There is a saying that says if you can’t beat them, join them. That is what some teams are doing to close the gap between them and the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. These two teams are miles away from the rest of the pack. Proof is the fact that these two teams have met three straight times in the NBA Finals in the past three years.
For years, the NBA has resorted to money to ensure balance in the league. Basically, it sets a salary cap and any team that goes beyond is taxed to high heavens to discourage the formation of super teams. Of course, big market teams like the Lakers, Bulls, and the Knicks would have bigger revenue streams so they were in better positions to take luxury tax hits. The system also encouraged superstars to stay put with their teams underscored by max, long-term deals. The problem is, money is becoming less and less important.
A case in point is Kevin Durant, who joined a 73-win team and finally won his first championship this year. He signed a two-year deal with the Golden State Warriors worth around $52 million. His annual salary is considerably less than his eligible max of $34 million per year. Durant is leaving $10 million on the table since he valued keeping the Warriors’ core together and win more championships. To put things in perspective, Durant has earned at least $130 million in salary since he started in the league excluding his huge endorsement deals. In 2014 for example, he signed a $300 million, ten-year deal with Nike. Simply put, Durant doesn’t need the money and so do other superstars.
This is bad news for small market teams who are struggling to keep pace with other teams. The Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers lost their superstars. Gordon Hayward took a shorter deal to win with the Boston Celtics. The Pacers, meanwhile, wary of Paul George’s intention to join the Los Angeles Lakers next season, pulled the trigger to trade him before they lose him for nothing. The Pacers traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder, another small market team trying to remain relevant in the Western Conference. The Thunder lost James Harden before due to salary cap restrictions and lost Durant last season. They took a big gamble on George who has one year left on his contract since they want their resident superstar, Russell Westbrook, to stay.
Another small market team in danger of losing it all is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Point guard Kyrie Irving has already asked to be traded while LeBron James has one year left on his contract. James, reportedly, wants out after next season and is eyeing Los Angeles where he maintains a home as a retirement destination. James is already on the wrong end of his prime and wants to win more championships before hanging his sneakers. If Irving walks, James is walking too.
This new era of super teams is definitely bad for the league since it takes out the excitement of competition. In the East, only the Cavaliers and the Celtics have a real shot at the title while in the West, the Rockets (with the signing of Chris Paul) and Warriors look to dominate. The league has never been so top heavy and the league can’t do anything about it.