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The flaw in the idea of embracing the ‘competitive market’ in the NBA

Jun 11, 2011, 6:00 PM EDT

2010 NBA Draft Getty Images reports what has been rumored for ages, that part of the union’s proposals to the league in the current CBA negotiations includes a provision to provide struggling teams with more draft picks. The idea is that the worst teams would receive more picks in the first round while some of the better teams would have none. In doing so, it would allow for teams that struggle to compete with their big-market competitors. The union’s goal here is to spin the idea that they’ll give the owners “out-of-the-box” ideas that will give the small-market, non-elite teams more of a leg-up as a trade-off for them not constantly standing with the league and ownership group on trying to bust the union’s goals into tiny pieces and then stomp on them, all during what would be a seven or eight month lockout to get to that point.

Abbott at ESPN examines the idea and finds it repugnant. From TrueHoop:

It’s one of those issues that makes clear there are at least three parties with a ton on the line at these talks, and only two are represented. Let’s pretend it becomes reality.

You know who’d get the short end of that stick? The third party known as the fans, specifically the fans of teams that just simply don’t know how to build a winner. More good draft picks would be a way for the worst GMs and owners to compete without getting any better at their jobs. This is like performance-enhancing drugs for the worst front offices in the league.

via Bribing bad teams with more picks – TrueHoop Blog – ESPN.

Which is kind of a weird premise, right? The system would allow for teams who don’t win because their owners are idiots to win, so the fans would be screwed over because their team wins despite its terrible owner. Wait, what? The idea of course is that without management and ownership that knows what it’s doing, the teams will never win the title. Which is probably true. But would fans care? Wouldn’t fans rather just have their team competitive rather than swallowed up by the cap-heavy big market teams 9 out of 10 times? Wouldn’t they rather have a shot at a complete rebuild, and hope the owner doesn’t completely screw it up rather than hoping their owner randomly decides to sell a property he’s getting considerable value every single day from? Donald Sterling is not walking out that door. You can make the market system as libertarian as you desire, remove all regulation or competitive balance mechanisms, and Donald Sterling will still turn a profit because of his market, and when he does spend, he’ll still have a much better chance at winning a title randomly than Herb Kohl.

And as much as its clear there are a handful of idiots that occupy seats at the Board of Governors meetings and who sit in GM chairs, aren’t most of these definitions largely liquid? What had the Wyc Grousbeck and the rest of the Boston Basketball Partners ownership group really done until 2008 when the trades happened? Hadn’t they been as poor as anyone else in running their business? Wasn’t Danny Ainge considered on the hot seat? Now they look like one of the most stable franchises in sports. Jerry Buss and Mitch Kupchak looked like out-of-touch lunatics in 2005. Clay Bennett is reviled while his team’s management is applauded before they’ve actually won a title yet.

But we’re getting away from a  more central point. Show me a team that has truly built a championship caliber squad and I’ll show you a team that drafted a Hall of Famer. Paul Pierce. Dwyane Wade. Kobe Bryant. Tim Duncan. Even Kevin Durant if you want to prematurely throw in the Thunder. With the draft being as much of a crapshoot as it is, couldn’t some of these terrible owners and front offices wind up looking much smarter if they were just gifted an all-world player instead of swinging wrong. Sometimes they draft horribly, there’s no question. *Cough*Hasheem Thabeet!*Cough.* But sometimes they just guess wrong. And it sets back a franchise a decade.

I’m not saying we should reward bad ownership. I’m saying this wouldn’t especially reward bad ownership. It does not create a draft balloon “too big to fail.” It simply allows for rebuilding teams to rebuild faster, to facilitate more trades with multiple picks to deal, to get teams in the middle unstuck, and cuts down on the number of “pick X traded for cash” used at the end of the first round anyway. If the NBA wants to get more aggressive with getting rid of bad ownership, by all means, it should. But let’s not duck something which might help fans stuck with bad ownership just because we don’t want to sink to rewarding ownership groups who we may think well of in five years anyway.

  1. Justin - Jun 11, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    I agree this is stupid. If a team does good it is not like they get superstar players at the 25th pick or whatever. I am not too versed on the CBA for the NBA but is there revenue sharing? That would seem more productive.

    Maybe they need to do more of a compensatory pick type thing that occurs right after the lottery picks.

    • nfl25 - Jun 11, 2011 at 9:35 PM

      100% agree. nba need to follow what the nfl does. how great is it to know that no matter how bad ur team was last year, u got a shot this year. thats why the nfl is so popular

      rev sharing is the best way to do it. i cant imagine its being done now. and no gaurenteed contracts. and compesnsatory picks after the lottery picks is a great idea.

