I usually try to stay away from writing disgruntled rants about players or teams, but what I've been witnessing during the NBA postseason has really bothered me.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors has made this year's postseason hard to watch. Both teams are a combined 16-0 throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. This is the first time since 1989 two teams from different conferences swept thru the first two rounds, the Detroit Pistons and LA Lakers being those two teams.
Before I get into why I am disgusted with the NBA, let's take a trip back to that spring/summer of 1989. The Pistons and Lakers both finished the season #1 in their respective conference, Pistons finishing with 63 wins and Lakers finishing with 57 wins. The narrative for the season whether or not the Lakers and Pistons would meet again in the Finals for a rematch, and sure enough, they did.
Their roads to the Finals were almost similar but I would say the Pistons had a much tougher road than the Lakers. The Pistons were a fine-tuned machine, but on paper, they didn't resemble a stacked team. Isiah Thomas was the leading scorer, averaging 18 points a game, while four other players average double figures. Head coach, Chuck Daly, should get more credit for how this team worked together, being able to keep big time scorers like Joe Dumars, Mark Aguirre, and Vinny Johnson happy while seeing limited touches. All three had the ability to be leading scorers on any other team, but they played well into Daley's philosophy of tough team basketball.
The Lakers had an easier road, only because of the roster they had. With Magic Johnson and James Worthy running the floor like Jamaican track stars, it's hard for anybody to compete with that. Then you add a dynamic supporting cast that included Iron Man A.C. Green, Byron Russell, Michael Cooper and Michael Thompson. While their cross-country foe, Boston Celtics, were struggling to make the playoffs (swept by the Pistons in the 1st round), the Lakers were still in Showtime mode. They face some talented teams but not many could run with them.
Fast forward to 2017, and here we are again with two teams that played in the Finals a year prior on pace to meet again. So why am I mad? It's simple: No competition.
The Cavaliers and Warriors have built rosters that are comparable to some Olympic teams of the past. Both of these teams have at least three players that would be leading scorers on any other team in the NBA, while the rest of the field needs one more player. What made the 1989 playoffs entertaining, despite two teams having a combined 22-2 record when they entered the Finals is the balance throughout the NBA. Michael Jordan and the Bulls only won two games against the Pistons. The Boston Celtics with two Hall of Famers and a young Reggie Lewis only won 42 games that season. Can we say that about this generation of NBA?
Free Agency is the prime reason for this type of roster building. The NBA's new collective bargaining agreement has giving players the most freedom they've ever had.
Tom Chambers was the NBA's first-ever unrestricted free agent back in the summer of 1988. Chambers was coming off of his seventh season in the NBA and his fifth with the Seattle SuperSonics. During Chambers tenure in Seattle, the Sonics reached the playoffs three times, with one appearance in the Western Conference. Chambers accepted an offer from the Phoenix Suns to create a young "superteam" that included Kevin Johnson, Jeff Hornacek, Tyrone Corbin, and Eddie Johnson who provided 21 points a game off the bench. The Suns won 55 games and reached the Western Conference Finals but lost to a better Superteam, the Lakers.
Almost 30 years later, Chambers move has been mimicked by some of the best players in the league. LeBron James wasn't the first to do it but he was the biggest name to take advantage of being able to create a monster roster. We all know of his move to Miami but his move back to Cleveland is often overlooked. People love to say LBJ came back to Cleveland and made them into an instant contender but he didn't just come back by his self. He came back to a budding Kyrie Irving, a prime Kevin Love, and a slew of role players. The roster was completely redesigned for LeBron's return. When you look at the current roster, they have Deron Williams backing up Kyrie Irving. Really think about that. Even without LeBron, they would still be a strong contender in the East.
Kevin Durant move to the Golden State Warriors is probably the biggest super team move ever. KD went to a team that just previously won 73 games, made it to the Finals, and had the two-time reigning MVP. With Kevin Durant on the roster, the Warriors have 2014, 2015, and 2016 MVP. Five players have been chosen to represent the country at the Olympics, and four participated in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. No one else in the NBA has that type of firepower, except for the Cavaliers who has the best player in the world, a top-five point guard, and a top five big man that can stretch the floor.
My gripe is how could the NBA allow this type of off-balance on it competition spectrum? I am all for players having control of their own careers but players are starting to take advantage of the rule. When Chambers made the move to join the Suns, he went to a team that only had 28 wins the season prior, and the Sonics won three more games without him. The balanced never shifted, if anything it helped create a better Western Conference. Stars of today are not taking that approach, instead, they're going to teams that are already built for success.
The NBA doesn't do a good job at convincing players or franchises to take an old-school approach when making deals during free agency, to limit the superteams. They also are not doing a good job at creating a stronger talent pool but that's another story. Instead of trying to promote these lackluster off-balanced playoff matchups, they should look into creating a way to even the playing field. The mindset is not the same compared to when Tom Chambers made his decision to go to a 28-win team. How do they change it? Add more incentives for going to inferior teams. Players are already paid more for staying with their original team, but like KD and LBJ, they're still jetting. It's a problem the NBA should begin looking into.
As a consumer and a member of the media, I do not like the product that the NBA is selling me. We have two teams that are above and beyond everyone else. Fans are basically waiting for June to arrive, while the other teams in the playoffs are just playing for brownie points. I would like to see someone take either one of these teams to the limit but so far, all contenders have accepted their role as the inferior team. See you in June.