By Eduardo Monk Jr.
With the league hitting it’s annual pre-All Star weekend slump leaving fans to trudge through the monotonous rat race and giving us too much time to our own thoughts, it’s only natural that the rumor mill kicks up to an eleven. Quotes can and often will be blown well out of proportion and this year, LeBron James gifts us with an absolute gem of a report. He owns a player option going into this offseason and him turning the Cavaliers down looks to be more and more likely with every Cavs loss, especially considering his generally selfish tendencies in free agent decisions.
The list of teams that he may be considering feels short as there are few teams that are a LeBron James away from genuinely besting the Warriors-but in a new report, the Warriors themselves may be on that short list. If Bob Myers were to walk up to LeBron with a max offer, James is on record for saying he would consider it.
Now let’s just get this out of the way before I have tens of comments berating me on how unrealistic this is. No, LeBron is 99% not signing with the Warriors. The league hasn’t gone stale but deep into the aforementioned dog days until the All-Star weekend, the media is struggling for content to catch viewer’s eyes and if LeBron to the Warriors draws in the viewers, then they’re calling LeBron to the Warriors. So no, don’t get your hopes up.
Not to mention the sheer amount of moving parts required to make this work. First off, household guys like Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston would almost definitely need to be moved. Kevin Durant with his player option would have to take a massive pay cut to allow for the cap for a max contract. It may not even be worth giving up the unmatched chemistry and gutting the depth pool may be their deadly Achilles heel.
However, this is not to say it doesn’t make sense. LeBron has openly admitted to the turmoil within the Cavaliers and with his increasingly distant relationship to Dan Gilbert and his horribly ran management points to him more than likely walking away from his hometown team no matter the offer. In his 15th NBA season, sooner or later that championship window is going to close for the ageless wonder, especially the Warriors eating the league for breakfast for as long as they want.
Unless some unforeseen circumstance occurs, the Warriors will continue to dominate until the core chooses to walk away from each other or they just grow too old. And for now, that’s at least four more seasons of LeBron playing second fiddle. That is unless he goes and forms his third career superteam (we’ve seen how successful that has been) or goes to the Warriors themselves.
Golden State, famed for their winning mentality and brilliant management coupled with the prospect of many more championships, may be exactly what LeBron is searching for in a team. The wonderful culture in the bay area could be enticing enough to woo LeBron to fully decimate the competitive spirit of the league and purity of the sport itself.
The NBA is already walking a fine line with the dominance of the Warriors sapping a lot of entertainment value out of the league, something that is really going to show come playoff time. The league is really riding the whirlwind hangover from the offseason after so many stars switched teams and the draft is historically great and without the giddy newness of seeing Chris Paul in a Rockets jersey and Kyrie Irving in a Celtics jersey, the league could have been in serious trouble.
Hundreds of thousands have already been warded away from the league because of the power imbalance but if the best player on the planet goes and joins the best team on the planet, that may push the void of parity to the brink. If Adam Silver can’t find a way to combat this and inject some degree of excitement back into the league, it could be the end of the NBA as we know it. We saw how Bill Russell’s Celtics nearly end the league and a LeBron-Warriors team-up could have a similar effect.
So here we go, in an alternate dimension where goats fly and LeBron joins the Warriors, here are some ways to fix the unfixable. In the case of a superteam to end all superteams (or superteams in general), there isn’t much hope unless the injury bug graciously attacks the team but radical or not, here are some measures the league may be forced to take in order to hold on to viewership.
Shorten the season
Obviously, this one would wreck, well, a lot. Billions would be lost without the only 20 or so games the league would remove, season and even career records would become obsolete, and the regular season could become utterly useless. Sadly though, that’s honestly the point. In an attempt to rush to the playoffs and give the fans something to cheer for with some mildly exciting playoff series, some of the regular seasons would have to be surrendered.
With the Warriors unstoppable and really no point to turning into the regular season other than futile scraps between the not-Golden-States for seeding order. Playoffs almost always promise, at the very least, a competitive series or two and in a world where the Warriors consume the regular season, viewers may only want to invest time into these one or two competitive series.
