Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The rise (and fall) of the National Basketball Association

On July 4th Kevin Durant, presumably via a  ghost-writer in the The Player's Tribune, announced to all interested that he was taking his talents to Oakland.  To be more specific, Golden State, where he will join with current NBA MVP Stephon Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson to form one of the most formidable starting line-ups the league has ever seen.

This is "Dream Team" stuff, stuff that has already caused the line-makers to move the Warriors' 2017 title odds to 4/5, a ridiculously low number this far out.

Call it "LeBron II" except that Durant had no ties to Oklahoma City, he was born and grew up in California before going to college at UT-Austin. Durant still lives in LA during the off-season, when he's not hanging in the Hamptons that is.

I don't say any of this to disparage Kevin Durant. He made a choice that he feels provides him with silly money (somewhere around $54 Million over two years) and provides him with the best chance of winning a championship ring (something he has yet to do).  All of the other stuff about "player development" and "becoming better" is just a smokescreen. He, like most people, wants to succeed and get paid for doing it.

This, of course, has the media in somewhat of a tizzy. There is nothing more frustrating to a sports writer making five figures than having to opine on an athlete making eight.  While we're not in the bad old days of Richard Justice thinking he was more important than the game itself, the decline of the media industry covering sports has largely mirrored the decline in media as a whole. But that's a tale for another time.

What's important to know here is that all of the media talking heads, yes, all of them, are getting the story 100% wrong.

The problem is not that Kevin Durant decided to not "compete" (as he so famously admonished others for not doing in 2010) but rather that there are too many slots on rosters and not enough quality players to fill them.

Right now the NBA is top-heavy. You have Golden State, Cleveland (amazingly), San Antonio and?


For a little bit the Oklahoma City Thunder looked like they might be the next 'big' thing but they are now imploding under the weight of "decision II" and what they are going to do with Russell Westbrook.  The OKC fans have been loyal to the Thunder, but they've never been asked to go through a rebuilding process. This will be new to them and will be a test of whether or not they can sustain a fan-base without deep playoff runs.

The Houston Rockets had a cup of coffee in the big-four, but then flamed out against Golden State two years ago before going down in an ego-fueled, flaming mess this year, before Dwight Howard walked away taking much of the blame with him, unfairly I might add.

As for the rest? Atlanta is young, and they might have had something to build on, but they just lost their best player and will surely take a step back. Memphis just signed walking blue-jean model Chandler Parsons to a max deal for Chrissakes.

Of the former powerhouse teams the Lakers are hot garbage, the Kincks are building a team that would have been a monster in 2007 while the Celtics scuttle around the fringes, adding a piece here, losing a piece there, but never seeming to make the move that will get them back in title contention.

The reason most teams cannot make that move is because there aren't enough good players out there to fill the rosters.  This means that a lot of mediocre players are getting huge free agent deals because, the thinking goes, the teams have to spend the money on someone.

Again, I don't begrudge the players their money.  While a charmed life the NBA is also a short life. All professional athletes face this problem. You make what money you can when you can and hopefully set yourself up for life after the league. If you can string together a coherent sentence, maybe you transition to the announce booth, or the analyst's studio.

Players getting paid is not the problem.

The problem is that there are too many teams, and not enough quality players to fill all of the roster spots. This leads to a hollowing out of competitiveness past the top tier and gives rise to spectacles like Daryl Morey's prostituting of the Rockets to Chris freaking Bosh two times to no avail. It means that some guys who shouldn't be fogging an NBA mirror are, and fans are forced to watch Anderson França Varejão flop around like a fish on a boat deck.

Eventually, this TV money train is going to dry up. It has to because TV viewers are going elsewhere. Sure, there will be something to replace it, but in most cases the Internet has ALWAYS been cheaper than what it replaced, and it appears the future of entertainment is going to be streaming.

If we continue to blame the players, as the media is doing, then we're going to risk returning back to the bad old days when the players got peanuts and several wealthy owners provided flat Champagne when titles were clinched.  What we need is retraction, by all of the leagues.  And while I realize the thought of your city losing their team is unpleasant, I would also forward that if your team is one on the chopping block you're probably not all that invested in them anyway.  At least not enough to actually attend games.

For selfish reasons, I'll go first,  You can have the Houston Texans NFL, take them back.

And give me back my Sundays with four or five game options on TV without having to subscribe to Dish Network and buy your overpriced Sunday Ticket.  One caveat though:  JJ Watt has to go to San Francisco.  This is non-negotiable.


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