Let's be honest. These are the only four teams that have a realistic chance at winning the NBA Championship this June.
Let's face it. Unless you strike lightening in a bottle, (read: I think Orlando with their recent moves has an outside shot) it isn't going to happen for you. Bulls fans can claim Rose is ascending and Boozer is a nice complement, but how do you plan to get by Miami and Boston just to get out of the Eastern Conference? Same thing for the Magic, but to a lesser extent, especially if they find another big man.
In the West, if you are Dallas, even with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki, how do you plan to get by both the Lakers and the Spurs? One has to take out the other right? It may not come to that if one gets the top seed and the other is 2nd. I see Dallas in particular having Phoenix Suns-like frustration that we've seen just about every post-season with San Antonio in particular. Always one player away.
Just like the Carolina Panthers are always one big play receiver short to complement Steve Smith, the Mavericks need a legit No. 2 (Carmelo Anthony?) just to be sure they get by San Antonio, or more likely the Lakers and that speaks nothing of the Finals themselves.
The NBA used to be a 6 city league: San Antonio, LA, Boston, Detroit, Houston, and Chicago as these 6 cities have rotated every championship outside of Philadelphia (1982) and Miami (2006) in the last 30 years - look it up.
It's actually gotten worse (see the four cities above).
That says something terrible about your league and is the number one reason the NBA needs to have a good, long, embarrassing, lockout and shouldn't come back until they have all their problems fixed.
The NBA has an image problem and an identity problem and that is, outside of these select cities, the fans in the other places know their team outside of a miracle run, has no shot at winning come June. I always use the analogy in baseball of how I'd like to see similar parity:
"Are you going to watch the World Series this year?"
While these are all obviously un-compitative teams now in MLB, at one time (the 1980s) they were all actually competitive just like the NBA wasn't as lopsided as it is now when the Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Portland Trailblazers, and Seattle Sonics all had decent chances at winning a ring.
Everyone likes to think it was just the Celtics vs. Lakers every year (because it was) but there were some very good Bucks and Sixers teams that kept getting beat by Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals or Semi Finals. We just never got to see the variety we were robbed of.
In that same regard of you aren't out until you prove it on the field, imagine an NBA Finals of Oklahoma City vs. Orlando or an equal chance of Sacramento vs. Philadelphia or Minnesota vs. Washington.
1. Look at the NHL as a model (after it locked out)
Another comparison I always use is the NHL and the Detroit Red Wings. Since the 2004-05 lockout the Detroit Red Wings, winners of 4 of the past 13 Stanley Cups have continued to stay competitive, continued to stay one step ahead of everyone else, even though they've won "only" one Cup since the league's new look.
The only problem is, unlike the New York Yankees, to which they are the NHL's version, I don't have as much a problem with them winning because at least they are doing it under the same playing field: a salary cap and a salary floor. They just happen to do it better than most other teams but even still, it's no lock they are in the Finals every year. The NBA needs to copy this.
At the beginning of this year I could tell you the following markets had no chance and by no chance, this time I mean at even qualifying for the playoffs: Minnesota Timberwolves, LA Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, New Jersey Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and Cleveland Cavaliers. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/499510-2010-11-nba-predictions-and-postseason-awards-cakewalk-for-lakers
That's 10 teams or 1/3 of the league for those of you keeping score at home. Based on my picks and the standings as we know them now, its predictably sad that I wasn't that far off.
2. Also use the NFL "hard cap" as a guide.
Many fans, like me, of small market clubs, such as the Timberwolves, are afraid a hard cap would be a detriment in disguse. "Be careful what you wish for" they warn. We are just looking for ways to keep players like Kevin Love from hitting the market and being outbid by the larger markets. Well, an NFL-style "franchise tag" would allow these clubs to keep one player from using this.
For those of you thinking "They already have this, its called "Bird Rights" which allow a team to go over the cap to keep their own player" it would have to be limited, maybe no more than once every other year or something as there has to be a way to break up a team like the Lakers and prevent them from using staggered contracts to keep a pletora of height in Gasol, Bynum, and Odom all at the F/C spot.
Creativity would force the breaking up of this trio and while we all know Bynum would be the odd man out due to his inability to stay healthy and also his impact is least of the three, even Laker fans would cry foul that this is hurting their depth should one of the other two get hurt.
Using LeBron's jerk contraction argument: "Imagine Kevin Love somewhere else" I argue "Imagine Andrew Bynum suddenly on the Minnesota Timberwolves or Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers would now have Collison at PG, Granger at PF and a still young Andrew Bynum to market to their dwindling fan base. In a league obsessed with "super teams" (did you see the one about Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose forming such a team in OKC?) http://nba-facts-and-rumors.blogs.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/entry/22748484/26846870
But regardless of what happens, the NBA's "super teams" need to be broken up and better yet, never allow to be got off the ground in the first place. The NBA will truly be popular when we all have a chance.
