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How to Restore Competitive Balance to the NBA

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Dwight Howard greets fans after he was introduced as the newest member of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers aquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterAugust 20, 2012

It is quite difficult to make the NBA "balanced." There are five players on the court, and an elite talent tends to tilt the board in his team's favor. Also, there are only so many elite talents out there (hence the term "elite").

When the Cleveland Cavaliers had LeBron James, they could win 60 games with about as bad a supporting cast as a GM could fashion. Even before their short-lived elite status, the Cavs made an NBA Finals via LeBron making his teammates look unneeded:

James isn't the only example of this. The Hornets could make a postseason with Chris Paul and four tackling dummies. The Lakers made the 2006 playoffs with Kobe and Lamar. The Lakers weren't title worthy between Shaq and Gasol, but they were at least good enough to produce memories:

Until we can clone our superstars, most of the league is going to be out of luck. So this is hopeless, right? There's absolutely no way to even the scales? 

Not so fast! As ESPN's Henry Abbott details, there is a methodology for parity, one the NBA simply doesn't want to roll with:

Let star players earn way more. That's the solution. The Lakers are routinely used as the example of a team that outspends rivals. If Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in their primes could both have earned their worth, not even the mighty Lakers would have been able to afford them both, and they would have made two teams really good instead of one team a three-time champion.

If the NBA wishes to maintain a salary cap, a nixing of the max contract would enable more parity. Teams would have to spend at near cap-level just to get someone like LeBron James or Dwight Howard. Under the current rules, the "max" restriction means that teams only have to pay superstars roughly one-third of the salary cap.

That max restriction is why Miami can put a "big three" together and why the Lakers can load up on huge names. It's also why the Thunder might be able to pull off re-signing their "big four." 

I don't personally want or like parity, but this is the way to accomplish that supposed goal. No more superstar pairings, a better distribution of elite talent around the league. A restriction like this would make more teams look like Chris Paul prior to his Clippers trade, LeBron prior to his "Decision."

This would restore competitive balance to the NBA and make handicapping the field all the more confusing. Right now, it would appear that four, possibly five teams have shots at winning the title. 

But what if LeBron were the only superstar in Miami? What if Dwight were stuck in Orlando? What if the Thunder had to keep only Kevin Durant, leaving two other teams to get Russell Westbrook and James Harden?

Suddenly, the field of title teams expands, though the quality of play from those title teams decreases. The NBA could have pushed for this, but it wouldn't dare. Why? Because, even if you complain about superteams, you tune in to watch them. The league would rather not put a salary cap on your interest. 

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