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Guest Blogger; Contraction is Key for NBA

We’ve already lost two weeks of regular season games and it appears, at the very least, we’ll lose two more. The NBA lockout is headed nowhere fast. My brother is here to help.

[Editor’s Note: First of all, I’m not an editor. I’m not even an English major. I use “Editor’s note” because it sounds nice and everyone else does it. Anyway…

4thanddone.com is a democracy. We welcome other voices from time to time. (I even have a NASCAR contributor who may one day share his racing insight.) Today we welcome my brother, Derek, an avid NBA fan who misses basketball so much he took time from his graduate studies to fix the NBA’s problems for them. How nice. He said I could comment on his points if I wanted, so, being the opinionated loudmouth that I am, I did. Enjoy. And thanks for your contribution, Derek.]

What do we love about football? Every team has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. There’s always at least one team comes out of nowhere. In 2011, it’s been the Bills, Bengals, and 49ers. In 2010, the Chiefs and Buccaneers. In 2009, the Bengals and Cardinals. In the NFC South alone, there was a stretch where the last place team took first place the next year, while the first place team finished last. Football thrives on parity. Sure, the Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Eagles, and a few others are almost always competing for the playoffs. They succeed because they have the best coaches and front office. But even so, how many of them have actually won a championship in the last six seasons? This is why football is so great. It’s why America nearly had a massive heart attack when the lockout continued into August.

The other major sports (hockey, basketball, baseball) aren’t on the NFL’s level. Their biggest problem is a lack of parity. And while there is a level of complexity, the root of the problem is simple: too many teams. The NHL, NBA, and MLB are watered down. There just isn’t enough talent to sustain them. College teams can thrive off one great player. A professional team cannot. Furthermore, the long seasons of the NHL, NBA, and MLB often eliminate the weakest teams by mid-season, making the final months, weeks, and days of the regular season mundane and anti-climatic. (The end to the 2011 baseball season being the exception.)

I bring all this up because it’s relevant to the current NBA lockout. The owners claim to be making little money (which isn’t exactly true) while the players claim to be making even less (which is true only because millions are less than billions). The reason owners keep losing money is because they keep failing franchises afloat, dish out inflated contracts, and pay for the WBNA (don’t get me started). The players are making less because the league’s superstars are underpaid (compared to other sports) while role players make too much. Cutting down the number of teams from 30 to 26 would solve a significant portion of the money issue. Here’s why.

First, it would direct more money to the players deserving of higher salaries. Gilbert Arenas owns one of the five highest salaries in the NBA. Arenas was paid the big bucks because he was the best player on a crappy team. Rashard Lewis, who also owns a top five contract, was extremely overvalued by the Orlando Magic. Lewis and Arenas aren’t comparable to LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Kevin Durant, and yet they got paid superstar money because both Washington and Orlando made unbelievably stupid decisions. Take away four teams, and players like Arenas and Lewis earn salaries more in line with their production. They’re not alone, though. Other second tier players with salaries in the top 30 include Joe Johnson, Elton Brand, Al Jefferson, Baron Davis, Andre Iguodala, and Carlos Boozer. How much money would be saved if these guys received contracts equivalent with their talent? Instead, most were rewarded with bloated salaries because they were the best player on a bad team. Cut the number of teams, and overpaying mediocre talent becomes less of an issue (assuming owners do their part in evaluating the talent). This would leave more room for superstars to earn the money they deserve while also keeping other contracts relatively equal across the board.

[Editor’s Note: I disagree. This is the same situation we’re in now, only with four fewer teams. Small market franchises and/or habitual losing franchises will still overpay for average talent in hopes of staying relevant. Cutting teams will help owners overall, but it will have minimal impact on player salaries, especially when it comes to overpaying. The only solution is for owners to stop being morons.]

Second, owners will make more money because they’ll sell more tickets. I love the NBA. Going to an NBA game is enjoyable, especially when you can get good seats. The problem is, nobody wants to pay money to see the Raptors play the Cavaliers. Plus, fans of good teams find better things to do when their talented teams play the Raptors or the Cavaliers. Watching a 100-70 blowout isn’t a lot of fun. Basketball is at its best when games are close and decided in the final seconds. Knocking off four teams will increase competition and eliminate the watered down level of play due to over expansion.

For example, let’s toss the Raptors (they have no history or fans), Timberwolves (nobody cares), Cavaliers (LeBron killed them), and Wizards. Then, we’ll throw someone like Memphis or New Orleans into the East to keep the 13-13 balance. As a result, players like Love, Rubio, Beasley, Bargnani, Calderon, Barbosa, Jamison, Verajao, Irving, McGee, Wall, and Lewis are no longer the best players on bad teams. If those twelve guys were given to the twelve worst teams at random, you’d instantly improve nearly half the league. Plus, with those twelve teams improved, it’d be harder to find a game on the calendar fans would shy away from. Home and road crowds will pay to watch Kevin Love running with Jrue Holliday, Thaddues Young, and Co. in Philadelphia (sorry to tease you Sixer fans), or John Wall helping the Clippers back to the playoffs. Sellouts would become a frequent reality instead of a distant dream.

[Editor’s Note: Amen. Contraction is necessary. However, I’d cut Charlotte, New Orleans and Sacramento instead of Cleveland, Minnesota, and Washington.]

Finally, the fans win because the regular season would more resemble the competitiveness of the playoffs. The season won’t be decided by the All-Star break. The stupid trades where teams dump quality players on already great teams to save cash (see Paul Gasol) would be mostly obsolete because ludicrous contracts wouldn’t be as widespread. Like the NFL, nearly every team would have a fighter’s chance at the playoffs. In addition to full arenas, TV rights and broadcast advertising revenue would increase with the league’s popularity. At the very least, cutting four teams would make more regular season games watchable. And the playoffs would benefit, too. Instead of 12 competent teams and four crappy Eastern Conference teams who got in by default, the playoffs would be an ultra competitive 16 team race for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Obviously, contraction isn’t going to solve all the NBA’s problems. It’s merely a catalyst to a final solution. What we really need is David Stern to swallow his “never lost a team” pride, the owners to see the writing on the wall, and the players to think about the future for once. It probably won’t happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

[Editor’s Note: If a more competitively balanced and captivating regular season is what you want, cutting four teams won’t be enough. The schedule should be trimmed from 82 games to 50. The NFL thrives because it’s not around long enough for casual fans to get bored. Die hard NBA fans watch from November through June, but casual fans ignore the NBA until after March Madness. Fewer games equal healthier players, more competitive games, and thus, more attention from the casual fan.]

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