Today’s NBA: Too Many Teams, Not Enough Talent

Basketball, Bull City — By on December 20, 2011 at 10:28 am


Has anyone besides me noticed that today’s NBA seems more like a staged reality TV show than an actual sports league where athletes compete on their own merits? In what other sport does free agency and the off-season overshadow the actual regular season and the sport’s championship event?

Between a public relations machine spiraling out of control and player salaries being on par with the GDP of some small countries, the NBA has a problem…A huge problem. Compared to a decade or two ago, the NBA—and Stern—are, contrary to what Dennis Green thought about the Bears, no longer who we thought they were.

If there is a league that needs contraction, it is the NBA. Having 30 teams is ridiculous. Back in the league’s heyday, (the early 80s) they had 23 squads. Then, the Hornets, Heat, Magic and Timberwolves came along to make it 27. The Grizzlies and Raptors made it 29. The Bobcats replaced the Hornets in Charlotte in 2004 to make it a grand total of 30. That is way too many teams!

Think about it. Assuming each team has a roster of 12 active players, that’s 84 guys who have jobs as NBA players today that would not have had one 20 years ago. I am all for creating jobs in this economy, but spending millions of dollars on basketball players is not exactly the idea I had in mind, and it’s diluting the talent pool and lowering the quality of basketball the NBA used to put out.

On top of that, there is the question of viability for some of these franchises. In the wake of this past off-season (and, honestly, the several years leading up to it), the NBA has become a league of glamour cities, big markets and desired player destinations.

Not even a structured salary scale that gave the Cleveland Cavaliers a serious advantage in paying LeBron James more than Miami helped keep James from taking his talents to South Beach.

If LeBron doesn’t want to play in Cleveland (just 30 minutes from where he grew up as a kid), if Kevin Garnett doesn’t want to play in Minnesota and if Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul refused to stay in markets that coveted them as saviors, respectively, why even have teams in these cities in the first place? How about Toronto losing Vince Carter and Chris Bosh just six years apart and both in their prime?

What good are the Memphis Grizzlies doing the league? Nobody wants to go there. And after breaking the bank on Rudy Gay, you have to be kidding yourself if you think they will have what it takes to keep both O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol in the mix for any period of time.

It is a nice little nucleus they have there, but there is no way that an owner of a team located in Memphis can spend lavishly on it. And when the time comes, some of these guys will leave Memphis just like LeBron left Cleveland. It happens all the time.

The same goes for these Charlotte’s, Indiana’s, Milwaukee’s, Sacramento’s and Minnesota’s. Nobody outside of fans within these specific markets (and compared to the bigger cities, these fans are a very few number) wants to see these teams succeed. Glamour players won’t go there, or stay there, for that matter.

When a small market team like San Antonio succeeds, they do it the right way by building through the draft and maximizing on homegrown talent. But then when push comes to shove, nobody wants to see a team like the Spurs succeed, as evidenced by some of the lowest ratings in NBA Finals history whenever the Spurs are involved.

It makes the league’s trading in of Seattle for Oklahoma City even more perplexing. The Thunder are very fortunate to have Kevin Durant land in their lap the way he has, and a humble superstar like Durant and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan are few and far between.

For Oklahoma City, it will be a challenge to afford burgeoning stars like Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins in the wake of being able to hang on to Durant long-term. And in the rare instance that they do, these big contracts will be the first ones out of town at the first sight of under-achievement. Don’t believe me? The way the summer of 2010 shifted the dynamics of the league will be felt for a long time to come. LeBron and Chris Bosh went to go to Miami. Carmelo Anthony went to New York, with Amar’e Stoudemire. Just two summers ago, Ron Artest took a serious pay cut to go to Los Angeles.

In the end, only four or five teams have realistic shots of a championship every year, and almost all of them are located in big markets (or, in Orlando’s case, a desired player destination with good weather year-round.) The ones that aren’t (in this year’s case, Oklahoma City), need to prove their long-term viability.

Getting rid of teams like the Grizzlies, Bobcats, Hornets, Pacers, Timberwolves, and Raptors won’t hurt a fly. The Grizzlies and Raptors are only 15 years old, and the Grizzlies have only been in Memphis for less than a decade. The Hornets have been in New Orleans for eight years, and nobody cares.

The league thought Charlotte needed another team after losing the Hornets, but they were wrong. The Timberwolves are a little over 20 years old, and Ricky Rubio doesn’t really want to play there. Heck, Stephon Marbury wanted nothing to do with them back in the day, and KG couldn’t win there, despite being the MVP of the league.

And I just threw the Pacers in there, because I forgot that they even existed. If you also suddenly remembered that they are still in the NBA, then I completely understand. I was going to have the Cavaliers, Nuggets, and Bucks as well, but those teams have been around for over four decades, so contracting them would not be quite as painless.

Shredding the league down to 24 teams — back to four divisions and six teams in each division — would make a lot of competitive sense for the NBA. It would save them money by cutting ties with fruitless franchises and markets while concentrating the talent pool. It would give more teams a chance and, at the very least, make sure that fans of every team have something worth rooting for.

