In an perfect world NBA teams would enjoy equal opportunities to play for a title, since draft and free agency were conceived to prevent the same teams to win it all year after year creating dynasties. However, today’s transactions surely did not maintain some principles of equity that the league intended to preserve.
The draft was designed to give the worst teams the opportunity to sign the best college players. Free agency was brought in to create numerous roster moves, stopping franchises from locking their superstars for their entire careers, allowing other teams to play them.
The situation, from the past dynasties to the present competition, didn’t change that much. Only 15 to 20 percent of the league's franchises really can reach an NBA title. Now and then.
Nowadays many teams simply can’t keep their former high draft choices from signing elsewhere. Players easily capture the opportunity to win a title dressing other uniforms or desiring bigger markets' exposure. These teams are starting to morph into temporary accommodations: Many players usually cash in for the first four or five years of their professional career and since no title horizons open up, they begin to test the market forcing for a trade.
There is no equity in the NBA, since any team can spend over the salary cap paying the infamous luxury tax, so the past concepts don’t change: if you have the necessary money you can buy the biggest superstars available and the equity that salary cap was supposed to maintain is nowhere to be found. And the teams that win it all are pretty much the same.
Just as an example, teams from the Eighties could afford a losing season or two, rebuild fast by picking the franchise player of the next decade and contend almost every year or even winning multiple Championships. It happened to Chicago with MJ, to Houston with Olajuwon, to the Lakers and Boston with the Magic vs Bird rivalry.
Those players rewrote many pages on their teams’ history books, cementing forever their legacy with the teams that originally drafted them. Sometimes they complained about gettin’ opportunities on other teams like Hakeem Olajuwon once did asking for a trade, but ended up remaining to win two consecutiveve NBA titles.
NBA teams used to build around their superstar player, composing a valuable supporting cast filled with other big-time players and specialists obtaining a solid unit for years to come. Today franchises act pretty much the same way, but they simply can’t keep their pieces together for an extended period of time. In the past even superstar-caliber players patiently waited for their shiny moment to come.
Today, it seems that they can’t resist the temptation to ask for a trade when they see their ship sinking, puttin’ their strong ego in front of the team. Players have a constant edge over teams because of the free agency system, since no franchise wants to lose its star for nothin’. Teams have often no choice but to give the player what he wants.
When someone asks for a trade is even permitted to prepare a wish list of possible destinations, and all the teams are contenders for obvious reasons. When someone buys out a player (see Mike Bibby), that specific player will choose a playoff-caliber team, not a lottery one. Once again: where’s equity?
The Decision, the last summer event that probably will change the trade market for the coming years if David Stern doesn’t decide to put and end to it, has been followed by other similar episodes that will be clearer in the near future. Carmelo Anthony (and Chauncey Billups) went to team up with Amar'e Stoudemire to battle Miami for the East supremacy, and to attract future free agents.
Deron Williams, which in the Eighties would’ve been an untouchable player, was shipped to New Jersey and declared that next summer he will do whatever he can to recruit for his new team. And there’s the suspect that somehow Wade, James and Bosh already knew that they would play together even before last free agency began.
Stern simply cannot allow tacit agreements to happen anymore, or his world-famous product will lose its credibility.
Meanwhile, many teams that recently invested high picks on college players are strugglin’ to survive without them. Without James Cleveland is the worst team in the NBA, which already was when LeBron was picked. Denver played admirably despite all the distractions, the trade rumors and so on.
Karl felt relieved when he was informed that Melo was no longer a Nugget, because his team would finally focus on basketball. Denver remains a playoffs-caliber team, but is no longer a contender for an NBA title. Utah lost respectively Carlos Boozer, Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams in a eight month span. Williams, Boozer and their pick and roll plays were supposed to become Stockton to Malone 2.0. Then all of a sudden the Jazz were out of the playoffs picture.
It’s safe to think that Derrick Rose will be a Bull for a long period of time, because Chicago is young, fast and will contend for the next years. Add a piece or two, and the Bulls can reach the top. The same goes for Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, where Sam Presti did a wonderful job rebuilding the former Sonics. However, assuming that Kevin Love or Blake Griffin will entirely play for two teams that chronically can’t reach the postseason (the only exemption for the T-Wolves was the KG-era) is a dare.
So, is a team that picks in the first five considered lucky anymore? Is there a real reason to cheer when you pick the first player overall, since you’re not assured at all that he will forever be your franchise player? Is the NBA dangerously becoming the league where multiple superstars secretly decide where to play together when they achieve free agency?
Many questions, but little answers. It’s up to Stern to provide some of them. Possibly as soon as possible.