Are "Super Teams" Good for the NBA?

Sports  /  by Vinny Veeramachaneni '19 and Nico Ellis '19  /  October 06, 2017

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

-YES-

Last off-season, Kevin Durant made one of the most infamous decisions in National Basketball Association history by choosing to sign a contract with the Golden State Warriors, a team with a 73-9 record, creating one of the best teams of all time. His decision disappointed the majority of the NBA community, as it created a lack of parity in the league. Going into the 2016-2017 season, most fans were expecting the Warriors to win the NBA Finals easily, and the team delivered, cruising into the first seed in the tough Western Conference and losing only one playoff game en route to their fourth championship.

This off-season, many other superstars are following in Durant’s footsteps, creating new “super teams.” Although many have deemed the trend harmful, creating other super teams may actually be in the NBA’s best interest, as it allows for stronger opposition to the Golden State Warriors.

Since Golden State’s Big Four of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are not splitting up, the Warriors will continue to be a strong presence in the NBA. Although they may not get their fair share of money if they stay on the same team, these players seem more focused on winning than on money. To set an example, Durant took a nine million dollar pay cut to stay with the Warriors this year, while Curry operates under an average paycheck despite having won two Most Valuable Player awards. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs, the two teams with the best shot to beat the Warriors last season, collectively won only one game against the Warriors in the playoffs, showing the apparent talent disparity between the Warriors and the rest of the league. If the team’s core sticks together, they would be favored to win the NBA title for the next five to six years, leaving the rest of the league with one option: more super teams.

Creating additional super teams provides much-needed competition for Golden State. For as much as Golden State was lauded last year, the team was far from unbeatable. Even though its record looked good on paper, the 2016-2017 NBA Finals demonstrated that the Warriors needed Kevin Durant to win. With the addition of all-star players to already good teams, more teams will have a realistic shot at beating the Warriors, creating competition that will greatly benefit the NBA.

Since super teams will increase competition, TV ratings will also increase. There is a reason that the All-Star Game and Finals viewerships have gone up in the past five years: People want to see the best players play together. What better way to do that than to bring three or more all-stars to the same team?

Overall, the hype for the 2017-2018 NBA season might be the greatest in a long time. Fans want to see the new Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, and Oklahoma City Thunder, among others, battle the Warriors. These games are not only more exciting to watch, but the skill level of the teams also increases the level of play, a crucial element of attracting larger audiences. For all of the lack of parity in the league, there is at least more competition this year, and more than two strong teams are vying for the championship. With all of the hype surrounding the new and improved teams, this season’s finals cannot come quickly enough.

-NO-

With star forward Carmelo Anthony’s move to the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC) and point guard Dwyane Wade’s move to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the stars of the league continue to pile onto a handful of rosters. After the Golden State Warriors dominated the past three seasons, winning two championships and reaching the record for most wins in a regular season, teams around the league have worked to acquire groups of superstars to face them. While this recruitment may be one way to end the Warrior’s dominance, the shift towards super teams is an issue for the NBA: The inability of many teams to compete with the league’s juggernauts will ultimately make the league less competitive and more predictable.

Predictability is the biggest issue with the NBA. Prior to the 2016-2017 season, ESPN’s NBA writers made their picks for the season’s champion. Out of 28, only three did not pick the Warriors. This prediction manifested in the Warriors’ cake-walking through the “gauntlet” of the Western Conference and breaking down the LeBron James-led Cavaliers in a five-game series during the NBA Finals. Many other teams have strengthened their rosters. The Houston Rockets has added Chris Paul to its lineup, which already includes MVP runner-up James Harden. The Boston Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers, along with small forward Gordon Hayward. The Minnesota Timberwolves added two-way all-star Jimmy Butler to its pair of strong rookies, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Most notably, OKC acquired Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to accompany Russell Westbrook, while the Cavs added a myriad of players to play alongside LeBron James, the best player in the world. Regardless of these trades, the Warriors still unequivocally remain the best team in the league. According to ESPN, they have a 58 percent chance of winning the Finals this season—the next best team is the Celtics, who have a 12 percent chance. The Warriors’ having a greater chance to win the NBA Finals than someone having a chance to flip a coin on heads is bad for the league.

Furthermore, other sports leagues around the world are successful due to their diversity of talent and unpredictable playoffs. For example, this season’s Major League Baseball playoffs are highly anticipated because eight out of 10 playoff teams have a strong chance to win the World Series. The same is true in the English Premier League, whose unpredictability was highlighted in the 2015-2016 season when Leicester City F.C, a team promoted to the Premier League only one year earlier, won the league despite having 5,000 to one odds of winning.

Competition and unpredictability are what make sports a massive entertainment industry around the world. The most memorable moments in sports occur when teams or players overcome the odds to achieve something unlikely, not when the predicted favorite does the expected. While I understand the allure of super teams, as it is entertaining to watch the stars of the game playing alongside one another on a night-to-night basis, the growing imbalance of skill due to the talent concentration in a handful of teams is a detriment to the league because it compromises competition and removes unpredictability from the game.