The NBA has a parity problem

Columnist Todd Colin Vaughan discusses issues of competitive balance in sports.

The NBA needs to take a lesson from the NHL and start intentionally tanking championship teams with a hard salary cap – okay maybe not that drastic but the basketball league does find itself in a dilly of a pickle.

The league’s two best teams – the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers – have been on a non-stop collision course since the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in last year’s finals.

The Warriors have since re-tooled by adding Kevin Durant – an MVP candidate – to a team that went 73-9 last season – a league record. The rich get richer as they say.

This has meant that the 2016-17 season was an 82-game season and three rounds of playoff that has led to basically an inevitable result – Warriors v. Cavs III.

This matchup, for the third straight year, suggests a disturbing lack of parity in the basketball league and leaves 28 other teams essentially waiting until Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and the Cav’s trio of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to retire.

This can be correlated to the way the NBA salary cap is set up.

The Cavs and the Warriors can keep their cores together, while adding high-level talent for the next decade, thus neutralizing any possible contenders below them.

To break it down from a fan’s perspective, this equals boring, repetitive basketball that leads to switching over to Netflix more often than not.

The NHL, coincidentally, may have an answer to this issue as true dynasty-dominant teams are virtually impossible in the current landscape of the hockey league.

This can generally be associated with the hard salary cap in the NHL, which limits organizations from having too many generational (re: expensive) players on one team.

This usually means that after a team wins a Stanley Cup, they have to unload some of their pieces to afford their core.

To further illustrate this point, for example, the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t afford to add Alexander Ovechkin to their line-up this off-season, whereas the Warriors were able to add Durant without too much issue. (The loss of Andrew Bogut was not a deathblow).

The NBA’s not-so-punitive luxury tax means that attractive basketball situations like Cleveland and Golden State can easily lure high-level talent without serious financial repercussions – which, quite frankly, guts small-market teams.

While some would argue that acquiring talent and winning shouldn’t be punished, like the way NHL teams are forced to unload players after winning seasons, the opposite has a much more adverse affect.

Creating a market, like the NBA has, with two great teams, a handful of good teams and 20 other non-contenders is damaging to the product and leads to fans choosing other options in a wide-open media consumption market.

Durant, Curry, James, Irving and the rest of the Cav’s-Warriors ensemble are all great players that create dynamic, watchable basketball – however the prospect of watching the same script for a decade is eye-roll inducing.

Neither the NHL or NBA’s answers are the absolute correct ones, however both leagues must find ways to create incentives for players and executives alike to build parity within their leagues.

Otherwise basketball fans will be viewing the stunning panoramic aerial views of Oakland, California and Cleveland, Ohio for the considerable future.

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