The NBA is approaching NFL territory rather rapidly as far as 12-month sports are concerned. The draft just wrapped up, and we are already full-bore into free agency talk.
LeBron James opted out of his contract. So did Carmelo Anthony. So did Chris Bosh. So did Dwyane Wade. So did Udonis Haslem…okay, they can’t all be important.
Although actually the Haslem move makes it seem like Miami may be setting itself up nicely to re-sign everyone to team-friendly contracts and give this thing another go. As for Carmelo, I have no idea where he is going. Houston and Chicago seem intriguing. The Knicks are emptying space for him and a buddy to sign.
It seems the star players control the league, something that has at least been on the precipice for a few years now. But it is no longer debatable. Miami even went as far as drafting a specific player that LeBron MIGHT want to play with, in the hopes of re-signing him to another contract.
Is this bad for the league, or does it make sense that players have so much control on their own future? In other sports, one player doesn’t swing the balance of power so much. But in basketball, these guys are planning the conference championship game matchups for the next decade right now…for all intents and purposes.
The NBA has been a player’s first league for our entire lives, but with free agency and the new contract structures allowing players to opt out, this fact is more obvious than ever before. In the end this is GREAT for the league. It makes the NBA a unique sports product, one that can grow internationally in its own way.
The biggest and most popular sports in America are team sports. The biggest sport internationally is also a team sport. Football, baseball, soccer, and hockey don’t work without strong team dynamics. Baseball tows the line as individual players can shine, but none of these team sports offer what basketball does. The NBA is showcasing a team sport, while also showcasing individual stars. It’s the best of both worlds, and with the players taking more control of their careers and who they play with, the league wins. Internationally this makes the NBA an easy sell. American sports royalty making headlines as they try to win titles. But more importantly, as the individual players gain power, the NBA becomes more unique. The “face of a franchise” is most true in the NBA. And the league can continue to separate itself from the competition by embracing the “faces.” Teams win championships, but stars sell the sport.
The perception is that star players control their futures and are now holding the power. But this is a massive group effort on the part of entire organizations to facilitate the actual alignment of stars. What the Miami Heat have already managed to do this off-season is pretty incredible. In a “me first” society all three star players tossed aside their contracts in order to facilitate potential improvement. If it were any other three players, we as a nation would be shocked. Miami has also positioned itself to restock its roster from top to bottom, less than a month removed from winning the Eastern Conference. Winning teams almost never clean slate.
The two best teams in the NBA (San Antonio and Miami) have proved there is more than one way to win a championship. But hidden beneath the surface are the same core values. The Spurs kept their “Big Three” together for years. Miami is now doing all it can to emulate this. The real question for me is, what will Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook do?
The Thunder have two stars whose games don’t always complement one another. The franchise seems stingy and their inconsistency needs fixing. If Durant and Westbrook want to win it all, they need to be vocal. Looking out for yourself only gets you so far, and it won’t win you a championship in this NBA. What happened to getting on a soap box? Why aren’t Durant and Westbrook wooing a third star to OKC? Their silence speaks volumes. Don’t rule either man out in the future plans of Melo and LeBron James.