NBA and Contraction: Timberwolves, Memphis, Toronto, New Orleans In Jeopardy?
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Growing up my dad used to tell me that with escalating player salaries, which were out of control back then, he'd like to see each league shut down "for a year or two" to straighten everything out. He also said that if players would play for "only" $500,000 to $1 million a year, "you'd have no problem finding enough people who wanted to play for that."
I told him I disagreed on both parts, but after we've seen the NHL lose a season to a strike, I guess anything is possible. If anything baseball needs to strike for at least a season and get an NFL-style salary cap and floor, but because of the powerful players' union, this will never happen—at least not on puppet Bud Selig's watch. Still, that's another article for another day.
Before blasting the NBA, let's look at a few things they've done right since their last lockout/CBA:
1. Cap on Player Contracts in Terms of Years/Dollars
Before this version of the NBA, you had nice, but not superstar players like Antonio McDyess (of the Nuggets) and Antoine Walker (of Boston) getting crazy near-$100 million contracts or more.
No, Shawn Kemp formerly of the Cleveland Cavaliers, I didn't forget you.......besides them, we can thank Shaquille O'Neal for ripping the hearts out of Magic fans by taking $8M more ($115M vs. $123M) and going to L.A. and shifting the balance of power and almost killing a franchise.
Now, even Kobe Bryant is limited on the length (seven years) and number of dollars he can accept at any extension. At this point in his career, he's doing the add-on "three years at a time" route, which essentially is a career contract since he's never going anywhere else anyway, obviously.
2. Larry Bird Rights
Another one of the incentive ploys designed to keep a player with his original team (like the above). Basically, its a "soft cap" aka BS "luxury tax" like Major League Baseball has. A team can go over the cap (see L.A Lakers, Miami Heat) as ways to get around this so-called rule.
Do you think these elitist franchises give a damn about playing a few extra millions of dollars if they (Lakers) can basically cheat the system and re-sign Lamar Odom to a "cap-friendly" extension like they did prior to last season? Or the sneaky-but-legal way the Heat were able to keep Udonis Haslem despite signing the two mercenaries Crybaby Bosh—aka the third wheel—and LeBron?
This is the area most in need of changing the next time around. If the league had an NBA-style hard-cap not only would the controversial Heat deal-with-the-Devil never been allowed to happen, but there would also be no room for "super teams" and these dynasty teams like LA. would actually have to cut players.
Can you say "Goodbye Farmar/Walton/ and/or Vujacic and with that, your depth?" Also, adios one of Andrew Bynum/Odom and Pau Gasol? Suddenly, these new-look Lakers aren't so tough.
One cool thing the Bird Rights did was allow the mid-level ($5.85M this year) and lower-level exceptions. Great teams like the Lakers, Pistons and Spurs use this masterfully to add that one final piece/veteran to stay on top like a Nick Van Exel, Michael Finley or McDyess himself.
The last thing they did right that applies under this rule is the "sign and trade" which MLB—and all other pro-leagues for that matter—would be wise to adopt. Basically, in baseball this is the July 31 trading deadline where you get as much as you can.
But can you imagine if the Texas Rangers were able to use future Yankee Cliff Lee for the remainder of the season, win the World Series and then trade him to the New York Yankee$, where we all know he's headed since they don't have these rules?
I'm envisioning a starting package of Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes, David Robertson or Dustin Mosley, and a first-round pick, once MLB strikes and they allow this needed rule post-lockout) for Lee who gets his ma$$ive deal with New York to become just another mark for them.
3. Rookie Salary Scale
NFL, look at this for exhibit A as one of the few things you do wrong.
Now let's look at what they have done wrong:
1. It's Basically a Six-Team League
Chicago (6), Detroit (3), LA Lakers (9), San Antonio Spurs (4), Houston Rockets (2) and Boston Celtics (4) have won 28 of the last 30 championships, with the exception of 1982 (Philadelphia) and 2006 (Miami). Talk about identity crisis for your league if six cities are basically swapping the trophy every other year.
How are Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indiana, Atlanta, Sacramento or New Orleans and fans of those teams supposed to feel good about this season? What do they have to look forward to, honestly? It's over even before a single game is played.
To no one's surprise, these are a few of the exact teams that have been rumored for possible contraction as reported yesterday. As a fan of the Timberwolves, this would be going on just nine years after the Minnesota Twins were threatened, and I've said since that day in 2001, "I'd rather be the worst team in the league, year in and year, out, basically the L.A Clippers of MLB than have no team at all. I hope I never have to actually defend that," but apparently I soon will.
2. NBA "Super Teams"
While this has brought the most chatter from casual NBA fans like myself in a lone offseason and how the 2010 Free Agent spree basically delivered the most hype in years, with a few surprises, but overall it's not good for the league for the above reasons.
While I look forward to Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul on a relevant Knicks team to go along with Amar'e Stoudemire, I do so only because someone will have to stop the Lakers and Heat. I'm basically cheering for New York's revival for all the wrong reasons.
While I don't look forward to ESPN SportsCenter basically becoming "all Knicks, all the time" and more of an extension of the Yes! Network than it already is, this overrated team hasn't won a title since 1973.
And one or two well-placed rings isn't going to cause me to cry foul and confuse them for the truly Evil Yankee$. I do believe that a good Knicks club would be good for the league, as long as it's not overkill. But as long as the Heat and Lakers are allowed to exist, how can they?
