SALT LAKE CITY — Welcome back to the LeBron James Sweepstakes, Part III. The big question: Will he leave the Cavaliers (again) and resume his never-ending quest for The Perfect Teammates. Where will he land this time?
James is getting plenty of courting from fellow players. Joel Embiid is trying to persuade James to join the 76ers. Chris Paul is recruiting him for the Rockets or to pair up on another team. Enes Kanter is recruiting him for the Knicks. Dejounte Murray wants him as a Spurs teammate, although that seems unlikely because Gregg Popovich isn’t going to let James take control of the team and do his job for him.
Meanwhile, everyone’s getting in on the act. Donovan Mitchell said he plans to recruit Paul George to be his Jazz teammate. And the Warriors reportedly are interested in Anthony Davis, and if that happens their dynasty could claim not four championships, not five, not six, not seven, but who knows.
This is James’ real legacy: players forming their own superteams the same way they would on the playground.
If you don’t think this is a problem, you haven’t been paying attention. The same two teams have appeared in the last four NBA Finals, something that has never happened in any professional sport. In the NFL, the Super Bowl has repeated itself in consecutive years only once: the Bills and Cowboys in 1993 and 1994. For that matter, in the last 23 years only three teams have managed to appear in back-to-back Super Bowls.
Reruns are fine if you’re watching "Seinfeld," but not championship games. The NBA is non-competitive. Only two to three teams have a realistic chance to win the title, because those teams are able to collect more than their share of the limited elite talent there is to go around. And the reason they can do this is because the NBA has no hard salary cap.
This is not the first time the issue has been addressed here, but it continues to dramatically influence the game. The hard cap was a big issue in the 2011 CBA negotiations; the owners looked like they meant business when the lockout endured for nearly two months, but they caved. The players would not support a hard cap. Apparently, they have no interest in making the league vibrant and competitive, like the NFL. They just want to get theirs now.
No one has abused the system more than James. He started the era of the superteam when he dumped the Cavaliers in 2010 and formed his own all-star team in Miami. Since then, other players have done the same thing, most notably Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors had already won a championship with a team they had built the right way, and then they signed Durant away from the Thunder. They’ve won three championships in four years. If they sign Davis, you can hand them next year’s trophy, too.
Instead of a hard cap, the NBA has a soft cap that penalizes teams that exceed the salary cap by slapping them with a luxury tax. As a means of preventing teams from hogging all the talent, it is a complete failure. The deep-pocketed owners simply consider it the price of doing business. It’s what championship teams do: Pay the tax and win now.
The result: The vast majority of teams are eliminated from contention before the season begins. In last year’s NFL playoffs, there were at least a dozen teams that had a real shot at winning the championship; in the recently completed NBA season, three teams had a real chance.
It’s no coincidence that the top two highest-paid teams in the league are the Cavaliers and Warriors, at $137M, having left the useless luxury tax in the dust a long time ago.11 comments on this story
“The rest of the NBA has to get better,” the Warriors’ Klay Thompson said during the playoffs. That’s impossible when there are a very limited number of superstars and there is no hard cap to prevent teams from signing several top players rather than spread them out among the league’s 30 teams. The NBA needs a hard cap as badly as college football needed a playoff.
Meanwhile, James has been a victim of his own ploy. Other superteams have been arranged and have stymied his quest for titles. James is 3-6 in the Finals. His record in Finals games is 18-31. Having been swept last week for the second time, James will likely move on again, and there is nothing in the NBA rules that can prevent him from forming another superteam.