NBA kicks parity on its ass

28 06 2009

Which scenario for the upcoming NBA season would you prefer? A collection of decent teams, nearly all of which have one major flaw, or a handful of truly powerful squads who can trade punches throughout the year on their quest to the ring? 

If you’re like most of America, chances are you’ll vote for the former option. We’re a country that roots for the underdog and believes that every team should have a fighting chance to win it all. It sits in line with our belief that people are created equal and all deserve a fair chance at glory. Yet, I don’t believe sports works that way. 

Sports, like life, is a grueling process filled with disappointment, glory, fulfillment and, most of all, an eat-or-be-eaten mentality. To have parity — a word that to some equals opportunity but to me signifies boredom — is what sports leagues will sell as drama.

In the case of the NBA this upcoming year the real drama will lie with five teams, as it should. And we’ve seen the stakes rise in the past week. With three separate trades sending All-Star caliber players — Richard Jefferson (Milwaukee to San Antonio), Shaquille O’Neal (Phoenix to Cleveland), Vince Carter (New Jersey to Orlando) — from porous franchises to ones with realistic championship aspirations, we’ll see a scenario in which arguably five teams can be considered in the Heavyweight division of the NBA’s league-wide weight class. 

The defending champion Lakers, assuming they re-sign Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, will return with a core of Kobe-Gasol-Odom-Ariza-Bynum (he’s a key to that team next year). San Antonio has its own star-laden core of Duncan-Manu-Parker-Jefferson. Cleveland brings the LeBron-Shaq duo to the table while Boston returns with its healthy core of Garnett-Pierce-Allen-Rondo and Orlando has a Howard-Lewis-Carter-Nelson quartet that could be devastating with the return of Turkoglu. Or maybe Turkoglu goes to the Cavs, which would give them another shooter and, more importantly, a second player who can create his own shot.

If you want drama, then the upcoming season of title contenders has drama fit enough for TNT (which incidentally will broadcast many of the best games). If you don’t believe that a season full of contenders taking turns punching each other out can be fantastic for the sport, then take a look at the ’89-’90 season, when the NBA’s popularity began rising to another level that would culminate in the ’92 Barcelona Olympic Games. During the ’89-’90 season, six teams won 55 or more games, and another, Phoenix, won 54 and got to their Conference Finals. Want to know the powerhouse cores of those teams? How about a young Jordan-Pippen-Grant triumvirate on the 55-win Bulls and the Isiah-Dumars-Laimbeer trio on the eventual champion Pistons? The West had the Jazz (Stockton/Malone in their prime), the Spurs (Robinson-Cummings, who were more than one Cummings ‘board per game from being a 20/10 duo), the Suns (Chambers-KJ duo with deadly shooters in Hornacek, Majerle and Eddie Johnson), the Trail Blazers (Drexler-Porter-Duckworth-Kersey) and Lakers (Magic-Worthy-Scott). That season was so ripe with contenders that even the 63-win Lakers couldn’t make it past the second round.

Of course, each team this year has at least one core player with major durability issues (Shaq, KG, Vince, Bynum, Manu), but the stage is set for a season that could top last year, a year in which three teams (Boston, Cleveland, Lakers) surpassed 60 wins and another, Orlando, which straddled the line at 59. You think about San Antonio winning 54 without Manu for most of the year and obviously sans Jefferson, and we’re looking at the possibility of five teams reaching 60 wins in ’09-’10. The season can’t come soon enough.

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