This "super team" idea, as cool as it is, only works if you live or are a fan of those markets. Every title a Carmelo-Paul-Stoudemire trio wins is one less for smug Kobe or sellout LeBron. And at least, its in a new city.
While Orlando, Chicago, Boston, LA, Miami and soon New York is more parity than we are used to in the NBA, it's still just the six-team circus I opened this article with, just the cities are wearing different hats with the Knicks replacing the old Spurs and Orlando doing their best Pistons impression.
This concept alone, I think caught even elf David Stern by surprise and backfired the Bird rules so much, if the NBA does lockout, which is now necessary more than ever, this will be exhibit A as to why.
So Who's Going To Get Contracted and Why?
Even before reading any of the possible targets a few came to mind as the "first four out" NCAA type of deal:
1. New Orleans
Once they lose Paul, they have no reason to exist anymore—literally. Their window with West, Paul and Stojakovic closed when Paul got hurt, and now he's just bitter and biding his time.
Hurricane Katrina also killed any chance this team had to develop a base. The city adopted the tiring Saints, but they refused to take its little brother franchise. Sad.
I was pulling for this team, the former Charlotte Hornets to move to Kentucky, play at the proposed "KFC Bucket" arena (seriously, look it up) and be called the Kernels. We may get that chance, if they survive.
Don't forget this team traded its heart from their playoff run, Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor, in a salary dump move. Also, lost James Posey for similar reasons.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
Despite now having a somewhat competitive and rising team of young players, the fact remains they play in a college town where they will always be second fiddle. While it was a good try by the NBA to save the failed Vancouver Grizzlies, it hasn't worked, as evidenced by their attendance and stagnant records.
They also play in the NBA's smallest market, the Witness Protection Program of the NBA where NBA free agents don't want to live with a city surprisingly with little to offer to the NBA fan or player.
3. Toronto Raptors
Is anyone as surprised as me that they made it this long? Surely, losing tag-along Baby Bosh will be the final nail for this team if the league doesn't lock out. Why no one is talking of this team and possibility is beyond me.
No one wants to live in a foreign country is reason No. 1 free agents won't go there, next is the weather, and third, like Memphis, there is limited marketability which the NBA is driven upon, moreso than any other league.
4. Charlotte Bobcats
Just by coincidence my list includes two Eastern teams and two from the West, which should make this whole realignment this easier which I will include next. Charlotte was sold by former BET founder Robert Johnson for $175M to Michael Jordan, after he (Johnson) paid $300M for it pre-2004 when they were founded.
They can't keep free agents and did anyone notice how they traded all their draft picks prior to selecting this year, so they didn't have to pay them? Hmmmm.
These four I think are the most endangered with a few on the "next to go" watch list:
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
Weather issues hurt them, small market, lack of success outside of 2004, perceived marketability issues (although Kevin Garnett busted that myth) but basically a labeled failed franchise. I hope we survive, but without help, I just don't see how.
6. Sacramento Kings
More of a candidate for relocation (Las Vegas) than actual contraction, but it won't surprise me, now. They can't get a new arena, which is perhaps needed more than anywhere else in the league, and have ownership issues.
7. Indiana Pacers
No way would basketball haven Indiana be in trouble, right? Like Memphis, Hoosiers only care about college ball, at least that's first on their minds. Throw in the fact the team is rarely if ever profitable and sucks now with just Danny Granger and Darren Collison as real players. And it could so be over unless Reggie Miller coaches or buys the team or something. To that, you heard it here first if it does!
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
Without LeBron, does Gilbert cut and run before he's the next Johnson? What incentive do they have now to exist? It's 1970s all over again!
Jury Is Still Out
Oklahoma City, Golden State, Detroit Pistons. We know the OKC is everyone's darling now and Durant re-signing probably saved that team, but what if Westbrook leaves in free agency or gets hurt? What about Jeff Green? If they suck in a few years, does the novelty wear off?
Golden State is currently getting sold, but they are outside owners. The team sucks forever. Why should it last treading water at 27-33 wins each year?
Detroit Pistons? I think their three titles will save them, much like the Twins in baseball in 2001 with their two. But they really suck now with no marketable players. Wouldn't shock me—Detroit is a dying city and Michigan, too.
2012-13 NBA Re-alignment
Philadelphia, Boston, New York, New Jersey, Washington (really I've got nowhere else to put them and MLB has the four-team AL West, which makes no sense either)
Chicago, Cleveland (for now), Detroit, Milwaukee (can you say "cake walk" for Chicago?)
Indiana (for now), Miami, Orlando, Atlanta
Minnesota (on life support), Portland, Denver, Utah, (wouldn't shock me if they left)
San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City, (that's one tough division, the NFC East of the NBA!)
Lakers, Clippers, Kings (for now) Suns, Warriors
Don't be shocked if a one-team city like Salt Lake is someday in trouble or Denver once they lose Carmelo. I think they'd start with four, then threaten a "second phase" if necessary.
What's really sad is how it could come this, when even the inept NHL avoided it, lockout and all, and it appears more viable there with the Southern franchises in a mess as always.
Still, without help, the NBA is going to look drastically different in a few years when the league blows up and starts over. I am hoping that change comes first at the top when the greedy and corrupt elf David Stern, the worst commissioner in all of sports is finally replaced.
Maybe then the NBA will get some of its image back and casual fans like me, who want to come back will stay there, provided we have actual teams to come back to in our cities.
Information from ESPN.com and CBS Sportsline directly contributed to the content of this article.
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