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The Aquilian

The Aquilian

What can the NBA do about superteams?

The NBA has a major problem, and if it is not fixed soon, it could get worse. Superteams, which are defined as teams that have three or more all-star caliber players, are having significant negative effects on the league. 

In the past several decades, the NBA’s relationship with its players has evolved. Players today have much more leverage and freedom than they did in the 1970s, which is beneficial; however, there are consequences. If players are not satisfied with the situation they are in, whether it is due to a poor relationship with the team’s management or a lack of success, they have the ability to demand a trade or sign with a different team in free agency. When this occurs, superteams are created. For example, Lebron James decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2010, and he joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. Both Wade and Bosh were both all-stars at the time, and the team was expected to win multiple championships. Though they slightly underperformed, winning only two titles, the team reached the finals four years in a row. 

Similarly, the Golden State Warriors, after recording the best season in NBA history in 2016 with a record of 73-9, were joined by Kevin Durant. Durant had previously played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he won MVP and four scoring titles. Despite this success, he had not been able to defeat Steph Curry and the Warriors in the playoffs, so he joined them in free agency. This ridiculous team of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and many other key role players proved unstoppable, and they won two championships in a row. This success was short lived, however, as injuries and poor chemistry resulted in a finals loss in 2019 and a breakup of the superteam.

There are many more examples, such as the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers, but the idea is the same: these superteams eliminate competition in the NBA and ensure that some teams will always be contenders, and others will always be at the bottom of the standings. With the freedom to sign where they choose, teams that play in cities with large markets see many free agent signings, while cities with small markets do not. An all-star caliber player would rather play in Los Angeles than in Memphis, for instance. As a result, it is extremely difficult for these small-market teams to find success without the draft or through trading.

The root of this issue lies in the salary cap and the Bird exception. In the NBA, the salary cap is the limit on the total amount of money that teams can pay their players, and the Bird exception allows teams to go over this cap in order to re-sign players. The Bird exception is a problem because it is what allowed the Warriors to build their superteam; they drafted many of the key players on their roster, specifically Thompson, Green and Curry, so it was not difficult to sign Durant. With the Bird exception gone, teams would need to find a way to clear cap space in order to sign superstars. 

Another possible solution would be to eliminate the maximum contract. Currently, an individual player can only earn a certain amount of money, which allows teams to have multiple superstars. Eliminating the max contract would allow teams to offer players much more money, which would further increase the difficulty of creating superteams. In combination, these two solutions may improve competition in the NBA and allow for an equal distribution of the league’s top players.

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