Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers and Carmelo Anthony go up for the ball in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Never has the gap between the haves and have-nots in the NBA been wider.
The trade of Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks, where he’ll team with fellow all-star Amar’e Stoudamire, has fans in New York dreaming of its first NBA championship since 1973. The trade will force Anthony’s former team, the Denver Nuggets, to take a giant step backward.
The Anthony trade is the latest example of a trend that is bad for the NBA’s long-term health. You can’t have a strong 30-team league when more than two-thirds of the teams have no legitimate chance to win a championship.
The NBA has become top-heavy because many superstars are using the system to determine where they’ll play, and with whom. But a top-heavy league cannot sustain itself very long. Eventually, franchises will fold and jobs for ballers will be lost if superstars insist on aligning themselves with other superstars in a few chosen cities.
After LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh teamed up to help the USA win the gold medal in basketball at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, the trio decided to play together on the same NBA squad once their contracts expired in 2010. The scenario played out last summer when James and Bosh said good-bye to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors, respectively, and joined Wade on the Miami Heat.
While South Beach is now home to an NBA superpower, the Cavaliers have become the "Cadavers", and the Raptors are now that irrelevant franchise north of the border. The New Orleans Hornets would also become irrelevant if, as rumored, all-star guard Chris Paul leaves after the 2011-2012 season to join Anthony and Stoudamire in New York. And what if all-star center Dwight Howard decides to leave the Orlando Magic in 2012 to play with Kobe Bryant on the Lakers?
When it comes to players choosing up sides for their own games, what’s good for New York, Miami, and Los Angeles is bad for the NBA.
The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement next season needs to strengthen the “Larry Bird Rule,” which allows a team to offer more money to keep its own free agent. The league should also force a team signing a marquee free agent to give up more players and draft choices. If the NBA fails to do this, it may not be long before there are "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS" signs in such cities as Sacramento, Toronto, Memphis, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.