Despite any allusions to the contrary, the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement will do very little to create a sense of parity in the league. If anything, it may be fostering an environment that spawns the creation of what many are now referring to as "super-teams."
Unfortunately, there isn't much to offer in terms of condolences to the fans of most NBA franchises. Because, as Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote last month, "super teams are the order of the day...get used to this era."
The NBA will always be a superstar-driven league, and there's nothing that any collective bargaining agreement can do to stop that. Unlike every other major sport here in the United States, the success (and failure) of an NBA team is directly correlated to the production of its best players.
C.C. Sabathia can go winless for the rest of the season, and the New York Yankees would be just fine. LeSean McCoy could run for 600 yards next year, and the Philadelphia Eagles still might make a run at the Super Bowl. But when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the first game of the Eastern Conference Playoffs last season, we all knew that the Chicago Bulls were free to begin planning their summer vacations.
The problem, of course, lies in the fact that many of the league's best players are clustered on a handful of teams. In some cities, it happened naturally (Oklahoma City). In others, it happened thanks to shrewd moves by the team's front office (Los Angeles, Boston). And in a very special case, a group of friends simply wanted to play together after forming a bond at the 2006 World Championships (Miami).
A hard salary cap would go a long way in facilitating a more natural distribution of talent, but the players' union is vehemently opposed to such a measure. So instead, we live in a world with a soft cap and an even softer promise that the CBA—and its revenue sharing provision—will somehow make the Charlotte Bobcats and the Sacramento Kings more competitive.
Sure, there will be steep penalties for those franchises that exceed the luxury tax threshold, but most of those teams will merely accept the fine as the cost of doing business. With the Los Angeles Lakers having recently signed a local TV rights deal worth $200 million per year, a $30-40 million luxury tax won't dissuade them from acquiring high-priced (and presumably, high-skilled) talent whenever possible.
It isn't as if small-market teams are completely uncompetitive: Oklahoma City's recent success flies in the face of that argument. But the day of reckoning for the Thunder will come on July 1, 2013 when two of its stars—shooting guard James Harden and power forward Serge Ibaka—become eligible to cash in as restricted free agents.
Both players will likely be offered max deals by other teams, and the Thunder—a franchise located in the nation's 43rd-biggest market—will be hard pressed to match the two contracts due to financial considerations.
In the wake of the Chris Paul near-trade to the Los Angeles Lakers last December, Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert sent an e-mail to commissioner David Stern decrying the current state of the NBA.
"When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?" wrote Gilbert, expressing his frustration—and the frustration of many fellow owners—at a deal that would ultimately be vetoed.
In an ironic turn of events, 25 of the NBA's 30 teams approved the league's new collective bargaining agreement that very same day. So while many owners were still seething over the possibility of a super team forming in LA, they signed a 10-year pact that made it easier for similar situations to occur in the future.
With both sides able to opt out of the CBA in five years, and with the NBA's super team era just beginning to take shape, don't be surprised to see the league and the players' association back at the bargaining table in the summer of 2017.
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