While this could have a backward effect and end up with even fewer people tuning in for the regular season than if the league kept the 82 game schedule, many casual fans only pay attention to the league during the playoffs. So in the event of a superteam crisis, Silver may have to avoid the regular season for viewership shake.
End the one-and-done
With the first season of a superteam, there is next to nothing you can do except pray their chemistry eats itself alive or the injury bug strikes. However Silver can find ways to give other teams the best chance to contend against them. While you could compile multiple All-Star teams, why not just allow rebuilding teams to rebuild quickly and more effectively?
For those playing at home, the one-and-done is when a college freshman plays a single year in NCAA play and hops right into the draft. This results in multiple franchises per year investing their futures in a kid a year removed from playing high school basketball. Most top ten picks still have the bodies of 18-year-olds because they are 18-year-olds.
So many players take on the incredible grind of the NBA season, playing against full-on adults with more skill and more developed bodies than them when they still haven’t even finished puberty yet. There is a reason rookie years for these types of players, no matter how hyped, are either injury-riddled (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jabari Parker) or disappointing because the player isn’t ready for the professional game yet (De’Aaron Fox, Brandon Ingram, Jonathan Isaac). So more often than not, one-and-done guys are total busts.
Whether or not the talent is there, losing teams have very little patience and room for error. If their top prospect isn’t delivering or keeps ending up on the IR, they’re replaced and sometimes even out of the league altogether. So when an 18-19-year-old kid with all the talent in the world still can’t get a grip on the game by his third or fourth season, teams give up on them and in turn, prolongs their rebuild process tenfold.
It’s a malicious system that harms both players and teams alike. Players can’t help it if their youthful bodies aren’t NBA-ready yet and teams are forced to either give up on them or wait years until he develops into at least a starting caliber player. This leads to rebuilds lasting years, years longer than they probably should. The 76ers have been rebuilding for around a decade now and it’s only now coming to fruition. This disallows fast rebuilds and because of that, the good teams stay good and the bad teams stay bad.
So to solve this, ban the one-and-done. Force players to develop in college more before coming to the NBA. Very rarely does a fully polished prospect come into the league ready to lace it up and perform on a nightly basis. With players coming out of college more developed and more ready, teams will get a strong player right out of the gates instead of needing to dilly-dally for years in the basement until your franchise cornerstone finally refines his skills enough to contribute when he could have done this in college.
Now with teams looking at faster rebuilds and the magic of rookie contracts, franchises can now put together playoff-ready rosters with only a two-three year rebuild instead of a five-six year rebuild period. This means that superteams no longer look as super with every team in the league having pieces to contend. And when everyone’s super, no one is.
Lower the salary cap
This one pertains the prevention of superteams as a whole. With the amount of money poured into teams for player salaries pushing ten digits, teams have more than enough wiggle room to hold multiple All-Stars with ease. All the Warriors have to do for the cap for LeBron is cut ties with a few (albeit key) role players and swap out Klay Thompson for the greatest player on the planet. Superteams are much too easy to form and it comes down to the ridiculous amounts of funds poured into player salaries.
Yeah, I get it, teams want to hold together their championship core for as long as humanly possible. But when teams have 100+ million dollars to hold onto 13 players, multiple massive contracts are frankly easy. Easy enough to form these superteams and keep every player happy with his wallet. The league wants parity but giving teams this much money destroys it almost as much as the concept of the superteam.
However, lowering the salary cap makes keeping superteams together nearly impossible. Now if players want to make what they are worth, only teams without superstars or massive contracts are going to be able to comply, completely eradicating the superteam problem. Less money (maybe 50 or so million instead of 100) disallows teams like Golden State to load up on All-Stars and also forces teams to be smarter with their money.
Horrible contracts would more than likely become a thing of the past. Teams will have to be more intelligent with moves and won’t be able to sign Timofey Mozgov fo 64 million. With less and less bad contracts, franchises become freer to be aggressive towards big names when they need them. No more are the days where Tim Hardaway Jr. eats up 70 million of cap room and corners teams where they can’t make moves with the strained salary cap.
On top of this, every year in the league will look pretty different from the last as now expiring contracts for All-Star level players may mean a new jersey when teams don’t have the money to cough up for them when Chandler Parsons is taking up 72 million. This keeps things fresh and more importantly, superteams away.