Here we are. A day before the NBA draft, the league is faced with a situation in which the players ultimately are picking and choosing the teams for which they will play. The league is in a peculiar spot of players positioning and team machinations to the point that stars are aligning themselves.
There's a list of folks lined up to woo Carmelo Anthony, who opted out of his contract with the Knicks on Monday.
There would be a longer list of folks lined up to woo LeBron James, who opted out of his contract with the Heat on Tuesday. (And just for good measure, Mrs. LeBron created a social media sandstorm this week by posting a photo of the map of Ohio with the caption "Home sweet home!! The countdown is real! #330" in reference to James' family growing up in Akron. Of course, Cleveland would love to have a round two with LeBron, so the rumors grew like wildfire. The James family said the message was in reference to the family's summer vacation plans.)
Where were we? Oh, yes, the reversal of the determination of fortunes.
When did this happen? When did individual stars controlling the future of the league become the accepted brand of franchise construction?
Sure, the reps for Kobe Bryant and Eli Manning forced draft-day trades to better organizations and better situations for the betterment of their careers. That's hardly new. Heck, John Elway did that in 1983.
Leveraging your assets to maximize your position is a common survival tactic.
But this seems different. This seems unsportsmanlike and somehow crooked. Stephen A. Smith said on ESPN Radio this week that he knows LeBron and Carmelo have spoken about potentially playing together.
If stars are willing to take less money and decide which three or four teams have a legit chance at winning a title, then what is the long-term future of 60 percent of the NBA? Do the Bucks ever have a chance? Or the Hawks? Or fill in the blank with any of roughly two-thirds of the league?
It's an interesting social dilemma, considering you have a Tim Duncan electing to take a little over $10 million -- well under market value for the greatest power forward of all time -- to help the Spurs add pieces for another title chase. Duncan is praised for the move, rightly or wrongly, and Kobe is vilified for taking max money and crippling the Lakers' salary-cap situation. Is that fair? Certainly Kobe has earned that money -- he has five titles, is the leading active scorer and always fills up the joint -- but taking what he has earned could hurt his chances to win.
In the day and age of players looking to stack their decks, LeBron holds all the cards for two reasons. He is the best player in the league, and the easiest way to a title for any team is to figure out a way to land him. Second, James is far and away the highest earning player in the league. He made $18 million last year -- a figure that was in the top 10 in the NBA in salary -- but he made more than $70 million total last year when factoring in endorsements, so money is no longer a factor for King James.
And regardless of what he decides, the NBA needs to look at the free-agent dealings of players among players. Teams face tampering charges, but players have become the de facto general managers in some situations.
The league is staring at a very real caste system in which there is a small circle of haves -- teams with championship-level talent who have assembled themselves to be among the elite -- and a large pool of driftwood where teams have to lose and hope the lottery is kind. So there will be roughly 10 teams trying to get to the No. 1 spot and 20 teams that have a better chance at the No. 1 pick.
How is that good for basketball or for competition? The answer simply is that it's not. Not at all. And no matter what you think about Donald Sterling's loose lips, the growing competitive hurdles in the league are far and away the biggest issue facing the NBA.
The NFL model gets an added edge of competitiveness because of weighted schedules that offer breaks to the weak and challenges to the mighty. And while each has its pros and cons, an NBA structure of short-term contracts and eschewing getting better and growing a franchise in trade for players relocating and repositioning themselves on better rosters seems dangerous.
Sure, this helps the league in the eyes of the casual fan, because the teams with the most stars will be the teams that get the most eyes, and the so-called super powers such as Miami last year become a lightning rod for fans who either love them or hate them.
But if the best players decide to align themselves and form five super teams, most of the league will be left on the outside looking in and hoping to land a magical pingpong ball or trying to wipe out their roster so they can be the next destination for three stars to collide.
And maybe they can enjoy the ride until the next big three opt out.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...