I call it stacking, and it is ruining the NBA.
The latest example came over the weekend, of course, when Kevin Durant shook hands with the Golden State Warriors, a team that won an NBA-record 73 regular-season games before succumbing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games in the NBA Finals. Along the way, the Warriors defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder and Durant, who has since taken an old adage to an entirely new level.
Oh, it’s an old concept, something baseball players did for years. You wanted a World Series ring? Well, go play for the Yankees. But something about the latest trend in the NBA seems rather, well, dirty, as if it defeats the purpose of winning championships in the first place. The idea was never to win a title purely to check the box on someone’s bucket list. The idea was to win a championship for the achievement, because it meant that you worked for something, competed for it, earned it.
But now? Now, when LeBron James finds the process too frustrating, he teams up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to stack the deck in his favor. And when Durant similarly finds the process too arduous — too difficult — he just goes to the best team in the league, Golden State, to build a super-team that Las Vegas oddsmakers have saddled with an over-under win total of precisely 67.5.
Let’s put that into perspective. How many teams in NBA history have ever won more than 67 games in a season? Six. One of them happened to be the 2015-16 Warriors, who were arguably the greatest shooting team of all time.
And now they have added one of the best shooters of his generation or, for that matter, any other.
As we all know, there are no guarantees in sports. So fine, as a free agent, Durant has every right to pick the Warriors. But when professional sports leagues began adopting salary caps and luxury taxes, the idea was to control salaries and promote parity. The only league that really does the latter now is the NHL, which has an inflexible, hard cap in a sport that generally discourages dynasties.
As for football, well, the game is unpredictable. But the cap is a joke, and a franchise quarterback is almost a prerequisite.
Basketball being basketball, the NBA needs a harder cap, not a softer one. But the league will never adopt one for lots of reasons. Perhaps the most under-publicized of those is that NBA owners don’t truly want one, because super-teams are good for the game. The ’80s had the Celtics and Lakers. The ’90s had the Bulls. The 2000s have had the Lakers and Spurs. Americans don’t like parity or the underdog so much as they like greatness, and the Warriors now have the chance to be the greatest of all-time.
But if they do so purely because nobody else even has a chance, what does it really mean?
Simply put, in the NBA, the star players have too much power now. Maybe it has always been that way. LeBron can leverage the Cavaliers because Cleveland — the city — would be lost without him. And Durant basically just did the same to Oklahoma City. It certainly feels as if star players in the NBA are changing teams like never before, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. The players have figured out that they can stack the deck.
Deep down, NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, probably doesn’t care about this for a simple reason: star players sell. If you put more than one on the same team, there is always the possibility for palace intrigue. And if the stars mesh — if Durant perfectly aligns with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — there will be an inevitable backlash because people almost always rebel against an empire.
One way or another, you’ll be rooting in the games involving Golden State. You’ll either be rooting for the Warriors, or you’ll be rooting against the Warriors.
But just like Durant, you will absolutely, positively pick a side.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.