With Steve Nash moving to the Lakers, and a deal that will ship Dwight Howard to Brooklyn seemingly imminent, the era of the “Big 3” in the NBA is officially here.
With superstar trios now in Miami, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn, it appears teams in the league now have to “adapt or die” in order to have hopes of winning a championship.
Is the Big 3 era as bad as it’s made out to be?
This has many NBA fans and small market executives in an uproar, arguing that this is a league that should be centered around competitive balance, as the new CBA was supposed to ensure.
It still could in time, as the strict luxury tax doesn’t really kick in for another year or two, but contenders gathering “Big 3s” is certainly the dominant concept in the league at least for the short-term.
Why is it good if the same teams are there at the end all the time? How is it fair? It’s for that competitive balance reason why so many are opposed to stars ending up in just a few cities, claiming that it is bad for the league and that it’s a huge problem.
However, is it really?
Due to what has transpired, the Miami Heat have become the league’s biggest villain of possibly all-time. We all love to hate the Heat; so much so that TV ratings during this year’s NBA playoffs and Finals broke all sorts of records; so much so that the league not only survived a work stoppage, but thrived after it.
Think about that for a second.
- It took the NBA a few years after the work stoppage in 1998-1999 to regain its popularity (although much of that also had to do with Michael Jordan’s retirement).
- It took a monumental (although ‘roid filled) home run race in 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to put baseball back on the map four years after a lockout in 1994.
- Also, other than in the die-hard hockey fan markets, the NHL has really never recovered from losing the entire 2004-2005 season.
Without the intrigue of these “super teams,” it’s doubtful the NBA would have recovered so quickly, and it’s doubtful the league would be as popular and profitable as it currently is.
It’s for that reason alone why it’s hard to fault David Stern for anything.
Who’s to “blame” for the Big 3 trend?
A commissioner of a major sports league has two main jobs: make sure the league is profitable and to police the league to make sure everyone is playing be the rules. Well, we’ve already touched on part one of that, so obviously, Stern has done his job in making the league a profitable industry.
He’s also done his job in part two, as contrary to everyone’s state of denials, teams like the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers have done and are doing everything within the rules. It’s not like the Heat have different luxury tax and salary cap penalties and exceptions than the Charlotte Bobcats.
It’s for that reason that we also cannot blame the organizations for adopting this “Big 3” concept.
Ever since Danny Ainge decided to bring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Boston while dismantling the rest of his team in process, it became clear that the “Big 3” team model was a successful one.
If teams are able to pull that off within the rules, what’s the problem?
If LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, all want to come play for you, and you can fit them all in within the restrictions, you are supposed to say no?
If Ray Allen wants to come play for you for less money than anywhere else, you are supposed to say no?
That leads us to the players. If anyone is to blame for the way the league is today, it’s them. Not David Stern, not these multi-billion dollar tycoons who own the squads, but the players. The players choose where they want to go once they hit the open market, and in many cases, even before that.
Also, contrary to the conspiracies of many, David Stern does not tell these players where to go, and he does not fix the league.
If he did, and players and owners caught even the slightest wind of this, don’t you think lawsuits would be flying against Stern all over the place? How could he really get away with fixing an industry worth billions of dollars in which hundreds of investors and hundreds and thousands of employees are involved in. Yeah, the man really is going to risk life in prison.
Double standard at play
However, there’s a double standard we have placed on these free agents that needs to be addressed, and Ray Allen’s recent situation is a perfect example.
Everyone always likes to talk about how, nowadays, athletes are only in it for the money. But here, we have Ray Allen taking HALF the money he could have received in Boston, and he’s a sell-out?
You say he should be loyal to Boston? Really? After they signed Jason Terry, a move that basically told Ray that his role would be diminished greatly if he returned?
No matter what Ray Allen was going to choose, it was a lose-lose situation as viewed by contingents of fans. And it appears that now, this is the case for all good players that hit free agency.
Instead of these small market teams crying about it, maybe they should take a look at how Oklahoma City has done things. There’s no way they can be characterized as a big market, but they’ve done their homework, drafted well, and brought in the types of players that they feel will stick with them.
So again, contrary to the denials of many, any team in any market can be successful. Sure, it’s a bit harder for a small market team to be competitive, but that would be the case no matter what the model is because a city like Portland is never going to have the appeal to a player that a city like New York has.
Again, take a look at the Thunder. Everyone likes to complain that it can’t work for a small market team, but we have living proof in the NBA right now that it can!
Look, as a Bulls fan, I too hate the way the league is right now. But the fact is it’s working for the NBA when it comes to league popularity and profitability.
People forget that, above all, this is a business. Considering the current state of the league, things aren’t changing anytime soon.