets, so he can get used to their system and see if there is a fit, Woj reported.

Carroll signed a three-year, $20.65 million contract as part of a sign and trade from the Brooklyn Nets to the Spurs this past summer. That agreement was part of a three-team trade that saw San Antonio send forward Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards. The 10-year veteran is owed $7 million for this season, $6.65 million for 2020-21 and $1.35 million guaranteed for 2021-22. San Antonio will incur a cap hit for each of the three seasons as part of the buyout process with Carroll. How much of a cap hit will depend on how much money Carroll gave up as part of the buyout agreement.

Carroll was added via sign and trade after Marcus Morris spurned the Spurs in free agency. Morris had originally agreed to sign with San Antonio, but backed out after the New York Knicks offered him $15 million as a free agent. The Spurs moved on to Carroll as a backup plan, but he was never able to crack the rotation. He’s played only 135 minutes over 15 games with San Antonio.

Green was with the Utah Jazz earlier this season, before being waived to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker. The 11-year veteran Green averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances with Utah. The Rockets will be the ninth different franchise Green has played for.

In Houston, Carroll and Green will join Mike D’Antoni’s small-ball crew as big man depth. Carroll and Green will likely back up P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington up front. Their experience at both forward spots will give the Rockets additional depth for their playoff run. Carroll and Green are also likely be to asked to play some center, as Houston has downsized dramatically at that position, including trading Clint Capela at the trade deadline.

NBA players’ union votes to support formation of G-League union

Kyrie Irving
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Better pay. Better working conditions. Not to be treated as disposable parts by their employers.

The players in the G-League want the same thing out of a union that auto workers, teachers, and (most obviously) NBA players do. As had been expected (talks had been going on for a while), on Monday the National Basketball Players Association (the NBA players’ union) voted to support the formation of a G-League union, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The G-League players are expected to support this. Sources have told NBC Sports that team and league officials will not oppose the players unionizing, they believe there will be benefits, too.

The primary issue will be pay. Most players in the G-League earn a $35,000 salary, unless they’re an elite high school prospect, or on a two-way contract (which means they are tied to an NBA team and can be called up for 45 days a season). Some players make more through an Exhibit 10 contract with a team — meaning they go to training camp with a team, then get a bonus ($50,000 or so) if they sign with that team’s G-League team.

Other issues would include freedom of player movement, work benefits, and giving the players a voice in other matters like discipline issues.

The NBA continues to push toward each of its teams having a minor-league affiliate. Right now, only the Trail Blazers and Nuggets do not. As the G-League grows, it’s understandable the players want a larger voice in how things are run.

In other news out of the players’ union meeting, Kyrie Irving was voted in as vice president, replacing Paul Gasol. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Chris Paul remains the union president.

Check out Dr. Dre’s Kobe Bryant tribute

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CHICAGO — In a weekend filled with spectacular tributes to Kobe Bryant, this one stood out.

Legendary rapper, songwriter, record producer, and businessman Dr. Dre — a guy who grew up in Los Angeles — released a tribute that stood out (and was highlighted on TNT). Dre did this with Gibson Hazard and Jackson Bannon.

Kobe’s public memorial service takes place Feb. 24 at Staples Center.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on team’s All-Star plan: Attack James Harden

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden
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CHICAGO – James Harden has griped about Giannis Antetokounmpo winning Most Valuable Player last year.

After his team lost to Harden’s in the All-Star game Sunday, Antetokounmpo got in a dig at Harden.

“Offensively, we were just trying to find whoever James Harden was guarding,” Antetokounmpo said of his team’s strategy late. “That’s who we thought we’d have the opportunity to score on.”

Harden is not a good defender. But this is playing right into his hands. He’s at his best in isolation, especially in the post. He faces far more difficulty when run through actions off the ball or trying to keep up in transition.

Down the stretch, Harden defended more effectively than usual. Not great, but above his usual standard. Good enough for LeBron James‘ team to win.

At least, as Giannis previously noted, the MVP trophy is at his house.