Competition In the NBA
Competition, perhaps based on where you are in the food chain, it is a beautiful or dirty word. As a consumer or fan, it as an absolute boon at least as far as prices go. The opposite of competition is a monopoly. Where one company has the lion share of the market cornered. Giving them the luxury of being able to name their price, leaving customers completely at the mercy of their demands.
In the NBA, competition is what gives us goose pimples. It’s what connects us to our inner child, as we watch a spectacle where the outcome is suspected but nevertheless unknown. Just like a rumble in the jungle, or competition at a lower level (high school, AAU, NCAA, G League etc), or even a game seven in the NBA.
Notwithstanding, one of the brightest spots in Michael Jordan’s legacy is that he never let things get as far as a game seven. Michael Jordan is heralded for his finals record of emphatically besting his competition. Which reveals a tension and excruciatingly difficult balance to attain when it comes to competition. On the one hand, we all want basketball games to be competitive yet, we also want a clear winner to celebrate too.
Perhaps the reality is that flaws are inevitable and that it is the more egregious threats to competition that fans really want to be addressed?
The NBA’s Monopolies
The Golden State Warriors have made four straight finals in a row and the clear favorites to do so again next year. Following the addition of Demarcus Cousins, the odds of the Warriors winning has now gone down to minus money (-185).
Out East, Lebron James has dominated the competition in dare we say Jordanesque fashion. Making 8 straight NBA finals. However, Lebron being able to do so last year, when he largely did it by himself (barring the series against the Toronto Raptors). Perhaps is enough evidence to show the other teams in the East have had ample opportunity to usurp King James reign in the East. Simply coming up short or imploding for self-inflicted reasons.
Arguably, in today’s NBA with the importance of guard play and three-point shooting, the NBA is more meritocratic than ever. The catch or challenge is, the Warriors under the lead of Steph Curry first created this shift. Unsurprisingly, the Warriors are the primary beneficiaries of a trend that they helped create.
The New NBA Champions
Back in 2015/16, Steph Curry was fresh off of becoming the first unanimous MVP winner, as well as the third point guard and 11th basketball player to win back to back MVPs. The NBA world briefly had Curry as the number basketball player in the entire world.
However, perhaps it’s worth asking the question again now. If the three-pointer really is king in the NBA, does your franchise have a brighter future with Steph rather than LeBon? Or to be more accurate, the Splash Brothers plus Kevin Durant vs LeBron, the best basketball player in the world. Which do you take in today’s NBA?
This NBA free agency has been full of a lot of blowbacks. First, there was the blowback from the Paul George trade.
Then there was the blowback from the DeMarcus trade.
In the former case, NBA fans are upset at Paul George opting out of his chance to compete against the Warriors as a Laker. In the latter example, NBA fans are upset because of the Warriors, fresh off sweeping their way through the final, now potentially boast a starting five with five all-stars.
One of the things that has been noted in the LBbron James era is the “rise” of the super team along with free agents being more empowered than ever to do whatever they choose. However, for the most part the Warriors success is founded upon savvy selections in the draft e.g. Draymond, Curry, Klay etc. Meaning that if competion in the NBA or the NBA is broke, it has nothing to do with the balance being unfairly tipped in their favor.
Culture may simultaneously be the hardest yet most profound way to compete. Leading up to the Warriors climb towards championships, one of the things that stood out about the Warriors is their camaraderie on and off the court. On the court, it’s their assist happy style of play. All of which fed into KD’s decision to be a Warrior.
Similarly, DeMarcus Cousins following the Pelicans offer last season for two years and $40 million, only had two offers, one from the Celtics and the other from the Warriors.
In both cases, with DeMarcus and KD the rest of the league had their shot and wasted it.
Speaking of wasted shots, we’d argue that the reality is the rest of the league is shooting itself in the foot. This is the real reason the Warriors are looking like Usain Bolt at his best compared to the rest of the league.
Nobody Complains About the Rockets
The Houston Rockets were among the handful of teams that never hesitated when it came to giving the Warriors a run for their money. On the contrary the Rockets did everything in their power to wrest power over the West and indeed the NBA, from the Warriors.
En route to doing that the Rockets assembled a line up that both deep and full of substance. Most notably, the Rockets had an exceptional all star calibre backcourt with Chris Paul and James Harden. Even when James Harden went down the Rockets were able to call on Gerald Green to pick up the scoring slack. They had Eric Gordon, former sixth man of the year to provide scoring and replace CP3’s absence in Game seven of the conference finals. Clint Capela was a revelation and had career highs in multiple categories establishing himself as perhaps the best center in the league at his price tag.
Importantly, the Rockets via GM Daryl Morey and Head Coach Mike D’Antoni left no stone unturned. D’Antoni brought Jeff Bdzelik on board as defensive co-ordinator just days after he became head coach, ensuring the Rockets became the two-headed monster they needed to be in order to have true championship calibre. Not only did the Rockets take and keep the number one spot from the Warriors but they took the Warriors to the brink of defeat in game seven of the Western conference finals.
Arguably, the Rockets game within a Chris Paul injury of besting the Rockets. Ironically, the Rockets have heavily relied on free agency and trades (as opposed to the draft) to assemble their current roster. Yet nobody accuses them of any unfairness or wrongdoing. Perhaps the extent of the Warriors success really has people looking at them and seeing the ‘Monstars’ hence the recent outcries following the addition of Boogie Cousins.
However, as we have already shown, the 29 other franchises in the NBA would be best served by getting their own houses in order. Cleveland at least has a championship to show for being the hometown of the greatest basketball player on earth. Nevertheless, getting swept by the Warriors in the finals in the manner they did. Revealed their failure to construct an adequate supporting cast around one LeBron James. GM Koby Altman may well prove to be one of the best GMs around and admittedly hindsight is twenty twenty. However, looking back with the benefit of hindsight. The Cavs traded away the Cavs most likely to produce in the finals (Dwayne Wade, Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose), perhaps to aquiesce others that went missing in the finals.
San Antonio Spurs Stumbles
Meanwhile the San Antonio Spurs, who for once, uncharacteristically mishandled a discontented player. May have inadvertently ushered in a rebuilding phase by undermining their relationship with Kawhi Leonard. This essentially came about when Tony Parker in particular question the severity of Kawhi’s injury, thereby insinuating that Kawhi was milking injury. Which in turn has led to Kawhi’s request to be traded to Los Angeles.
Instances of teams shooting themselves in the foot in the NBA abound. Whilst Anthony Davis stepped up his game to MVP levels when DeMarcus went down with his achilles injury. The playoff series against the Warriors is when the New Orleans Pelicans really missed DeMarcus’ presence.
However, the Pelicans pace of play coupled with the minutes DeMarcus played likely played a role in DeMarcus’ achilles injury.
Finally and perhaps most appropriately, there is the whole issue of Durant going to the Warriors in free agency. At the time of writing, the Oklahoma City Thunder reportedly have the most expensive roster in league history.
Oklahoma City’s Faux Pas
The irony of course is that this new mindset or approach may have been most welcome back when Harden was still on the roster. With Harden finally picking up MVP honors, the Thunder became the first NBA franchise to draft MVPs in three straight seasons. That roster made already had one NBA finals appearance under its belt. Moreover, if that team is kept together its hard to imagine they never win a championship. However, making the most of the available talent is a challenge that OKC have always struggled with. It is the reason why OKC squandered a 3-1 lead against the Warriors and why the Warriors even had a shot at KD.
In other words, the Golden State Warriors are only doing what the other 29 teams so far have failed to.