In an attempt to figure out why this year’s NBA playoffs have been both exciting and excruciatingly awful—as have many previous playoffs—I can’t help but come to this conclusion: expansion has ruined the NBA.
No offense to Memphis (Vancouver), Orlando, Miami, Minnesota, Toronto, New Orleans (Charlotte), and Charlotte, but none of those franchises should have ever been birthed if quality of play was a factor.
I say it’s exciting because awesome players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard are able to express their tremendous skills. But they are able to succeed in large part because some of their opponents have no business being on the floor playing defense.
That is the excruciatingly awful part.
Although it is refreshing at times to witness Anderson Varejao’s enthusiasm and hustle, it would be much more refreshing to see an actual basketball defender give Dwight Howard fits.
Yes, Luke Walton is a fan favorite, but he should be waving a towel at the end of a bench, not being a factor in a playoff game. It has become too ridiculously common: C-level players receiving substantial minutes in crucial moments of these playoffs.
It has been 20 years since expansion began in the NBA. In my previous article (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/186642-id-be-pissed-if-i-were-a-denver-nuggets-fan-how-expansion-has-ruined-the-nba) we got a small glimpse of how different the NBA would look if there were no expansion teams (it’s a “perfect world” piece).
The 1987-1988 season was the last time we saw 23 teams in the NBA. Since that time, the NBA has increased the number of players by 30%. That is an enormous amount in a fairly small amount of time.
Compare that percentage with the growth of Major League Baseball: MLB has seen a 25% increase in players in 32 years. That is a lower number of players, comparatively speaking, entering the league over a much longer period of time.
The NFL has increased the number of players by 14% since 1988 and only 23% over the past 33 years. This gradual expansion has, to a certain extent, produced a more quality product.
My argument here is that the more gradual the expansion and the further a league is away from expansion the greater opportunity there is for a quality product on the diamond, field, or court.
Imagine if the NFL had expanded the way the NBA has over the past 20 years. To achieve an increase in player personnel at a 30% clip, the NFL would have had to add an additional five teams on top of the Browns and Texans.
Let’s assume the NFL did this, and added five teams in Los Angeles, Portland, San Antonio, Utah, and Mobile (cities don’t matter for this purpose—it just goes to show how ridiculous it is to have an NBA team in Oklahoma City, Memphis, or Toronto).
Five more quarterbacks would be pushed into starting roles. It’s already difficult to find a quality QB, but imagine if Dan Orlovsky, Brett Basanez, or Cleo Lemon were handed the ball on a full-time basis.
I would venture to say an inferior product would develop quite quickly.
But this is exactly what has happened with the NBA over the past 20 years. We have seen seven teams added in a very short period of time, allowing players like Chris Duhon, Raymond Felton, and Ramon Sessions lead their teams as point guards.
Although these players are solid, they don’t even come close to the backup point guards of the 1980s. Vinnie Johnson, a key ingredient with the Pistons in the 1980s, would probably be a starting point guard today for a mediocre team.
The same could be said for Rickey Green or Spud Webb.
Seriously—Spud Webb would be a starting point guard in today’s NBA. I am a huge Spud Webb fan, but it’s a good thing he never was a full-time point guard.
Chris Duhon, Raymon Felton, and Ramon Sessions shouldn’t be full-time point guards either. And there are dozens of other players who shouldn’t be in the NBA.
Dwight Howard would be a great player in the 1980’s NBA. Anderson Varejao, however, would be a 10th-12th man, if he were in the NBA at all. We could say the same thing for at least two players on each team.
Expansion is not totally a bad thing. The NFL, and MLB to a certain extent, has shown how successful it can be. The way the NBA has done it, however, has created a situation where many fans say, “Remember the 80s?”