LeBron James: What If He Is Right About NBA Contraction?
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Now that we've all had a chance to digest and regurgitate the comments LeBron James made about “shrinking the league”—remember, he never said the C-word—maybe we can all take a moment to actually think about what his comments could mean.
Regardless of any comments he may have made trying to walk his statements back, the horse was well down the expressway before anyone considered closing the barn door. The topic of contraction has been put on the table and has drawn plenty of reaction around the league, from Kevin Love's ho-hum reaction to a couple of Memphis Grizzlies speaking of it in very real terms.
But what if LeBron's right? What if cutting a couple of teams from the NBA does make the league better? What if it makes the entire sport of basketball better?
Let's imagine James' idea that you can break up the Minnesota Timberwolves or New Jersey Nets and the domino effect it causes around the league. First, it would likely start to bring salaries back in line. As Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski correctly points out in his scathing commentary on LeBron's comments, stars like James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade deserve their salaries, while most of the league is overpaid.
There's always a chance someone will over pay for Love, Brook Lopez or Devin Harris because of either their promise or proven ability as quality contributors, if not All-Stars.
But does a guy like Troy Murphy ever approach 11 million a year again? Does this new world hold a 17 million payday for Zach Randolph? Judging by how teams dumped salaries to make cap room in advance of last summer's free agent bonanza, it's reasonable to believe that we could see it again if a guy like Michael Beasley was soon to be available.
Next, it allows the NBA to emphasis the “D” in D-League...development. The league for years has tried to create a minor league system. As more players made the leap with little or no college experience, fans complained that the game suffered as teams waited for the kids to adjust to the NBA game.
Sure, it helped open to door to more foreign players in international markets, but that's often been equally dicey. Ask Milwaukee Bucks fans who suffered through Yi Jianlian or T-Wolves fans who wonder if they'll ever see Ricky Rubio wearing the home colors.
There's little doubt that there is much more talent worldwide today than there was 25 or 30 years ago. It's silly to think David Stern and the league's owners will turn that talent away, but it's equally as silly to wreck a young player's confidence because he wasn't totally ready. It worked once with the CBA, why couldn't it work again?
In turn, maybe it forces some players to reconsider that extra year of school to improve their games and better their draft position. With a smaller number of jobs available, those late first-round picks slip to the second round and the late second-round picks could end up as free agents who could end up in the NBDL or overseas.
If one more year on a college campus could make the difference between Indiana or Israel, how many guys would opt for another Midnight Madness appearance?
Which leads to benefit number three; with fewer teams, it allows for a concentration of talent at the top level (something James was correct about). But it also gives the league the ability to take some of its underperforming markets and repackage them as D-League cities.
There are dedicated fans in Memphis and Sacramento. Don't take the game away from them, just realize that they aren't able to support a major league professional franchise.
The problem with LeBron's statement is the person it came from. With a major negotiation coming between players and owners, it hurts when one of the union's highest-profile members takes a position that strengthens the opposition.
Then again, it's not LeBron that's leading to the perception that NBA players aren't giving maximum effort. Nor is he to blame for the New Orleans' Hornets inability to remain solvent or any other such financial franchise failings. While his comments may rankle his colleagues, it doesn't mean they were wrong.
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