There will never be parity in the NBA the way there is in, say, the NFL. It’s simply the nature of the sport — one transcendent player can dominate nearly every game. Imagine if the Dodgers could pitch Clayton Kershaw every night, or the Nationals the same with Stephen Strasburg. They would win a whole lot more games. That’s what it’s like having LeBron James or Kevin Durant on your team, and in that world parity will never truly exist.
But people will not stop trying.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy says if the league wants something approximating parity, there needs to be radical changes. Via Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.
“I’d get rid of it, just get rid of the draft altogether,” Van Gundy said when asked lottery reform. “We’d just deal with the salary cap. Make all (rookies) free agents coming in and if I want to go give a guy $50 million a year, good, but I got to do it under the cap.
“I think if you did that and you had no individual max on players, we’d start to get some parity in the league, but the league really doesn’t want parity. They want the super teams, and I get that. It’s worked well, business-wise.”
That kind of free-for-all system would benefit large markets — if those markets are well managed. Market size and draw hasn’t helped the Knicks for years, or the Lakers in recent years (when they couldn’t even get meetings with top free agents). Players and agents are too well informed to go somewhere just because of market size. Still, this would not be a level playing field.
Van Gundy is spot on with max contracts — if you want to do away with superteams, stop artificially deflating what the top players make. That sounds like a crazy thing to say when Russell Westbrook just signed a $205 million extension that will have his base salary starting north of $35 million a season in 2018-19. But what would Westbrook get on the open market, with no cap? At least $50 million a season, maybe much more — he doesn’t just help the team win games on the court, he is what fills the seats, sells the luxury boxes, and draws sponsors. He would be worth double that to any franchise in terms of income.
If Westbrook — or LeBron, or Durant, or name your superstar — takes up half your cap space, the days of super teams will be gone. The Thunder couldn’t have Westbrook and Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. No way the Warriors could keep Stephen Curry, Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson together. Chris Paul and James Harden are not getting together in Houston. To get paid, the superstars would have to spread out.
Why this will never happen is it would kill the middle class in the NBA — and most of the players are in that middle class. If the Thunder had Westbrook at $50 million and one other very good player at $25 million, that leaves 13 roster spots and $25 million, meaning a less than $2 million average. The days of good players getting $8 million or a solid starter drawing $12 million would be over, with that extra money going to the biggest names. The NBA players union is not going to back that idea.
Plus, as Van Gundy says, superteams are good for business. Interest in the NBA is the highest it has been since the Jordan era, and power of LeBron’s superteams challenged by Golden State and others is at the heart of it.