Is LeBron James Playing Mr. Grinch with Talk of Contraction?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst IDecember 25, 2010

LeBron James - Mr. Grinch?
LeBron James - Mr. Grinch?Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

LeBron James gave NBA fans something to savor and enjoy on Christmas Eve, the thought of the league contracting several teams.

“Hopefully the league can figure out one way where it can go back to the ‘80s where you had three or four All-Stars, three or four superstars, three or four Hall of Fames on the same team,” James said.  “The league was great.  It wasn’t as watered down as it is [now].”

King James not being bashful, further expanding upon his idea of how the league might go about the task of contraction.

“Imagine if you could take Kevin Love off Minnesota and add him to another team and you shrink the [league].  Looking at some of the teams that aren’t that great, you take Brook Lopez or you take Devin Harris off these teams that aren’t that good right now and you add him to a team that could be really good.”

LeBron in making his comments was careful to stop short of saying that if he was in favor of contracting with franchise. 

“Not saying let’s take New Jersey and let’s take Minnesota out of the league.  But hey, you guys are not stupid, I’m not stupid, it would be great for the league.”

Hmm, on second thought maybe LeBron was suggesting contracting the Nets and the Timberwolves. 

Moreover, I wonder if Jay-Z still believes that James was serious about bringing his talents to Atlantic City.

All kidding aside, James comments about reducing the number of teams in the NBA will resonate with some basketball fans that believe that NBA should give serious consideration to contraction.

Proponents of contraction will point out that there are too many teams in the league that don’t have enough talent on their team to win on a consistent basis.

Currently there are ten teams in the NBA that have ten or fewer victories on the season which means those teams win less than 35 percent of the games they play.

How can you claim to have a quality product for your fan base if a third of the teams only win a third of their games? 

The fans of the teams that are watching their favorite squad struggle to win 35 percent of their games can’t be counted on to consistently support their team.

If you look at the franchises that are struggling to draw fans, the franchises with ten or fewer victories are generally the ones having difficulty drawing fans.

Proponents of contraction will also point out the dilution is so prevalent that you have teams qualifying for post season play that really have no business getting into the playoffs.

Six of the ten teams that have ten or fewer victories play in the Eastern Conference.  As a result, these teams despite their incredibly slow start are still very much in the playoff picture.

If the playoffs were to begin today, the final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs would be filled with teams with losing records.

Proponents for contraction will ask how can the NBA have playoff teams with losing records and believe that fans will enjoy the product.

Clearly, such a model should be subject to scorn and ridicule; don’t all sports fans consider it a joke that the NFL may have a team make the playoffs this year from the NFC West with a losing record?

LeBron is right, the NBA has a watered down product in that several teams have no realistic chance of competing for an NBA Championship. 

The four teams in the Western Conference (Warriors, Kings, Clippers and Timberwolves) that have won ten or fewer games so far this year have no realistic chance of making the playoffs. 

While the six teams in the Eastern Conference have won at least ten games have a chance of making the playoffs, none of those teams if they do make the playoffs will shock the world this year by beating the Celtics or Heat in the first round in the playoffs.

James is also right that the teams with ten or fewer wins do not have at least three bona fide players that have the talent to be an all-star; most of the bottom feeders in the NBA have only one star, there are a few teams with two players that have the talent to be an all-star.

LeBron however is also wrong.

The NBA isn’t any more watered down than the league has been in the past.

The NBA this year is no different than what the league has always been, a league in which after the first opening tip of the year only a handful of teams have a chance to win it all.

In looking at the final NBA standings from 1990-91, we saw 11 of the 27 teams finish the season winning no more than 31 games or a winning percentage of less than 38 percent. 

During the same season, only eight teams won more than 50 games or had a winning percentage of at least 60 percent.

Only two teams won more than 60 games, the Portland Trailblazers won 63 games and Chicago Bulls won 61 games. 

At the other end of the spectrum, the worst team in the league the Denver Nuggets only won 20 games.

During the playoffs, fans saw five series sweeps.  The Bulls were dominant in the playoffs losing only 2 games in winning the Championship.

In the 1995-96 NBA season, eight of the 29 teams finished with 30 or fewer wins or with a winning percentage no better than 37 percent.  The Boston Celtics finished just above the cut with 33 wins.

The Vancouver Grizzlies won only 15 games and the Philadelphia 76ers managed just 18 wins on the season.

In looking at the records of the playoff teams, we see that only seven teams won more than 50 games. The Chicago Bulls paced the league with an NBA record 72 wins and the Seattle Supersonics finished with 64 wins.

NBA fans during the playoffs likely experienced déjà vu as there were five series sweeps and the Bulls dominated the playoffs losing only three games before hoisting the Championship trophy.

In the 2001 NBA season, nine 0f the 29 teams in the NBA finished with 32 or fewer wins.  The Chicago Bulls had now fallen from their lofty heights and now were saddled with the worst record in the NBA with a paltry 15 wins. 

While ten teams finished with 50 or more wins; no NBA team finished with 60 or more wins. 

Again the playoffs felt familiar for NBA fans as they saw five sweeps and the Los Angeles Lakers win the crown by losing only one game during the playoffs.

The 2005-06 NBA season was one of the more balanced seasons in the history of the NBA.

Five of the 30 teams finished with less than 32 wins.  However, five more teams finished with either 33 or 34 wins during the season.

Among the playoff teams, six teams finished with just 50 wins.  The Detroit Pistons led the league with 64 wins; the San Antonio Spurs finished with 63 wins and Dallas Mavericks won 60 games.

Sweeps were not as prevalent during the 2005-06 playoffs and no team truly dominated the post season.

In the minds of most NBA fans, that season would not constitute the glory days of the league.

The NBA formula for success has been that there are a few teams each season that have the ability to win it all.  Generally, the two teams that are among the handful of teams capable of winning it all are the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.

However, NBA fans don’t need to have the Lakers and Celtics be the frontrunners. 

The NBA generally does well with the two storied franchises in the mix not because the Lakers and Celtics have a passionate fan base but because they have just as many fans who detest them with equal gusto.

The love and hate for the Lakers and Celtics is analogous to the feelings baseball fans have toward the New York Yankees; if you are a baseball fan you typically either love or hate the Yankees.

This season is playing out like the typical NBA season. 

The Lakers and Celtics have teams capable of winning it all. 

There are only a handful of teams in the league that can win it all and we will have about eight to ten teams in the NBA winning more than 50 games. 

The bottom third of the teams in the league will win around 37 percent of their games.

Finally, the last place team in the league will win about 15-20 games.

Yes, LeBron is right that the league is watered down. 

However, James is wrong about the need for contraction in the NBA.

This year is no different than any other year in the league. 

While fans of the Timberwolves, Nets, Clippers, Wizards, Kings and Cavaliers are likely to grouse this winter about what their favorite team is doing wrong. 

None of the fans rooting for the basement dwellers have conceded that their cause is entire hopeless and that they are ready to throw in the white flag.

Sorry Mr. Grinch, we still believe in Christmas.