On Kevin Durant, the Warriors, and the False Notion of NBA Parity

After Kevin Durant signed with the already established and pretty damn good Golden State Warriors on Independence Day (ironically), many have lamented the state of the NBA, and the growing amount of “super teams”: teams boasting 3 or 4 All Stars in the starting lineup. Many blamed LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat in 2010 along side Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as the beginning of this “problematic” trend. However, parity has never been a part of the NBA, and the teams that have won multiple championships are teams that have boasted the best players in the game, playing together at one time. Bill Russell’s Celtics won 11 championships in his 13 seasons. He played alongside hall of famers like Bob Cousy, KC Jones, John Havlicek, Sam Jones and Bill Sharman, just to name a few. Let’s move forward to the nostalgic and “glorious” 1980s, which the basketball purists love to point to as the time where players were loyal and teams were built fairly and the right way. The Lakers added Magic Johnson to a team with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and two years later, added some guy named Big Game James Worthy. Three of the greatest players ever one one team, what a concept. Oh yea and those Celtics on the East coast, 4 of their starters are Basketball Hall of Famers. Their front line boasted Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, with Danny Ainge and Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson in the back court. That’s a super team. Lets also look at the 76ers during that time. Already having hall of famer Julius Erving, along side all star Mo Cheeks, and sharp shooter Andrew Toney, they added Moses Malone in 1982, a future hall of famer himself. Let’s look at the Finals matchups throughout the 1980s…

1980-Lakers vs. Sixers
1981-Celtics vs. Rockets
1982-Lakers vs. Sixers
1983-Sixers vs. Lakers
1984-Celtics vs. Lakers
1985-Lakers vs. Celtics
1986-Celtics vs. Rockets
1987-Lakers vs. Celtics
1988- Lakers vs. Pistons
1989-Pistons vs. Lakers

I’ll also remind you that the Sixers faced the Celtics in the ECF in 1981, 1982, and 1985. The Celtics beat the Pistons in 1987 to reach the ECF, and the Lakers were defeated by the Rockets for their appearance in the 1986 WCF.

Five different teams reached the finals in that decade. The 4 teams that won in this 10 years stretch didn’t only boast the best players in the game at the time, but top 15 players all time! And there’s NO Finals in the 1980s that didn’t include the Celtics or the Lakers. That’s not parity, and that is evidence of super teams.

Now, the nineties? MJ. Pippen. Rodman. The Bulls won 6 championships in an 8 year stretch, and may have won 8 straight if MJ never got bored at being unbeatable and tried to hit a curve ball. Enough said there. That’s domination. That’s a super team. That’s not parity.
From 2000-2002, one team on the west coast had the most dominant center in the game, playing alongside ARGUABLY the greatest scorer of all time. I’d say Shaq and Kobe are two of the 5 greatest players ever. The Lakers won 3 straight championships in the early 2000s, followed by a loss in the semi finals to the eventual champion Spurs (we’ll get to them), and then reached the Finals again in 2004. I wonder how many more they would’ve won if Kobe didn’t broker a Shaq trade to south beach that summer. We’ll never know. By the way, neither Shaq nor Kobe were drafted by the Lakers, for all you “all these teams were drafted” people.

Since 1999, the SA Spurs began a dominant era of excellence with Hall of Famer David Robinson paired with superstar and future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. Later adding future hall of famers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the Spurs have won 5 championships. For some reason a team with 3 Hall of Fame players isn’t considered super, that’s strange to me. The Celtics in 2008, traded for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to join with Paul Pierce and in their first season together, they won the championship. No one cried foul, then.
LeBron’s Heat came after all this, and after seeing how teams were built for sustained championship dominance he realized that the pieces around him in Cleveland weren’t enough. And if history shows us anything? It’s that LeBron was right. Teams win multiple championships when the best players in the game are playing together, period.
So with this history, can you really blame Kevin Durant for joining with Stephen Curry, Klay and Dray? Outside of the fact that they just eliminated him, in a series he was up 3-1 with more than enough pieces to win with (which does make it pretty weak to me), no you can’t blame him. He doesn’t need to look at LeBron as an example, he can look at the history of the NBA.
Most leagues, to prevent this type of stacking, and create some sense of parity, have instituted a salary cap. The NBA does not have a hard cap, so teams can spend more than the cap permits on super stars and elect to pay the luxury tax if the owner sees championships and contention as a worthy investment. Maybe the Thunder should’ve considered that when they traded the guy with the beard in 2012.

Also, max deals hurt and almost kill parity in the NBA. When there’s a cap on what teams can offer a mega star in annual salary, money is no longer and incentive for a star to join a team that is “building” or just not very good. If the Bucks can’t out bid the Warriors, who are already in this scenario are paying Steph, Klay and Dray whatever they have to, under the cap and market value to keep them, then there’s no way without absolutely neutering the rest of their roster and players making HUGE sacrifices, they should be able to fit Durant under their cap. In football and baseball, every offseason, players choose the money over winning. Basketball players would be no different, if their was no cap on how much any team could offer them as their salary cap would allow. Now that salary offers aren’t an incentive, there’s no reason for a Kevin Durant NOT to choose the Warriors. He might as well have fun winning rings if he’s not going to be able to make more anywhere else. Kevin Durant didn’t choose winning over money, because he didn’t have to. In the last few off seasons, the rich have gotten richer because teams can’t quickly attract super star free agents through ridiculous financial offers, like in football and baseball. Until this system changes, parity will never exist in the NBA, and quite frankly, it never has. Honestly, I’m just hoping my Sixers can be the next super team.

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