Wednesday, January 11, 2012

4 Questions for 2012: The NBA

The 4 questions series finally turns to the National Basketball Association. After a contentious lockout that nearly ruined the 2011-2012 season, the NBA is back in business. Lets take a look at one of the most pressing questions facing the league.

The past few years have seen the rise of "super teams" in big markets. Will the NBA continue becoming a top-heavy, big market league in 2012?

The NBA is becoming top-heavy, with most of the power concentrated in the large markets. Examples include the Celtics in Boston, the "big 3" in Miami, Melo and Amare in New York, and the Lakers of the past few years in Los Angeles. It is all well and good that fans in these markets have something to cheer about again. But when this comes at the expense of the rest of the teams in the league, then there is a problem.

All over the league, good players are fleeing their teams, in pursuit of championships and the bright lights of the big cities. Recently, we have seen LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Derron Williams, and Chris Paul all leave their teams they came up with for bigger cities and superstar combinations. Part of the reason the recent lockout happened was because the owners feared the players had too much power. The star players and "superagents" seem to have indeed remade the league.

The league was faced with an interesting situation before the season began. Chris Paul wanted out of New Orleans, and the league had control of the bankrupt Hornets. When Dell Demps, the Hornets GM, tried to send CP3 to the Lakers in a trade, the league vetoed it, for "basketball reasons." The real reason the trade was dismantled, though, was because the league did not want to send yet another superstar to the big-market Lakers. They did not want to continue a trend that the owners had so vehemently fought against for months.

Paul did have good reason to leave the Hornets. The team does not draw many fans, and it is hard to stay competitive on a budget. CP3 had no real help, so he wanted out. With the Lakers trade dead, Demps had to pursue a new deal, with Paul a free agent at year's end. So, for a decent haul, the Clippers were able to acquire Chris Paul. This satisfied the owners. The Clippers play in a big market, but are not the traditional big market team. Through this action, the league put their foot down in the interest of competitive balance in an already top heavy league.

What does this all mean for 2012? It will surely be an interesting season, due to the compact schedule. Another battle looms on the horizon, and it involves the future of Dwight Howard. Will he stay in Orlando, get traded at the midpoint of the season, or leave as a free agent? As one of the game's most dominant players, whatever Howard does will be emblematic of the direction of the NBA. My guess is that he follows Shaq's footsteps and finds his way to Los Angeles, whether by trade or via free agency.

However the superstars align, basketball remains a team sport. Though the NBA is a superstar driven league, how good your team is often trumps how many superstars are on that team. This contrast was on display in the NBA finals last year, as a true team in the Mavericks took down a constellation of stars in the Miami Heat. In a grueling season, the smart money is on a team with character, like Dallas, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, or Chicago, versus a Miami.

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