I love the NBA. It’s my favorite sport to follow. But the NBA has a problem: superteams.
The Golden State Warriors have gone up 3-0 on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Finals, and it seems inevitable that they will, if not sweep, win the series for their second championship in a row, and third in four years. Despite some spectacular performances from LeBron James, this generation’s greatest player, (perhaps the greatest ever? It’s at least become a debate between him and Michael Jordan) his Cavs have been no match for the Warriors. There may have been a close call with the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, but Golden State seems unbeatable as long as they have their superteam together (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green).
At this point, LeBron’s got to be feeling like Kevin Durant is messing with his legacy. If KD hadn’t signed with Golden State, LeBron may very well have two more titles on his résumé. Then again, Durant probably never would have signed with Golden State to form a superteam if LeBron hadn’t first done it in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. So in a way, the Warrior’s unbeatable superteam is LeBron’s own fault.
This recent superteam phenomenon of All-Stars joining up to play on the same roster seems to bother some fans (and former players) a lot more than it bothers me. I have no problem with players choosing to play wherever they want, as long as it’s within the rules (which it is). Though it would be nice if there was a little more parity and fairness in the league so the NBA champion wasn’t a foregone conclusion every year. That’s why the NBA might want to think about changing the rules.
My idea to fix the superteam problem is to institute a hard salary cap, but with one caveat: each team is allowed one contract with no limit, and which doesn’t count toward the salary cap. Meaning someone like LeBron James could make $100 million a year and it wouldn’t count toward Cleveland’s salary cap.
This would break up superteams and ensure that each franchise has one superstar. Or, roughly speaking, the best thirty players in the league will always be on different teams. It would be insane for players as good as Steph, KD, and Klay to be on the same roster when they can get un-capped max contracts elsewhere. The difference in salary would be enormous.
This new system would create more parity and give an incentive for All-Stars to sign in smaller market cities with open uncapped contracts (assuming those teams will shell out the cash).
Also, finally, underpaid superstars like LeBron James will get contracts that reflect their true worth. As absurd as his current $33 million contract sounds to average people like you and me, LeBron actually generates a lot more money than that for his franchise. In a true free market, he would be paid…well, I don’t know exactly. But it would be fun to see just how much LeBron James is worth when there’s no limit to how much teams can bid. I’m sure he’s more valuable than any baseball player (the MLB currently has no salary cap and therefore has the largest contracts).
Of course, big market franchises with deeper pockets like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers will have an advantage under this system because they’d be willing to pay more money for superstars, perhaps even something crazy like $500 million. But A) they can only use the uncapped max contract on one player. And B) they would not be able to trade that mega-contract unless it’s to a team with an open un-capped salary slot. Plus, C) if that player gets injured or breaks down with old age, the team would still have to pay the full contract. I can already envision the Knicks being stuck paying $100 million a year to a 40-year-old LeBron James who can barely move anymore. (Then again, LeBron might become a cyborg who keeps playing forever.)
Regardless, the big market teams always having the top superstars is a better problem to have than any team having multiple superstars on the same roster.
Add this to my previous idea to fix the NBA draft (by getting rid of it) and I think we’d have a much more interesting league—that is also fairer for all involved.