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Monday, October 26th, 2009 at 11:00 am  |  36 responses

The NBA’s Problematic Lack of Parity

The contenders reloaded this summer, leaving everyone else in the dust (basketball-wise, and financially): “Stratification of the classes has long been a problem in Major League Baseball, but it’s a relatively new concern for the N.B.A., whose entire system is set up to promote parity … Team executives said they could not recall a summer quite like this, as every elite team added elite talent. ‘I don’t think it’s good,’ an Eastern Conference executive said. ‘The league has to look at it, because there’s not parity.’ The executive asked for anonymity because the N.B.A. and its players were engaged in labor negotiations. Teams are subject to heavy fines for speaking publicly on anything that affects the process.”

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  • neaorin

    In other words, if you spend wisely and create a contender, good players looking for a ring will want to sign with you. Go figure.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    I think this is mostly a problem for the Eastern Conference. In the West, you’re guaranteed a good 1-8 no matter what. But the East has perhaps the three best teams in Boston, Orlando, and Cleveland, while the remaining five teams are all mediocre in comparison to even the eighth seed in the West.
    It also doesn’t help when 2/3 of the league are throwing their seasons away so they can ALL try to sign LeBron, Amare, or Dwayne Wade…
    This should make for an interesting season.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevinwilson16 Kevin Wilson

    Has there ever been a season where there were more 60-win teams than 50-win teams?

  • http://www.sixers.com 360vue

    This isn’t really a shock, nor is it only the NBA’s problem. Almost every single major sporting league in the world has their elite teams that won’t budge, or there is at least a distinct divide between the upper tier and the lowest tier, with teams in between occassionally steppin up for a season or two or failing only to return to the middle stack. Parity would be nice, and the NBA definitely does more than others to keep it like that, but the best coaches only want to go to certain teams, those exact same teams usually have far more spending power due to merchandise and ticketing and other sources of income allowing them to go over the cap without a moments hestitation in order to strengthen their squad, or to allow them to offer state of the art facilities and backroom staff, which gives them further appeal. Whilst the players when they get the choice, would only like to play for certain teams or certain coaches so parity is realistically an unachievable ideal.
    Teddy-the-bear is right though, its predominantly in the East where its drastically divided, were the top 16 in the L, rather than top 8 in each conf, to go into the playoffs, we would see something near a 3/4 split in favour of the West.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Tzvi Twersky

    We actually wrote recently on the parity angle idea. Doob’s posted a column on it, like three weeks ago.
    - http://www.slamonline.com/online/nba/2009/10/nba-no-balance-association/

  • black pinoy

    it would have been better if the TOP 16 teams would reach the pplayoffs regardless of their conference ..

  • vtrobot

    Granted we have the entire season and playoffs to get through, but the little glimpses so far seem to point to an epic C’s / Lakeshow Finals.

  • ab_40

    what they’re gonna have player ratings like in video games and not have team have more then a certain amount of points or something? this makes no sense. these are probably jealous GM’s who were dumb enought not to take a chance on a great older player for some scrubs. I think it’s good for the leauge to have teams that fill out arenas. the level of players has wattered down the past few years but it’s getting better now. Also because most teams are gonna open the season wit 13 players which will be better for the overal level of teams.either way I’m looking forward to this upcoming season. I wanna see Tmac make a ridiculous comeback. and I wanna see portland vs La in the confrence semis with spurs and nuggets battling it out on the other side. in the east I think Atlanta is gonna be the fourth best team. but it could also be chicago. both teams are going to get swept in the second round by either cleveland boston or orlando. I think orland even with shaq still has clevelands number. boston can beat both in a 7 game series in 6 or less games. with emphasis on can. I wonder how cleveland plays against contender this season because last year they were 2-9 vs the elite teams.

  • http://www.another48minutes.com Gerard Himself

    I agree with 360vue, nice post. And especially that the NBA shouldn’t delve into this. In a year, maybe two, everything will be different.

  • LA Huey

    unless there’s a hard cap, i don’t see how they can achieve an ideal parity. i like the system the way it is. if you’re in a bigger market, and you’re able and willing to spend, you should be allowed to do so. luxury tax is fine the way it is. just about every team in the league deserves their current situation.

  • http://realcavsfans.com Anton

    anything is possibooooooole (unless you’re on the other 25 teams)

  • riggs

    the cavs were a horrible team before bron, celtics were as well.

  • ClydeSays

    A hard cap might help, but it’s not going to stop some GM’s from spending on the wrong players, trading away Lottery picks, etc.

    Now that Isiah is gone, who is the worst GM?

