The long NBA season has concluded and will start again before you know it. The question is, what’s the point? We’ve seen this act three times: Golden State vs. Cleveland in the finals. Is there a reason to think Act IV will be any different?
If the answer to the question above is no, then what’s the point of an 82-game regular-season schedule? Well, we know the answer to that one. Show me the money.
Obviously, the NBA has competitive games throughout the season, but how much interest is there in the early rounds of the playoffs if the outcome is a foregone conclusion? There was zero doubt about the outcome during the playoffs.
Even former NBA star Charles Barkley acknowledges the lack of a competitive NBA matchup isn’t good for the sport. He went to a Stanley Cup hockey game in Nashville one night because he wanted to see some competition.
This year, the NBA only had two or three teams with a legitimate shot of winning the championship regardless of how many teams made the playoffs.
Boston was the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, which meant nothing. Having the best record in the regular season meant little because the gap between the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers and the Celtics proved to be as wide as the Grand Canyon.
Outside of Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio, no one really had a shot. And once Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ best player, went down with an injury, they had no chance.
Allowing Kevin Durant to sign with the Warriors had to be satisfying to him and it allows Bay Area fans to be more smug than they already were, but it was not good for the NBA. That was merely the best team that money can buy, and that shouldn’t be what sports are about.
Granted, not every team in the NFL has a realistic chance of winning a title, but there’s far more competition to win it all in football than pro basketball.
Even though New England has won a number of Super Bowl games, they never appear to be a lock. More than a few teams have challenged and overcome their supremacy. And rarely do the same two teams meet in the Super Bowl in consecutive years.
Comparing the NFL to the NBA and Major League Baseball is like comparing apples and oranges.
The NBA works just fine if you’re a fan of Cleveland and Golden State, but what about the rest of the teams?
Free agency can be a game-changer, especially in a sport like basketball where a superstar can have an immediate and significant impact on a team. This is nothing new and has tipped the scales of power before.
When LeBron chose to join Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Heat instantly became the team to beat, even if they didn’t win it all every year. Once LeBron left Miami to return home to Cleveland, the Cavaliers instantly became a title contender.
So when a star like Durant joins an already powerful team like Golden State, no one was surprised that the Warriors became the team to beat. And barring some unforeseen and significant personnel changes, it’s hard to see anyone outside of Golden State, San Antonio or Cleveland competing in the finals next year.
Free agency isn’t quite the game changer in baseball that it is in basketball because it takes more players to form a championship team. A single star pitcher or hitter doesn’t guarantee anything.
The Royals won a World Series with the help of late-season additions Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, but the team had already played in one World Series without them. In a very short time, the Royals have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse.
In football, one player rarely changes the fortunes of a team, with the possible exception of a quality quarterback. Denver won the Super Bowl with a less than 100 percent Peyton Manning several years ago. While adding Manning was significant, the rest of the team was already loaded, especially on defense.
So yes, free agents make a difference in all sports, but in basketball, the impact is far greater.
Hillsboro resident Joe Kleinsasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Kleinsasser@wichita.edu.