By the looks of things, parity is now dying in the NBA.
During recent years, the league has adopted an, "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality, as a trend has begun to develop in which superstar players have sought to team up with, rather than compete against, one another.
As a result, the gap between the strong and the weak has begun to widen, with only a few "superteams" now actually being considered to be in championship contention.
Welcome to the superteam era of the NBA.
Yet the league wasn't always like this. So how and why did it get to this point?
Precedent and Competition
In the summer of 2007, the Boston Celtics were able to negotiate trades for perennial All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Although both individuals were slightly past the peaks of their careers at the time, when combined with Paul Pierce, they made for quite a formidable trio.
In their first season together, the Celtics earned the league's best record at 66-16, made it to the 2008 NBA Finals, and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
However, their trade partners immediately suffered, with the Seattle Supersonics recording their all-time worst record at 20-64 and the Minnesota Timberwolves posting a 22-60 mark.
Clearly, the summer of 2007 marked a time when the gap between strong and weak was drastically increased.
Since then, this trend has continued to some extent, as the Celtics have maintained a high level of play, and although age and injury problems have limited them, they still managed to reach the 2010 NBA Finals in a losing effort.
Meanwhile, the Sonics moved on to become the Oklahoma City Thunder, earning a No. 8 playoff seed and first round exit in 2010 (although they do have some promise behind Kevin Durant), while the T-wolves still clamor among the NBA's worst.
Therefore, the Celtics' 2007 offseason must be considered to be rather impressive.
But if that is the case, then the Miami Heat have truly accomplished the miraculous in the summer of 2010.
Following the lead of the Celtics, the Heat were able to exceed all expectations, coming to terms with three perennial All-Stars—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh—all of whom will be playing through their primes in new six-year contracts.
And now, this Miami superteam will easily be among the league's best for the foreseeable future—and many even favor them to win it all in 2010-11.
Therefore, the precedents of the Celtics and Heat to horde loads of All-Star talent on a superteam and win (or be expected to win in the Heat's case) has proved to be an effective model of NBA success.
However, the series of transactions which constructed the Heat and reestablished the Celtics did more than just drastically improve these teams. Rather, the occurrences of the summers of 2007 and 2010 look to have league-wide effects in the future.
Following the 2010-11 NBA season, NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony is set to become a free agent—so long as he doesn't re-sign with the Denver Nuggets or gets traded first.
And following the precedents of Miami and Boston, Melo is expected to join of be joined by other members of the NBA elite.
With a number of talented players up for free agency in the next couple of years, individuals such as Chris Paul, Deron Williams, David West, Tony Parker, and many, many more are expected to consider joining up with or creating their own superteams.
Take, for example, Paul's comments at Anthony's wedding earlier this summer, when he toasted that he, Melo, and Amar'e Stoudemire would now have to combine forces for the New York Knicks in order to compete with the Heat.
And, realistically, superteams seem to be the only ones with a realistic shot at defeating the likes of the Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers—who are a superteam in their own right, with 12-time All-Star Kobe Bryant and a number of others (Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, and maybe Andrew Bynum) who would likely star on weaker teams.
Therefore, it seems like the future of the NBA will see the creation of a few more superteams, which will be able to compete with the likes of the Heat and Lakers for the NBA title.
Nevertheless, it's not just the Celtics' and Heat's precedents and other teams striving to compete with the current superteams which will be to blame for this new era in the NBA.
Instead, one must be forced to look at many of the changes in the NBA environment which have influenced attitudes between opposing players.
Throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s, the flagrant foul rules in the NBA have become more severe, being used in situations where they might not have been called previously, while punishments for violence in the NBA have drastically increased as well (especially following the infamous Malice at the Palace).
All of this has resulted in the NBA developing a significantly less-rough style of play than it has had in previous years, and consequently, with players beating on one another less frequently, there are fewer heated rivalries.
With less violence and fewer heated rivalries, opposing players are able to get along much better than they had previously.
Furthermore, since the recent rebirth of the US men's team, prior to the 2008 Olympic Games, stars from opposing teams have now begun to be teamed together for long periods of time, allowing them to enjoy playing together, while also developing significant friendships.
Therefore, when given the opportunity, many of them will likely seek to team up again in the NBA to recreate their previous successes, as was the case with James, Wade, and Bosh (and could be the case with future superteams).
With the success of superteams of the past, the expected domination of current superteams, and the NBA's friendly atmosphere between players, it is not out of line to expect a couple of superteams to take over the league in the coming years, thereby killing NBA parity.
However, this is a bad sign for the NBA, as a lack of parity throughout the league is always bad for ratings, since there will be less of an audience who will be willing to watch when either bad teams play one another or when bad teams play superteams and the outcome is a given.
More importantly, though, is the fact the a superteam era will be awful for the fans. Save for the small percentage who will be lucky enough to follow a superteam, everyone else will be forced to enter each season knowing that their team is out of contention.
Consequently, the NBA must act now, seeking to put into place more rules and regulations like the Bird Exceptions, which function to help teams hold on to their talent by allowing them to offer their players more money than the individual could receive from other teams via free agency.
Yet with a potential lockout looming, we may actually end up seeing a drastic overhaul in NBA salary cap structure.
Nevertheless, for the sake of the league, let's hope that something can be done in order to combat the potential for a superteam era, thereby effectively restoring parity and hope to fans of all NBA teams.