  • http://www.twitter.com/JoshElam JE

    Why don’t we see how the season plays out before we start looking at this as a “problem.”

  • NUPE

    I agree a hard cap would help, but the players would never accept that. I think a main reason for the lack of parity in the NBA is that 1 or 2 players on a team can change the overall game so much. Look at what happens to Cleveland if Bron leaves or what happened to the Sixers when AI left. The best players in baseball only get up to bat 3-4 times a game. Best players in football still have to rely heavily on his teammates to complete their assignments each play. In basketball you can give the ball to your best player just about every play. Coaching matters but the players are still the key and a hard cap with other incentives for players to stay versus leave to big markets (e.g. Durant likely to leave just to get to bigger market) will help parity over time.

  • tavoris

    the New York Knicks’ decade-long suckiness completely nullifies the argument about Big Market=more money to spend on players. If a team takes the time to develop a team, they will get better. San Antonio is the best example of a team who NEVER went over the cap (except this current year-and only if they dont’ dump salary by Feb) in a small market. Portland has a good chance of doing the same, as does OKC. It really boils down to the mismanagement of franchises, and the “win now-or change everything” mentality that is all-too prevalent.

  • MooButter

    The top 8 in the West are not exponentially better than the top 8 in the East. They just have the benefit of playing four games a piece against the Kings, Thunder, Clippers, Grizzly’s, Warriors, Timberwolves. In the east, only charlotte, milwaukee, and washington are at that level and washington is likely turning that around this year. Top of East better than top of West. Middle of West better than middle of East. Bottom of East way better than bottom of West.

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    co-sign tavoris.
    this is just an attempt to get a hard cap in place. parity happens when executives make good decisions.

  • MikeC.

    @ tavoris
    The bigger market issue is usually a draw for the second-tier players, not the all-world icons like Lebron, Shaq, Kobe, etc. Those guys will be stars with fat endorsement deals and max contracts no matter where they play. The second-tier guys can cash in on endorsements in the bigger markets.
    The Knicks’ decade long wallowing in the trench of suck is due purely to mismanagement dating back to the Patrick Ewing panic trade followed by the Sprewell and Camby trades, followed by the poisonous depths of the Isiah Thomas regime. That kind of sludge could happen to any team stupid enough to hire Isiah Thomas. The downside of having wads of dough to spend allows ownership to ignore the poor spending of their GM until it’s too late. Then the team keeps digging itself deeper and deeper with more panic trades and bad signings (cough Jared Jeffries cough Zach Randolph cough). The Knicks are on the right track now, even if they whiff on Lebron, they’ll at least have the ability to take back players in lopsided trades. They’re digging sideways now. At least the hole isn’t getting deeper. Just wait until Isiah has a couple of good seasons in the NCAA, and some team will ignore the past and hire him again and he’ll destroy another fan base’s hopes and dreams. Go NBA!!!

  • JD

    Its gonna happen, its the credit crunch, some owners want to spend, others don’t, soon it will all be back to normal

  • reidar

    In my eyes the NBA teams are far too dependent of the development of a superstar/lottery pick to be stuck in a permanent seperation of top/bottom.

    Four of the five the top five teams can attribute much of their success to a very good/lucky pick and the development. (Dwight, Kobe, Lebron and Timmy D)

    Of course other pieces have to fall in place, but in my eyes the draft is what really separates the NBA from for example European soccer where you have the same teams at the top for decades such as Premier League and Primera Division.

    As long as you have the draft, all teams can make the jump relatively quickly to the top. (Just look at Cleveland)

    In other sports, such as soccer, there are teams which will not in any foreseeable future arise as an elite team. (At least not before a rich Russian comes strolling along)

  • RedRum

    huh??? that is rubish.. it was always like that. Every 15 years 2-3 players are drafted that push their teams to being powerhouses. 80s was Isiah, Magic/Kareem and Bird. 90s were taken over by MJ, with a bit of Hakeem. The last decade has been dominated by Duncan, Shaq and Kobe, though there was more parity as Celtics, Miami and Detroit won the chip, but did not define the decade, TD, Shaq and Kobe did. Next decade is Lebron, Howard, possibly Melo and Wade, with Durand. Possibly some crazy talent will come up that might overshadow them. But I completely disagree, this year you have 4-6 genuine contenders. This has not happened very often the last 20 years.. who the hell writes those articles???

