Down With Parity: The NBA Arms Race Begins

Kevin Durant shook up the NBA world last year when he signed with the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder had just lost a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors a month prior, and many panned the former MVP’s decision to leave for the Bay Area.

Durant joined a 73-9 team that was just one win away from capturing their second-consecutive championship ring. He was turning the “Super Team” dial to the max level — joining forces with a unanimous MVP and two other All-Stars.

This situation wasn’t similar to Houston in ’96 or Boston in ’08. Those teams were built around a bunch of veterans. Nor was it like the 2011 Miami team — as the Heat hadn’t won a playoff series in four years by the time LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to town. This team was different. It was perfectly structured — with unselfish shooters across the board fitting together seamlessly like puzzle pieces.

Golden State put together a near-impeccable 16-1 postseason run. It was capped off by their second title in three years. This is the sight that scared the league when news broke of Durant’s decision last year. How could any team stop a nucleus of in-their-prime All-Stars as they become more and more comfortable with each other? Durant and the Warriors had successfully ruined the NBA.

Actually…no – far from it.

Parity is a complex idea in the NBA. When a series reaches a seventh game, 99.9-percent of the time the better team comes out on top. The NBA will never have that March Madness or NFL Playoff feel to it — as a playoff series inherently forces teams to dig deep in their bag of tricks to pull out four victories in seven bouts. It’s great when a team like Butler makes it to the tournament final in March, or when Eli Manning and the imperfect Giants make an unlikely run to the Super Bowl.

Underdogs matter, but the NBA is a bit different in that regard. The 2006 Heat and 2011 Mavericks are the last teams in recent memory to win a title without entering the playoffs as big favorites. Those teams played well together, and had the star power – Wade and Nowitzki – to legitimize their spot atop the league.

We as fans put value into parity because we want to believe that every team has a chance to win. Fans like to think that more parity creates more interest around the league — which would then lead to better ratings and an overall better product. While there is some truth to those beliefs, interest in the league isn’t directly related to parity.

Those Miami and Dallas teams aren’t the ones we remember when we think about the postseason. Rather, it’s the dynasties we come to love. The Celtics of the 60’s won 11 out of 12 titles with Bill Russell at the helm. Magic’s Showtime Lakers represented the Western Conference for nine out of 12 years — winning five NBA titles of their own. Jordan could have won eight in a row had he not pursued baseball. Instead, he had to settle for two separate three-peat’s instead. Nobody complained about a lack of intrigue during those times.

Even looking at this season, nearly everybody predicted that we would see the Cavs and Warriors match-up in the Finals for the third-consecutive year. It was fairly predictable in the end, but the build-up was still plenty interesting.

It’s like watching a movie you already know the ending to. Though the outcome isn’t a surprise, it doesn’t mean the rest of the film doesn’t matter.

Staying in the theme of films, the Golden State Warriors are the Galactic Empire, the Cobra Kai, or – most fittingly – the Wicked Witch of the West. Their stranglehold over the league has now forced other teams to make drastic moves. Either buy every superstar you can, or tank as hard as possible. Floating between mediocrity and a second-round playoff exit is deeply frowned upon. It’s an arms race to see which team can scavenge the best group of talent to dethrone the Warriors — especially because no player wants to see Draymond Green parading through the streets of Oakland every June for the next decade.

Houston has made the first move, acquiring All-NBA point guard Chris Paul. It’s a move that will be questioned by many. Paul and Rockets’ star James Harden have games that overlap a bit, which could lead to problems on the offensive end. They are both highly intelligent players though, and Mike D’Antoni’s offensive brilliance is the right mind to make it work. It was a shocking move that is just the start of major changes around the league.

Paul George is still on the trade block, and could be joining Kyrie Irving and LeBron James in Cleveland to create even more of a juggernaut in the East. Blake Griffin and/or Gordon Hayward could be Boston-bound to be paired with Isaiah Thomas and the rest of the gritty Celts.

Additionally, we get to see Paul and Harden – arguably the best backcourt in the league now – orchestrate a free-flowing offense surrounded by a bevy of shooters.

The Warriors didn’t ruin the NBA – they did anything but.