  2. thetooloftools - Jun 11, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    Donald Sterling of The Clippers would love this. He is so cheap he wouldn’t go after ANY free agents and just “trot a bunch of youngin’s out there every season. How about a hard cap that every team can afford ?
    LeBron James and Chris Bosh BOTH were willing to leave max deals on the table to go play together with Wade in Miami. (they both did do sign and trades so their former teams could get something for them). The owners will never be allowed to be held hostage like this again by players. James and Bosh proved to the owners that the players are overpaid because if more money won’t keep a player with his team, what other carrots do the owners have to dangle? Dan Gilbert lost over $100million in franchise value when James left and even more with people who won’t be going into his new casino after Cavs games. I’m not predicting what is going to happen, I’m just saying James and Bosh sent a horrible message to the owners going into a CBA year.

  3. redbear18 - Jun 11, 2011 at 6:59 PM

    This won’t do any good. Even if a small market team manages to draft an all-star, if they don’t win a championship in the first few years, they will go to a big market where they think they have a chance to win a championship, then the team has to start over. This is what guys like Lebron and ‘Melo have done to the league. I think that I is a more pressing issue that should be addressed in the new CBA. Like it said in the article, what you really need is a front office that knows what they’re doing. They can’t look like they know what they’re doing if they have no control over their superstar. Guys like Griffin, Rose, and Durant give me hope, but I don’t think all young stars will have respect for the team that drafts them like those three do.

    • almzor - Jun 12, 2011 at 1:41 PM

      For every selfish LeBron or Melo there’s a star willing to let a team build around them such as Dirk or Durant. It is a much better idea than watching perennial doormat teams field losing teams year in and year out.

      • LPad - Jun 12, 2011 at 7:45 PM

        don’t overlook the fact that LeBron and Melo spent 7 years in Cleveland and Denver, so essentially those teams had them for half of their career. More than enough time to build a winner with good management. At some point a player has a right to leave. Also, look at Dallas. They’re leading the series, so maybe a couple of superstars going to different teams doesn’t mean the end of basketball. I mean JKidd is the best point guard of his era hands down, but he’s played on four different teams.

  4. cowboysmavs - Jun 11, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    you guys sound like y’all are in favor of players being held hostage by their teams. if the management sucks, players should have every right to jump ship and change teams. i dont like how Bron Bron left da Cavs, but i also didnt see them getting better anytime soon. just think about it like this, if you dont like where you work, you can change jobs. players should have that ame freedom, no matter how ridiuclous theyre paid.

    • nfl25 - Jun 11, 2011 at 9:45 PM

      thats easy for u to say cuz ur team is in the finals. just think about this nfl has been over for a few months, there is no free agency and there is a chnace at no season. right now the nba finals are on and better than ever. click up top on the pro football and see how many people are commenting on nfl right now. posts have over 300 thumbs up and 30 thubms down. that is every day during the week, on almost every article, weekends are a little slower.the nba section should be killing it and the nfl site should be dead.

      my point is the nfl does it right and they make sure every team has a chance. except for teams like the bengals, but their owner is nuts. in the nba, the players run the show. nba team makes one mistake and they are done for 7 years or you are a small market and nobody will come to ur team.

      • nfl25 - Jun 11, 2011 at 9:48 PM

        also they are allowed to chnage jobs, they can go work a normal job. some companies will only hire u if u will work in a certain state, if you wont, then go work for another company. like if i work for macdonals, can i say ok i want to work for the macdonalds in denver. macdonalds tells me where i work, i dont like it then i do get another job

      • LPad - Jun 12, 2011 at 7:47 PM

        well LeBron did switch companies. the Cavs told him he had to work for Cleveland so he found a job in Miami.

    • almzor - Jun 12, 2011 at 1:43 PM

      Their jobs are no different than any other jobs, and much less restrictive than many. Take cocktail waitresses. They don’t even have the dignity of being paid millions of dollars, yet they are held up to some ridiculous physical standards and get the boot if they fail to maintain them.

      In the world of workplace injustice there’s a long line of things we should be taking care of before we worry about player movement in pro sports. Get your priorities straight.

  5. goforthanddie - Jun 11, 2011 at 9:35 PM

    Bribing crap teams w/ extra picks is tarded.
    Set a hard cap. The talent will spread itself out as people chase the Benjamins.

  6. whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 11, 2011 at 9:59 PM

    What a bunch of crap! I am a fan of the team what would be getting more picks (the wolves) and I think it is ridicilous.

    The NBA needs a hard cap and non-guaranteed contracts. Hard cap because only 8 teams made money this year. Non-guaranteed contracts because players like Marko Jaric, Stephon Marbury, and others who don’t give a rats booty about trying would find themselves playing in Europe faster than they already do. This would give teams such as Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto and chance to be competitive with the Lakers, Bulls, and Heat every year.

