The NBA has been nibbling at its own tail for some time now and it has finally caught up to the league. During the playoffs, while entertaining at certain points, the debate began as to if the league was conceding to one team (the Golden State Warriors). Over the past several years, the NBA has implemented many measures to the CBA to ensure all the teams have a fair chance at acquiring, and more importantly, keeping superior talent. There have been teams that intentionally tanked to get the players they want. The NBA has even intervened to keep star players from forming a “Super Team” (i.e., the NBA nixed the Chris Paul to Los Angeles Laker trade).
By putting so much effort into spreading the wealth of talent around the league, the NBA has caused the one problem it looked to avoid. The owners of the teams are crafty. Beyond analytics and cap crunching they are also in the business of making as much money as possible. Professional sports teams are a club of the elite. There are 30 to 32 teams per league and there’s not for sale signs in front of those stadiums and arenas that often.
In the case of the NBA, almost every team has a franchise player. You could say “well, every team has the best player that the team can build around!” I would counter that statement by listing the Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, and the Denver Nuggets as a few teams that do not have a franchise player or one that projects to become one. Yet, these teams have consistently picked in the upper half of the draft and had cap room to lure a top free agent.
The talent is at an all-time high. Most fans think of eras chronologically. I tend to think of eras in terms of the most dominant player(s) during an extended period. So in my lifetime, I’ve been through the Magic/Bird, Jordan, Kobe/Duncan/Shaq, and now the LeBron eras. The transition from the Kobe to LeBron is when the league changed language and incentives in the CBA that helped teams keep their homegrown players. Moreover, the new TV contracts produced such an enormous cash flow that it has increased the cap significantly each year. This created a dilemma that while teams have been able to offer their players (with Bird rights) up to $75 million more over the course of a contract than other teams can offer, it also drove the market price of players up to stay above the cap floor. There’s a lot of teams acquiring players that they do not need at salaries that, under past conditions, they would not warrant.
So, how does the league fix this?
That’s harder than one would think. This past summer, players received such high salaries that in the upcoming years it will be hard to trade them and receive equal value. To actually trade player for player will be even harder. No one is trading Luol Deng straight up for Paul George. The salaries match up though and these are the kind of salary trades that would have worked in the past but this scenario is such a drop off in talent.
If I was in NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s ear this is what I would suggest:
Change the one and done rule: I would allow EXCEPTIONAL players to enter straight from high school. When I say exceptional I am talking about for sure first round selections. I would have a committee of non-partisan members (Rivals.com, NBAdraft.net, college recruiting services, etc.) that give all potential high school prospects a grade. If the grade is that they would be a first round pick then it would be passed to NBA GMs and scouting departments. They would grade the select few that passed the first process. If the player passes through the second phase then he can submit his name for the draft.
The team has done its due diligence and the player is almost ensured of being selected first round. However, the players that did not make the cut must do the following. A) Attend a public university or college for 2 years. Two years is important because it gives the player more time to develop and it increases the chances that the player can graduate from college. Instead of taking a year of classes, it gets the player at least closer to major level courses if he chooses to stay in school or go back when he goes pro. B) If a team really wants to sign a player out of high school, the player must be signed to a 2 year guaranteed minimum contract and the player has to spend at least 90% of contract duration with NBDL affiliate. C) International players must be 19 before they can enter NBA draft. The International players have more opportunities to play professionally than US players. So a starting age of 19 is more than fair and would put them on par to enter the league with the 2-year players previously mentioned.
I think the NBA has done well in growing the sport. The issue now is that the league has too much talent spread around. The league should want three or four “Super Teams.” I fully anticipate the Cleveland Cavaliers to make a move to keep them in contention for the championship. The San Antonio Spurs are rumored to have an interest in Chris Paul to pair with LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard. What about the other teams though? Could Kyle Lowry take Paul’s spot on the Los Angeles Clippers and form a super team with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? Maybe a year from now could Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins link with the Lakers to create a team with Brandon Ingram and possibly Lonzo Ball? More super teams is the solution not no super teams!