When Dwyane Wade announced he was leaving the Miami Heat to come home and play for the Chicago Bulls, I had two immediate reactions. First reaction: This doesn’t make any basketball sense, the Bulls already have a younger All-Star shooting guard.
Second reaction? D-Wade’s coming to Chicaaaaago!
This October, the Bulls are going to start Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler. And while I don’t see how that’s going to mesh, I absolutely want to see it happen in person. I even found myself looking at season ticket prices, ready to ration out PB&J sandwiches to make it all work.
It’s amazing what star power can do. I wasn’t exactly rushing to the box office when the lineup was Denzel Valentine, Jimmy Butler and Doug McDermott.
We’ve entered a new era of NBA team building and it’s one that can’t possibly be sustained by all 30 teams. Quick look back at recent NBA team building history:
After Michael and Scottie, it was all about building a dynamic duo. Most of these centered around Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq and Penny, Shaq and Kobe, Shaq and Dwyane Wade.) In 2007, the concept of building A Big Two turned into The Big Three model when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined forces with Paul Pierce on the Boston Celtics. This was the fuel for Miami Heat’s Big Three of Wade-Bosh-LeBron in the summer of 2010.
During all this, the Spurs were like, “Hey, if you build a well balanced roster centered around a humble superstar and everyone plays with little ego, passing the ball around, and you don’t hire a new coach every two years, you can actually win a title here and there.” The rest of the owners looked at it like buying a Honda, yeah, it’s the smart thing to do, you’ll be set for the next 20 years, but why not try this used sports car first.
The unprecedented move of Kevin Durant going to the Golden State Warriors creates the league’s first Big Four. Steph Curry was first-team All NBA and has won the last two MVPs. Kevin Durant was second-team All NBA, won the MVP in 2014. Draymond Green, second-team All NBA, put up a 32 pt / 15 reb / 9 ast game in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on 11-15 FG shooting, hitting six threes. Klay Thompson was third-team All NBA and holds an NBA record for scoring 37 points in one quarter. Any one of these guys can drop 30 in a half.
The “weak link” in the starting five, Andre Iguodala, was the 2015 NBA Finals MVP! Perspective, that’s the same number of NBA Finals MVPs as the entire Chicago Bulls roster, including Dwyane Wade and I threw in Scottie Pippen too.
There is no such thing as hyperbole when gushing over this roster. It’s the best “on paper” starting five we have ever seen. Yes, injuries could still happen, yes, chemistry could still be an issue, but if they can keep egos in check and play together, the championship should be a cake walk. They can essentially coast to 66-67 wins. We have never been able to say that before. Honestly, east coast teams like Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Orlando should consider skipping the long flight altogether and just ask the league office to pencil in a margin that seems fair.
So how have the other teams responded? The New York Knicks rushed out and created their own Big Four with Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. But it’s kind of like the store brand alternative or the difference in excitement between a new all-star comedy starring, “Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel” vs. Grown Ups 2 with, “Adam Sandler*, David Spade, Chris Rock and Kevin James.”
*For the record, I still have a pretty significant amount of shares of Adam Sandler stock. I’m not giving up! Actually, same thing can be said for Carmelo Anthony. This Knicks analogy might work a little too well.
And maybe that’s going on here in Chicago. Get Rondo, Wade and Butler then lure in one more guy for a Big Four. As an NBA team, you may have to do this just to keep up. Make your fans feel like there’s still a chance. But it’s impossible. There aren’t enough all-stars to go around.
That is unless the NBA considers downsizing. And I’m not going to handpick which teams should go. I have no interest in alienating myself in seven or eight cities, so I’m just going to use the 1986 landscape as an example. Back then there were 23 total teams compared to 30 teams today. Here are the seven current teams that weren’t around 30 years ago.
Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic, Memphis (Vancouver) Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Miami Heat
Other difference, the Oklahoma City Thunder were the Seattle Supersonics.
If you were to drop those seven teams, here’s a list of some of the guys that would immediately become available as free agents:
Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Mike “largest contract in NBA history” Conley, Demar Derozan, Kyle Lowry, Andrew Wiggins, Chris Bosh, Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Justice Winslow, Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, Elfrid Payton, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.
Would the Golden State Warriors title seem as inevitable if the Cleveland Cavaliers had Karl-Anthony Towns as their starting center? What about putting Wiggins next to Kahwi Leonard on the Spurs to split time guarding KD, Green and Thompson? Or how about for the Bulls, they could lose hometown kid Derrick Rose and replace him with new hometown kids Dwyane Wade and Anthony Davis.
Almost all starting fives would look like playoff teams from 2016. Depth on every team would get better, guys that were seventh or eighth men now fall to ninth and tenth. And if you can put a grand finale together of Curry/Durant/KD/Green vs. LeBron/Irving/Towns/Love, is anyone on the planet not tuning in?
It would one hundred percent suck for those seven cities left out but, from an overall revenue perspective, basketball is a global moneymaker and the popularity would keep increasing overseas with the higher level of competition on the court. For comparison, think of how many Champions League fans there are in the U.S. who may never go to a game in their favorite team’s home stadium. Or how many Warriors fans have magically shown up in Chicago or anywhere else thousands of miles away from Silicon Valley. More than ever before you don’t need to live in the city of your favorite team.
The big money isn’t about ticket sales at each of the home stadiums. The prosperity comes from these gigantic TV deals. And these deals will continue to grow, because the amount of “I need to watch this live” shows are down to sports, Game of Thrones and Republican debates.
The equation for more eyeballs seems pretty simple: better competition, more viewership. Back to soccer as an example, there’s a reason it’s huge right now with Eurocup and will be even bigger in two years for the World Cup. When everyone asks, “Why doesn’t soccer ever seem to stick after the World Cup?” I don’t think it’s that complicated, if the top 20 players in the world decided to sign contracts with MLS teams next season, and they dropped the league down to 16 teams, we would see a significant boom in viewership, both nationally and internationally.
Let’s consolidate the NBA, because what’s the alternative? Technically, the NBA has a Developmental League with teams like the Grand Rapids Drive and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, but I would argue they have an unofficial farm system with teams like the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves. Just look at the last fifteen years:
LeBron James and Chris Bosh, drafted by small market teams (Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors), leave to form a Big Three in Miami. Carmelo Anthony, drafted by Denver Nuggets, leaves to form a Knicks style Big Three (with Amare Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups.) Keep going down the list, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, now Kevin Durant, all leaving the original team that invested time and money into their early careers.
The cycle will keep repeating. We see it now with the discussion on whether or not to trade Russell Westbrook or risk losing him for nothing in free agency. I’ve mentioned Wiggins and Towns a couple of times, I worry that Minnesota may become Oklahoma City 2.0. I can’t imagine this is fun for the fans of these teams. The few prosperous years are a tease followed by a decade of, “What could have been.” And that’s if they draft well.
So all I’m saying is if a handful of teams have already unofficially been serving as part of the NBA’s Developmental League, maybe it’s time to make it official.
If you enjoyed this discussion on an idea that would likely never happen, I’ve got some good news for you! In the near future, I’m hoping November, I will be going further down this rabbit hole in what I’m calling a “Chicken Nugget” e-book. Why that name? Because it’ll be too big for a blog post, too small for a book. The price will be cheap ($0.99 on Amazon) and the content a little bit greasy. In it I’ll pitch my full plan to help with the NBA, college basketball and even college football. If you would like to subscribe to this blog or sign up to receive information about this upcoming title “Taking the Charge: One man’s somewhat serious plan to solve basketball’s problems” go ahead and type your email in this box below. And see you back here on August 1st!