    • Justin - Jun 12, 2011 at 12:23 AM

      While I kind of agree lets say (now this is a big what if) that the Wolves draft Derrick Williams and him and Rubio both turn out to be awesome. Then come time to sign these players and Love to an extension they won’t have the cap room to do so. I don’t like the idea of punishing a team for good drafting either. Somehow they need to find a middle ground.

      Yes, the humor here is that the Wolves ever get accused of drafting well.

    • LPad - Jun 12, 2011 at 7:59 PM

      these teams lost money because they don’t revenue share local tv deals (like the NFL does) so the Lakers make money with because of their 100 mil deal, but the Kings lose money because of their 12 mil deal. the non-guaranteed/guaranteed contracts isn’t necessary no one told these teams to sign these players to these deals. Just say no and you don’t have this problem or the other way to do it is to have them not count against the cap if you cut them. Do that there’s no lockout and teams aren’t buried by the cap.

  7. randysavage4ever - Jun 12, 2011 at 1:39 AM


    bucks – ray allen, cassell, big dog – george karl ’02 – small market team

    GMs should be building squads – have a plan & vision for the team…

    dont touch anything.

  8. valman61 - Jun 12, 2011 at 1:44 AM

    The NBA has what basically equates to a luxury tax. You can go over the cap, but it is expensive. Most teams can’t afford it so they don’t do it. The NBA really needs to have allot of options on contracts, I don’t like totally non guaranteed cause players who are hurt get screwed. But options like forcing restructuring and more incentive based deals. The lower level players make to much and it kills small teams. Free agency is fine, I don’t like cash trades or expiring contract deals. Idk that much about the NBA financial makeup but i think a franchise tag would be good. There needs to be a system which allows teams to spend to keep stars and also allow the freedom to build. Taking the 25th pick away from a team close to a title really hurts their ability to draft that missing role player to win. I’ll try to read up and come with some better ideas, but that’s my tip of the iceberg opinion.

  9. delius1967 - Jun 12, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    The fallacy behind this argument is that big-market teams don’t actually dominate the NBA. Look no further than the Knicks, who managed to sneak into the playoffs with a 42-40 record only to get trounced by the Celtics. That was their first trip to the post-season in seven years, since the last time they snuck into the playoffs, with an even worse 39-43 record.

    Other big markets? Sure, the Lakers have been great recently. They stunk for a while before that, and what about the Clippers? Chicago did well this year, good for them. When was the last time they were in the Finals, again? Been a while, has it? Golden State, playing in the Bay Area, is famous for being terrible. Houston? Nothing. Dallas? Well… they might win this year, but until now, the Mavericks have been the primary example of underachievers.

    Oh, look, the Celtics won a championship recently, doesn’t that help support the big market theory? Not really. Other NBA cities that are larger, population-wise, than Boston: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco (counting the Warriors), Charlotte, and Memphis. That’s almost half the league. Even look at the larger metro area, they are still ninth.

    In the age of the Internet, the “big market” argument just doesn’t hold water anymore.

    • Justin - Jun 12, 2011 at 10:28 AM

      It does hold water because those big market teams can charge about double the cost of tickets. How do you think they pay for the big stars. While I see your argument about the Knicks, they mismanaged that team so incredibly bad that they should have had no business in the playoffs for another 5 or 10 years but A’mare went there for more endorsement deals and Melo went there to become a bigger star too.

      And a higher population doesn’t necessarily equate a larger market especially when not everyone supports that team. That was the problem with Memphis’ if I recall correctly.

    • ndirishfan1 - Jun 12, 2011 at 11:43 AM

      It has a lot to do with fan support. The Celtics and Knicks have built solid fan bases over the course of decades. Charlotte and Memphis haven’t built up those fan bases yet. San Antonio has to compete with Houston and Dallas for fan support in a largely football-crazy state. The Lakers virtually own California.

      Plus, spending money has a lot to do with who is in charge. The Bulls play in a larger market but have always been hesitant to spend money — Scottie Pippen had to leave to get a payday and Jerry Reinsdort openly complained about how much he had to pay Michael Jordan towards the end of his Bulls career. Meanwhile, a guy like Jerry Buss will dish out extra money to secure a good eight-man rotation.

  10. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jun 12, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    The draft lottery is silly to begin with. How about a free market for all players coming out of college? With the cap on first year player salaries wouldn’t “small/bad” team be able to sign to two or three great players and make their teams competitive? Of course, the “small/bad” team would have to talk the great players into signing with them as all the money would be the same.

    • LPad - Jun 12, 2011 at 7:50 PM

      the lottery does play a problem in this. think about it you could have the worst record five years and a row and not pick higher than third.

  11. LPad - Jun 12, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    One thing I think is a misconception is that “if you make one mistake” you feel it for a decade. Some of these teams have made mistake on top of mistake for a decade. Look at how many bad picks the Clippers made between Danny Manning and Blake Griffin.

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