The NBA has become a league of haves and have-nots, a fact driven home emphatically by the Warriors’ four-game sweep of the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, the fourth straight year those teams met in the championship round.
Do “super teams” like the Warriors and Cavs make the NBA too predictable and uninteresting? Apparently some fans think so. And Commissioner Adam Silver sympathizes, though he contends the NBA has always been a league dominated by dynasties.
“There have been dynasties forever in this league,” Silver said in an interview Wednesday on ESPN Radio. “There’s an old Sports Illustrated cover you guys should look up from 1997 and there’s a picture of Michael Jordan on the cover and it’s saying, ‘Are the Bulls bad for the NBA?’ It's kind of the same storyline right now.
“I don’t remember the same conversation back then, I think because you didn’t have the Kevin Durant factor. That sort of bugs people a little bit, because a team that was already a championship team gained Kevin Durant. There wasn’t quite the equivalent with the Bulls.”
Silver was referring to the Warriors’ signing of Durant — a move that added one of the game’s best players to a team already filled with superstars — and acknowledged that it may have rubbed some fans the wrong way.
“I get it in terms of Kevin Durant going (to the Warriors in 2016). It was a bit of an aberration in our system; we had a spike in our cap, it enabled them to have additional cap room,” Silver explained. “The Warriors will tell you they would have figured out a way to get it done anyway.”
Most NBA teams start the season knowing they have virtually no chance to realistically compete for a championship. Contrast that with the NHL, where teams regularly rise from the lower ranks to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Silver says the “have-nots” have made their displeasure known. But he added that they share some responsibility for the way the league is set up.
“The 28 other teams, they’re the biggest complainers that these two teams have met (in the Finals) four times in a row,” Silver said. “Ultimately, collectively our 30 teams are in charge with what system we have, along with the players.”
At least this season, the Warriors and Cavs had to survive stiff challenges in the playoffs. The Rockets and Celtics pushed them to the seven-game limit in the Western and Eastern finals, respectively. In 2017, the Warriors swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Spurs on their way to the finals, while the Cavs swept the Pacers and Raptors before eliminating the Celtics in five games.
One solution could be a hard salary cap, though Silver doesn’t think that would necessarily prevent so-called super teams from forming.
"There's always a next collective bargaining agreement and over the years we've talked about a harder cap than we have now,” Silver said. “The NFL has a much harder cap than we do; ours is somewhat soft.”