NFL-style franchise tag necessary to save NBA
The NBA landscape has changed greatly from this time last year.
LeBron James left Cleveland to play in Miami. Chris Bosh left Toronto to do the same. Amar’e Stoudemire bolted Phoenix to be “the man” in New York. And now Carmelo Anthony has joined STAT and the Knicks.
These are dangerous times indeed for the NBA. Contrary to James’ (and many others) statements, these new “super teams” are not great for the league. In fact, they are anything but good for the league.
This season’s All-Star Game featured 25 players representing 16 teams, but 10 of those 16 teams were Western Conference teams. That meant only six of a possible 15 teams in the Eastern Conference were represented. The reason behind this is that winning teams were rewarded with multiple All Stars, and since the East had just six winning teams, only six teams were represented. And of those six teams, seven players came from two teams — Miami and Boston.
Now, taking the above trends, let’s try to imagine what the NBA may look like three years from now if the NBA continues to conduct business as usual.
By the summer of 2012, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard will all have the chance to become free agents. Already Howard has been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers, and with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol getting up in years, the Lakers would have a strong interest in acquiring another imposing center from the Orlando area to make one last title push against Miami’s trio.
This may be too much for Williams to overlook. Tired of attempting to talk free agents into joining him in Utah, Williams could easily sign with the Lakers as well, teaming with Howard, Bryant, and Gasol to form a superstar core.
Paul would likely have his sights set on the other coast. The idea of teaming with Stoudemire and Anthony in Mike D’Antoni’s running offense would be a dream come true for Paul, leading him to sign with the Knicks.
Meanwhile, Danny Granger hits free agency in 2014, and having endured a number of years of losing with Indiana, he will likely take the opportunity to find a more favorable environment — one he would discover in Chicago playing alongside Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah.
Andre Iguodala would also like to experience winning while becoming more of a household name, and that option would present itself in Los Angeles with the city’s other team, the Clippers. No longer a punch line since Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon took the reins, the thought of being able to form the most athletic duo at small forward and power forward in the game is too much for Iguodala to resist.
And with so much star power assembled in Clipper Nation but no one to run the show, John Wall seizes his opportunity and forces his way out of Washington to play in LA alongside Griffin, Iguodala, and Gordon.
To recap, this scenario would have 18 of the NBA’s brightest stars in just four markets.
You may be thinking that this would never happen, but remember that last year no one believed Miami would land both James and Bosh during the summer.
The NBA is drifting farther from parity each day, and in just three years, it may be a clear-cut case of the haves and the have-nots. So for those who say there should be more “super teams,” the question to be asked then is “What about everyone else?”
Teams from big markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago or teams in desirable locales like Miami will always have an edge over teams in smaller, less-desirable locales. Why do you think James, Wade, and Bosh decided to team up in Miami instead of, say, Milwaukee?
Unfortunately, most NBA cities are not full of the bright lights and glamour that attract brand-conscious players like moths to a porch light. Most teams could never dream of seeing a marquee player sign for less than they could command on the open market to join them. Most teams do not have huge revenue streams that allow them to drift deep into luxury-tax territory to field an All-Star squad of players. Most teams have to overpay star players just to get them, only to be unable to assemble enough talent around them to get past the first round of the playoffs.
Kevin Durant is currently the exception to the rule, as he seems legitimately fond of the quieter life in Oklahoma City. But it’s no coincidence that no one ever hears about other star players pining for a chance to team up with Durant — one of the NBA’s premier players — in Oklahoma.
So unless the NBA wants to contract 25 teams, changes must be made if the league plans to stay competitive going forward. And that means a franchise tag.
During the negotiations between the owners and players union on a new collective bargaining agreement, the NBA must fight for a way to prevent teams in smaller markets from losing their best players. Having the ability to stick a franchise tag on a player to prevent him from leaving would accomplish just that. A franchise tag would level the playing field for all teams, allowing smaller-market teams to remain competitive with the free-spending clubs.
Had the franchise tag existed last summer, Cleveland and Toronto wouldn’t be the messes they are today, Denver wouldn’t have had to accept a sub-par offer for Anthony, and fans in Utah, New Orleans, and Orlando could sleep easier at night knowing that their teams won’t soon join that list.
The idea may not be popular in markets like New York and Los Angeles, where the money flows like water, or among players, who want to control their own destinies. However, it is necessary to save the NBA.
Fans in Minnesota don’t want to hear about Miami’s struggles to mesh three superstars when the biggest concerns they have are “Will Ricky Rubio ever play for us?” and “How long until Kevin Love leaves?” Likewise for fans in Sacramento. They don’t want to hear about the Lakers struggling at 39-19 when their team may be moving to Anaheim or Kansas City this summer.
A franchise tag, or something similar, is in the best interests of the NBA as a whole. The product will be much better if games like Miami vs. Cleveland don’t have the distinct feel of watching Mike Tyson box a seven-year-old. Only when every team in the NBA has a legitimate shot at the playoffs will the league return to prominence.
But if the NBA does nothing, then the gulf between the upper crest and the rest of the league will only widen until eventually the league itself is swallowed whole.
By: Eric Lorenz
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