Sunday Reading: The NBA Sky Isn't Really Falling

The idea that LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach to pair up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was the beginning of the end of the NBA as we know it picked up steam again with the great ado that was last week's trade deadline.

Carmelo Anthony finally willing his way out of Denver? Utah trading Deron Williams to New Jersey before they get Carmelo'd? Chris Paul possibly landing at Madison Square Garden? Dwight Howard possibly taking his Superman act to Los Angeles?

It's unsustainable! It's unfair! It's the death of the NBA! Or is it?

On the same day the new-look Oklahoma City Thunder play the Los Angeles Lakers and the newly-paired Carmar'e (or should it be Amelo?) meet up with The Heatles, there are more than a few people thinking that we need to hold off on the doomsaying.

After all, this isn't totally unprecedented, as Harvey Araton reminds us in the New York Times:
But the concept actually did the league a world of good during the 1980s when Larry Bird’s Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Lakers had star-studded rosters that helped launch the sport into the global marketplace that eventually became Michael Jordan’s celestial airspace.
Araton argues that fans should embrace the idea of stars teaming up, remembering a not-too-distant era when top tier players each wanted Jordanesque billing and consistently had problems co-existing. What it led to was nearly a decade dominance by the Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons who were able to build their team around a pair of superstars and a cast of strong role players willing to subjugate their game for the greater cause.

So why should players catch heat for that? According to Dave Hyde of the Miami Sun-Sentinel, they shouldn't. Hyde's opinion isn't a new idea nor is it particularly radical. But it is a deep breath moment in a room full of hyperventilators.
But this fear that players are overstepping their bounds is as overstated as big-market teams suddenly destroying small-market teams. What's happening is dumb, short-sighted, mismanaged, small-market teams are being penalized.
As a fan of one of those dumb, short-sighted, mismanaged, small-market teams (when will my GS-Dubs have their moment in the sun?), I grudgingly have to accept that the franchise has been its own worst enemy for the better part of two decades now. But I also have a hard time believing that if the revenue gap continues to increase amongst the big and small market teams that we'll ever see a real diversity of teams that win championships.

Then again, that's not new either, says the Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman. Since 1980, only eight teams have won NBA titles - a number that might have stood at seven if Jordan hadn't left to play baseball. But Nuggets coach George Karl doesn't think it has to be that way. Karl wonders why a group of well-coached, unselfish role players working as a team couldn't one day hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
"Why can't you win with 10 really good players? Maybe not the top five at their position, maybe not even the top 10 or top 15, but what about a guy at every position in the top 15, top 20? And they play hard and they play as a team. And then you have one of the best benches in the game. Why can't that win a championship?"
That's a wonderfully rosy statement from a guy who has been around professional basketball since debuting with the Spurs in the ABA in 1973. In theory, he's right. Why couldn't 10 really good players compete for a championship? After all, we've seen it work at the high school and college levels. But the NBA isn't college. And it damn sure isn't high school.

To build the type of team Karl envisions takes time, a luxury NBA franchises rarely afford head coaches. Thanks to the resignation of Jerry Sloan in Utah, Gregg Popovich is the NBA's longest tenured coach at 15 seasons in one place. In today's professional sports, that's an eternity. Even if you do keep a coach in place, how do you convince even a core of five players (let alone ten) to stick around?

Nonetheless, all three pieces make an interesting counter balance to the hysteria that followed the trade deadline.

This could also be something to remember as the NBA's labor fight ramps up during the summer. Initial indications are that the league will do what it can to break the union. LeBron, Kobe and Carmelo have mostly succeeded in building the teams they want to play for. With small market teams crying foul, will that forced autonomy backfire on the next crop of superstars looking for their chance to play amateur GM? Stay tuned.

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