  • tavoris

    Mike, I would believe that if the biggest markets were the best teams-LA is the ONLY one that fits this rule. what’s really happening is that there are 8 or 9 teams who are systematically tanking their seasons and gutting their rosters in hopes of landing Lebron, Wade, or Bosh. They’re gonna find out that 1)Lebron or Wade ain’t goin nowhere, cuz the teams that can afford to offer them max contracts aren’t better than the teams they have. 2) Bosh is ONLY interested in a Texas team, which makes Houston the likely destination with T-Macs contract expiring.

  • BIRDMAN JR

    MooButter is 100 right. This perception that the east is inferior is bull. How the hell are they inferior when only the lakers and spurs are the only team to come out of the west in the past dime years huh. While 7 teams from the east have all made it to the finals. Also the bottom of the west is putrid compared to the east. So kill that noise bout the west being better.

  • MikeC.

    @tavoris
    I completely agree with you in terms of the ‘big market myth’. The big dogs aren’t going to a big market just for the sake of playing in a big market. Lebron isn’t awed by NY and Wade flat out said he’s not going anywhere that’s cold. However, somebody from that second tier of stars who might feel a little neglected (Amare, Joe Johnson) might jump ship simply based on the recruitment and the extra love shown by the reloading teams. Amare has always felt disrespected by the Suns (god knows why), so he might go to NY just because they show him the love along with the money. The odds of NY landing Lebron are pretty low, but NY’s roster gutting has the ability to go to Plan B if they whiff on a big time F.A. NY will have the ability to take back more salary in a trade with a team looking to cut payroll. As a Knick fan, I’m not sweating Bosh unless we get Lebron or Wade first. In my opinion, Bosh is an excellent player, but he’s another KG, Vince Carter-type player. Very very good, but not quite the guy you build your entire franchise around. However, we’ve never seen him surrounded by quality, durable talent. We saw what happened when KG got to play with a couple closers and rock-solid role players. Bosh might blow up on that level (without the barking).
    I think we’re kind of arguing the same side of the point. The big market myth stays a myth as long as those big market teams hire stupid GMs and spend with no conscience. NY is building towards something. Plan A is Lebron and Wade/Bosh. Plan B is Amare and Joe Johnson(which kind of smells like a decade of finishing as a 4 seed and losing in the 2nd round). Plan C is to take advantage of teams on the brink of bankruptcy by fleecing them in trades. Isiah isn’t in charge now, so the fleecing has a 50-50 shot of being in NY’s favor. Plan D is to tank until we actually get to use some of our picks instead of watching the Bulls, Jazz and Suns draft in the lottery while making the playoffs. Eff you Isiah.

  • Steve

    Contraction is the only solution to this. There simply aren’t enough top tier players to allow 30 teams to be competitive. The draft works to a degree, see LBJ effect on Cleveland, OKC is about to go off etc … but it is a crap shoot as well. Number 1 picks … LBJ – Cleveland good, Dwight Howard – Orlando good, Andrew Bogut – Milwaukee … ummmm. If the Bucks had won the lottery in either of the years prior they would be an elite team now, if Memphis has made it over that last hurdle in the LBJ draft they would be a contender out West (Gasol wouldn’t have gone anywhere if LBJ, Melo or Wade was there). If the six cities that can least support a team like Milwaukee, Memphis and others were cut and a redistribution of players on those teams occurred the remaining 24 would produce some quality ball.

  • reidar

    Agree with Steve. In my eyes it also seems to be too many teams in the NBA at the moment… There are several teams now with little or none interesting/entertaining talent. This is of course due to tanking/preparing for 2010. However, in mye eyes, it is also due to the lack of enough talent to make 30 teams compete. When so many of the teams in the league is almost completely without quality/talent that makes them interesting to watch, I think it will hurt the league. When I talk about lack of quality, it is is of course relatively speaking. I talk about the ability to compete day in day out at the uppermost level, the NBA.

  • reidar

    Agree with Steve. In my eyes it also seems to be too many teams in the NBA at the moment… There are several teams now with little or none interesting/entertaining talent. This is of course due to tanking/preparing for 2010. However, in mye eyes, it is also due to the lack of enough talent to make 30 teams compete. When so many of the teams in the league is almost completely without quality/talent that makes them interesting to watch, I think it will hurt the league. When I talk about lack of quality, it is is of course relatively speaking. I talk about the ability to compete day in day out at the uppermost level, the NBA.

  • Dagomar

    Am I the only person who’d prefer to see five really great teams, maybe 10 good teams and a lot of crappy teams, rather than a whole bunch of mediocre teams?