Something to think about…

Stay Breezy ~ I’m Out!

Joe Simmons

Color Commentator for Time Warner Cable Sports Network NC/SC/OH and NCCU Sports Network. Washed up athlete who used to ball, now I write and call.

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    9 Comments

  • JAG says:

    Great post.

    However, it’s difficult to put the toothpaste back into the tube. There’s no way the players’ union would sign off on contraction. They’re going to protect those jobs.

    What I’m going to propose won’t be a perfect solution but may be better than what we have now. What if we took the LA model into a couple of other cities? In other words, have two teams playing in one arena.

    Move New Orleans to Dallas. Create the Chicago Timberwolves. Tell MJ to take his sorry team to Philly and see if he can make something happen. Sacramento could move to Anaheim and get another piece of that lucrative LA market.

    What makes the small markets less profitable is not attendance. A small market with a decent product can get good attendance. What’s killing small markets today is that attendance is a drop in the bucket. The local cable TV contract and corporate sponsorships are where the money is. It doesn’t matter if Oklahoma City sells out every night and wins 60, they’ll never make as much revenue as a Sixers team that goes 32-50. The bottom line is not how many playoff games you win. What matters is how many viewers per ratings point.

    Is this solution better than contraction? No. But contraction’s not going to happen so let’s come up with other ideas.

  • Joe Simmons says:

    @Jag
    you make some very good points. I agree with a lot of what you are saying as well. I keep emphasizing that every state doesn’t need NBA teams. In some cases cities that can hold them just aren’t interested.
    At least your scenario keeps people working. That is a start.

  • Herb says:

    100% agree. Psycho owners like Dan Gilbert and the Clippers owner talking shit to Baron Davis, HIS OWN PLAYER, from the sideline don’t help either.

  • JAG says:

    Right. It doesn’t address the talent dilution problem but it gives free agents more choices and creates more revenue for the league. Small market teams who move to larger markets will:

    1. Have lower fixed costs as they will share the cost of the arena with another team
    2. Have more revenue from a cable TV package and corporate sponsors. (Even if they’re treated like the 2nd tenant, the stepchild, they’re still better off)
    3. They have a better chance of keeping their free agents. If the Hornets had moved to Chicago or Dallas, they could have had a real shot at keeping CP3.

  • Consequence says:

    Getting rid of the Raptors doesn’t really make sense. Despite the amount of talent they’ve lost, they’re very profitable and always have been.

    • I don’t know if you’d get rid of the Raptors, but getting rid of a few teams could help the Raptors improve their wack ass roster. Demar DeRozan should be on someone’s bench, yes he’s talented and has spurts, but the fact that he and Bargnani are the two best players on that team….sad.

  • Danielle says:

    My only question is, “How come 30 teams works in baseball?” I see your point that the NBA has too many teams but I honestly don’t think that is the problem. Does it make things more difficult, yes, but is the solution to contract, not necessarily.

    However, what definitely needs to change are the rules around how new teams can come into the league and around how and where teams and players can go. The recent moves of top talent to larger market teams has happened because its allowed to happen. Add a clause like the clause in the Packer’s by-laws (or whatever document its in) about the proceeds of selling the team goes to the current town and I bet the Thunder would still be in Seattle now trying to get the city to build them a new stadium.

    I’d also say the NBA needs to consider changing the playoff format because the 7 series is just TOO long. I would say have it best of 5 in the early rounds and do best of 7 for the finals. Heck, I’d almost say do best of 3 in the first round, best of 5 in the second round and best of 7 for the finals.

    Basically, the NBA needs to look to MLB and find out how they have the same number of teams and pay their players more and are still thriving not cut teams.

  • JAG says:

    @ Danielle – How come 30 teams work in baseball?

    1. Baseball teams are more concentrated in bigger markets. There are no major league baseball teams in San Antonio, Charlotte, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Sacramento, Indy or Orlando. Now, I’ll concede that baseball has a few small market teams like Oakland, Pittsburgh and Minnesota, but the ratio of large to small market teams is much better. Also, small market teams like Cincinnati draw from a large region of baseball fans.

    2. Your question goes right into my argument. If contraction is not an option, and, unless a team really sunk, the Union would never allow it, then moving teams to more attractive sites is the only other way to reduce the number of small market teams.

  • JAG says:

    The 1987 NBA expansion will go down as an unmitigated disaster. Minnesota, Charlotte (Hornets), Orlando and Miami.

    Only Miami is even a mid market team. But Miami is not a strong basketball town. Too much competition. They only fill the arena when they have a championship quality team.

    Orlando? Not only was adding two teams in Florida at the same time a big mistake, but Orlando is a small market. Their stadium was undersized with no luxury suites.

    Charlotte (now New Orleans) – So far, they’ve had to move to New Orleans and are owned by the league. Not exactly what the NBA envisioned.

    Minnesota – City can’t support team; not enough corporate investment. Arena is inadequate.

    At most, the NBA should have only expanded by two teams. But they got greedy when they saw the chance to collect $130 million in fees. But now, large market teams will spend more than that just to keep these teams propped up. A perfect example of a business taking in short term bucks without thinking of the long term effects.

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