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The Problem with Super Teams

There is a menace wreaking havoc throughout the NBA world known simply as the ‘Super Team.’ These types of teams consist mainly of the NBA’s premiere talent and coaches joining forces to impose their will on the league. There have been a handful of super teams from the ’83 championship Philadelphia ‘Sixers, the Karl Malone and Gary Payton Lakers of ’03, the 2010 Miami Heat, which won back to back titles in 2012 and 2013. Today there are two squads that fit the criteria, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, but, while having two seemingly unbeatable teams competing against one another may sound exciting, the issues of disparity and lack of competition in the NBA have risen to new heights.

You won’t find much in depth analysis or insight to any teams or players here, but what I can offer you is a knee jerk reaction to the distress media outlets like ESPN and FS1 have been peddling to the public in the aftermath of this year’s championship. I’ll give context to the super team issue and the common fan’s two cents on the matter.

The main problem that’s plagued the NBA for years has been a lack of competition. If watching blowouts and bad basketball was fun, I’d be a fan of it, but the NBA regular season is a joke half the time. The days of guys like Reggie Miller or Allen Iverson playing basketball with an edge are long gone. The sport is now just elaborate plays, bloated salaries, three-point shooting, and zero defense. There’s no substance, and the growing number of super teams is exacerbating these issues.

In the last six years alone we’ve seen three separate all-star squads emerge (four if you count the 2012 Lakers but that’s a stretch). Why suddenly is the best talent in the NBA gravitating towards each other?

The answer is kind of simple: All these super star players know each other. They’re best friends, they played together in college or AAU. They hang out together. They go to each other’s weddings. They talk to one another. That’s where the modern super team is conceived. Super teams aren’t drawn up behind closed doors with GM’s and franchise owners pulling the strings. No, they are put together by the players. Lebron was boys with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and was happy to ditch Cleveland the first time and go to Miami (I say ‘first time’ preemptively, because we all know he’s going to rip that city’s heart out again). Those three guys in their mid-late twenties getting together in Miami? Its laughable how much of a party the NBA is for them. They’re not trying to win games and titles so much as they’re just trying to have a good time.

Now the owners and NBA are not powerless to this trend. They can influence players’ decisions with their salaries and keep the league competitive. But wait, why would they? Super teams might be killing the league’s regular season, but they lead to wins and championships. What do championships bring? Publicity, merchandise, brand recognition. JOB SECURITY. You think owners and upper level management are going to pass up those opportunities because one super star is asking for too much? Nope. Teams are going to sell the ship and keep their super teams together, create their “dynasty,” and reap the rewards. Steph Curry’s new super max contract is the richest contract in NBA history at $201 million over 5 years. That’s the new norm for superstars, and the sort of unsustainable salaries that teams will need to manage in order to keep those rosters together, which leads me to the other problem: money.

How do you make a fire worse? You pour gasoline on it, and that’s what teams are doing with bigger and bigger contracts. The competition in the NBA is already at an all-time low. Centralizing the talent on two or three teams is going to freeze the league in this position.

I don’t want to demonize super teams either. Conceptually they are awesome and exciting. Viewers and fans get amped up at the prospect of the best players in a sport joining forces to take over said sport. “The Decision” was one of the bigger moments in sports from the last decade. It creates a team to beat for the rest of the league, and the super team needs to prove they are what the media and public deem them as by winning a championship or getting back to back titles. The problem is people don’t want to watch that forever, which is where we are now. The Warriors and Cavs aren’t going anywhere and it’s been three straight years of Lebron vs Steph and company. We need a return to normalcy.

Super teams aren’t the problem, maintaining them is. In other words, it’s a money issue. There’s too much of it. Guys are playing more for their salaries than they are trying to be the best. Some still argue that higher salaries give players added motivation, but come on really? Ever hear of the Law of Diminishing Returns? (little Econ 101 jargon for ya) If you keep spending money to make money, at some point your costs will outweigh your profit. NBA players are prima donnas. There is less of an incentive to play hard when players are being paid more for their talent and potential value than their actual product.

Is there a solution for these inherent problems… sure, but I’m perfectly content ranting about them than outlining a 10 year plan to fix the NBA. So start gearing up for next season’s rerun of the last 3 seasons. Should be a blast.