  • NUPE

    I don’t think there are too many teams. If there were only 24, the same ‘issue’ would exist of having the elite teams with the elite players and then the rest of the teams. The lottery picks can really help a team, at least until the new contracts end and the player wants to go to a larger market or better system. The only reason people talk about Lebron going to NYC is because that market. Other players may wan to play somewhere because it’s there hometown or because it’s warm etc. But with things being equal, how many players would choose Memphis, OK City, Cleveland, Detroit over NY, LA, Miami? I’m just saying market matters. The fact that San Antonio chose the right type of plalyers like Duncan who’s personality is better suited to S.A. than NY was just flat out a good decison, and the salary cap rules allowed them to keep him. However, parity in the league can be improved, I just don’t think the players union is willing to accept a deal to help it happen.

  • tavoris

    i dont’ know about contraction. The teams that NEVER get on TV (Toronto, Portland, Denver, OKC) are actually 4 of the more entertaining teams in the league. The problem is that the top teams are soooooooooo stacked that their second units are often better than other teams’ first. Where a contraction isn’t necessary & a hard cap is a nightmare for the PA, a dispersal draft would do WONDERS towards fixing the parity issue.

  • http://www.slamonline.com 360vue

    @ Tavoris, I can see what you mean about NYC dispelling the myth: As in reality, as you pointed out, its about good management. But the FACT remains that you put even a decent backroom staff and coaching infrastructure in place at NYC, or another of the ‘big market’ cities and they have far beyond the potential than other clubs. Therefore, quite simply, parity isn’t achievable so no-one, especially GMs and executives, should harp on about it. Parity is a big issue in any –professional– sporting league, it’s as simple as that. Occassionally, there will be anamolies, like an exceptional draft class in which teams temporarily reverse their fortunes, but its far from permanent. Or once in a blue moon, people like Peter Holt go to a small town like San Antonio and do the perfect job.Once Holt leaves, and TD/Parker/Manu have retired, the Spurs will probably fall by the way side and be remembered for being an usurper who won 4 chips in 8 years, not as being a perennial contender which is how they are viewed at current. But these are rare examples and don’t buck the fact that if managed right, the bigger city teams should always maintain a grip on at least a playoff appearance. Its a myth that big market teams always do better, because they can be so ineptly mismanaged to reduce them to a laughstocking, which can have lasting consequences. But its a down-right truth that they have much, much more to offer the best in each employment area (players, coaches, scouts etc) if managed properly and with at least one eye on the long term.

    @MikeyC of course Lebron isn’t awed by NYC, they are the antithesis of how to run a franchise.

  • tavoris

    true, but I wouldn’t even count the Spurs out. they lost in the first round, but have been a playoff contender for most of the last two decades, despite having only TWO high draft pics-and being in a small market.

  • reidar

    Spurs is so well run it is almost impossible to use it as an example or to say something about the general state of the NBA. There are really something unique in my eyes. However, there is no denying that even they have landed only TWO high draft picks, they have been EXTREMELY lucky with both picks. Both were extraordinary talent and model professional. I would argue that those two stars are perhaps the most no nonsense and most professional stars the last two decades in the NBA. Then again, their extremely professional behaviour could maybe again be linked to the overall organisation. How knows where talents such as for example Amare Stoudamire would have been had he been taken under Spurs and Pops wings…

  • reidar

    Spurs is so well run it is almost impossible to use it as an example or to say something about the general state of the NBA. There are really something unique in my eyes. However, there is no denying that even they have landed only TWO high draft picks, they have been EXTREMELY lucky with both picks. Both were extraordinary talent and model professional. I would argue that those two stars are perhaps the most no nonsense and most professional stars the last two decades in the NBA. Then again, their extremely professional behaviour could maybe again be linked to the overall organisation. How knows where talents such as for example Amare Stoudamire would have been had he been taken under Spurs and Pops wings…

  • http://www.sixers.com 360vue

    Im not counting the Spurs out, barring a streak of cruel injuries, they are most likely contenders for the next few seasons. And if Holt and his team stick around, perhaps even longer. Although even if you’re a serious contender there’s always a prospect of a chip, I can’t see them giving TD a full hand of rings anytime soon to be honest. And eventually, TD and Manu, and then TP will have retired and considering they will probably never be in the lottery whilst they are still playing, I doubt they will get anywhere near the standard of roster they possess now; barring some exceptional trades (for all of the prowess of Holt and his management in delivering a truly effective franchise strategy, trades have never really been a highlight). Therefore, I can’t see them being real contenders after that. Which is why I said they will probably be known as a team who won 4 in 8, and even if they are, that’s still a monumental achievement. The core they have at the moment is exceptional, and it’s certainly rare to get such a talented set of players for their whole careers; and they are almost guaranteed to leave a gaping hole in the strength of the Spurs roster.

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