NBA Free Agency 2012: Why Super Teams Are Great for the NBA
Remember, way back in 2010, back when people were complaining about the growth of superteams? It wasn't that they were jealous of Miami, so they claimed. It wasn't that LeBron James had angered them with a silly TV special. It was that there was a halcyon age of organic teams, squads that sprouted up slowly like a nurtured plant.
This was completely false, as hastily-organized superteams have dominated the NBA for some time. Even some of those oft-cited old teams essentially became super once they drafted Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. There is a finite amount of elite talent in this league, and elite talent has quite the impact. "Building" a contender is sometimes as simple as pairing one elite talent with another.
One day, Shaq signed with the Lakers. One day, the Spurs selected Tim Duncan. One day, the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett. And yes, one day, the Miami Heat signed LeBron James. The history of the league is marked by big, dramatic moments. Creating a contender isn't at all like working on a methodical puzzle—it's like buying an already built puzzle.
This is good. This is exciting. I take no issue with the superteam model at all. Those who complain about the NBA's have-nots are essentially just making an argument for contraction. So, only five teams in a given year have hope for a title? This is less an argument for spreading talent around than it is for reducing the number of teams.
Why is it less an argument for spreading talent around? Well, because you can never spread enough talent. The Cleveland Cavaliers were guaranteed a playoff spot with LeBron James and a tree stump. They didn't need anybody else, just LeBron. Sure, those other players contributed to the notion that Cleveland should win something, but James' exit revealed the club for the talentless lottery club that it was.
There just aren't a whole lot of LeBrons out there. Even if you dispersed the All-Stars, 24 of them on 24 teams, you would still concoct a scenario where a LeBron-led squad would contend. Actually, in this hypothetical, the LeBron team would have a much easier path getting to the trophy than the Heat or Cavs ever did. There would be nothing like Miami's Oklahoma City impediment. Those Big Three Celtic teams would never have stood in LeBron's way.
More to the point, the league would be boring if talent was so dispersed. Basketball is a beautiful, glamorous game. The casual (and ardent) fan is drawn to the superteams. Unlike baseball, basketball's superteams are alluringly interactive. When the Yankees have a loaded lineup, there is no interplay between the second and fourth batters. When the Miami Heat feature LeBron and Dwyane Wade, the two combine for ruthlessly beautiful fast breaks.
So dispersing talent is a futile, fool's errand, and combining top talent leads to cool fast breaks. This is reductive, but it sums up my opinion on the issue. I don't see the value in possibly expanding from five to say, seven or eight contending teams. I do see the value in aggregating what few elite talents we have into majestic experiments.
Take the current Dwight Howard situation. What is more interesting: Howard plodding into oblivion on a terrible Magic team, or Howard vaulting a stacked team into contention? Specifically, Howard on the Brooklyn Nets would be fun. Suddenly, the Heat would have a true Eastern Conference rival, and we'd get to see how a Deron-Dwight pick and roll looks on the big stage. We've traded two boring basketball teams (Orlando, Brooklyn) for an exciting one.
If that's not your pace, then what of Howard to the Lakers? Suddenly, we get to see Andrew Bynum out on his own, unburdened by Kobe's constant shooting. Can Bynum be a superstar on his own? Also, we get to see the Lakers transform into perhaps even a title favorite. The Heat would get a Western Conference rival; LeBron vs. Kobe could happen in the finals. Also, a Thunder-Lakers Western Conference finals would make for some damned good television.
The creation of superteams corresponds with the creation of intrigue. Hate them or love them, they're good for the league.
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