3. Break up the "super teams"
Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul have discussed their desire to form such a team in NY with Amar'e Stoudemire this offseason but if they had better talent in their current places they wouldn't have any reason or want to leave. Remember Jordan saying he'd never have thought about teaming up with Bird or Magic? The NBA needs to get back to this mentality.
Imagine Gasol teaming with Trevor Ariza, David West, and Paul on the New Orleans Hornets. Now would Paul leave? Of course not.
Imagine if the Heat had to choose between Bosh or James (of course they would choose LeBron) and instead Bosh stays with Toronto giving them 1/3 a pillar since it takes 3 stars to succeed anyway) and Gasol joins him or Paul Pierce joins him since Boston can't afford all of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo too.
Could a Bosh-Bargnani-Pierce team do anything long term? No, but at least it makes the playoffs and thats a start. From there, who knows with no super teams or dynasties. The NBA needs to get like the NFL where every team has a chance before they screw it up on the field that is, like the Detroit Lions, to theorhetically make the playoffs each year.
Imagine a San Antonio Spurs team that has no Manu Ginobli since he was just cut like so many veteran cap casualies on NFL's cut down day. Imagine him going to the Milwaukee Bucks. Such a move with Bogut and Jennings would give them a nice "Big 3" on which to win the Central Division and with it a 3 seed at worst and thus, a real shot but better yet, a welcome change from the same recycled franchises.
Hey if the Lakers, Celtics, and Spurs continued to thrive now despite the odds, more power to them but a least the Hornets (Gasol), Raptors (Bosh and Pierce) and Bucks (Ginobli) would now have a chance.
4. Enforce an NFL-like 3 year removal from high school rule
The NBA is rumored to be wanting to go back to letting 18 year old kids straight out of high school back into the league. They couldn't be more backwards on this. Not only are 18-year-olds incredible franchise gamble that rarely works out outside of Kobe, KG, and Jermaine O'Neal but the more time you have to evaluate a player the more likely he won't be a bust when you do draft him.
I dont know about you, but I like the 1-year requirement in college. Not only does it at least force a kid to get accepted into a school even if its one-and-done, but we get a season to see him in March Madness and thus are aware of him by the time he's drafted so we can get excited about his chances at joining our team potentially.
I didn't know who Kyrie Irving or Jarrod Sullinger were prior to this year but thanks to the system, I now know these are three stud freshmen who likely will be the top 3 picks in June's draft. Should the Kings, Wolves, and Nets keep their current projections and actually draft any of them, their fans should rest easy knowing they got a nice player on which to build.
But it doesn't stop there. We got to see John Wall, Mike Conley Jr, Tyreke Evans, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, and Kevin Durant in recent years, none of whom would have been in college if not for the rule. Now we have those memories and an informed decision when drafting them because we got to see them play against better competition.
But we wouldn't have known this without the rule. If we had more years, we'd likely see deeper drafts since talent would be required to stay in school longer, thus the likelihood of teams turning around quicker would be greater. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale went to four years of school, lets get back to that.
For example, had players been required to stay in school 3 years like the NFL, not only may you have an Andrew Luck situation every now and then where a player actually stays in school a bit longer to complete his degree, but with a deeper draft, considering John Wall, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins would only be sophomore's and thus ineligible (but what a preview of next year!) and Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Brandon Jennings, Blake Griffin, Kemba Walker, and Tyreke Evans would only be rookies now.
5. Allow the team with the worst record to get the top pick (and so on based on record)
If you are tired of the NFL references, the reason it keeps coming back to that is, outside of the rookie pay scale, it reallty is the perfect, flawless league and one every other league should model. Fans and owners worry about being rewarded for tanking but I gurantee you, two straight years of the Wolves at the bottom and you wouldn't see a franchise like that there for a very long time.
Thats because in the last two drafts they'd have got Blake Griffin in 2009 and John Wall this year. With a Love-Griffin-Wall nucleus can't you see how much faster that team would improve not to mention the buzz and excitement generated across the league of their potential?
The reason people love the NFL is in theory, you can turn it around in 2 years or less with numerous cases.
6. Increase revenue sharing
The NBA has a bogus MLB-like "luxary tax," which, like the Yankee$ in baseball, I imagine only the big clubs like Los Angeles pay and when they do $5 million here and there, what do they care if that cost is the price of keeping one Lamar Odom?
Last year, the NBA split only $54 million among the 30 teams since this was the amount in violation of the tax. $54M/30 = $1.8M per team, or basically, not enough to make a difference. http://www.nba.com/2010/news/11/17/labor-primer/index.html
7. Remove the NBA lottery from being done behind closed doors
This is the major criticism of teams getting "screwed over" in the draft behind closed doors. If hometown kid Rose goes to Chicago with a 1.6% chance, so be it. But as it is now, its all speculation and controversy.
If you have nothing to hide, do it out in the open where at least fans can rest easy knowing its the luck of the draw. At least eliminate the feeling that deals are being done to put players in certain markets.
If a lockout takes a season or two lost, fine. Do it. Just don't come back until it's fixed and no longer a biased joke that it is now.
Information from ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, and NBA.com directly contributed to the content of this article.