Today’s NBA: Fair and balanced, for a select few


LeBron James and the Miami Heat seem destined for another NBA Finals, and this time it could be against a loaded Lakers team, though Oklahoma City should not be counted out. (Lynne Sladky/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Mike Wise
Columnist October 27, 2012

Chris Paul, in London this summer with the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team, did all he could not to laugh, scoff or emote in any fashion. He was asked whether he was surprised that NBA Commissioner David Stern didn’t veto the deals that sent Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to the Lakers, who already have Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.

“I’m stayin’ away from that one,” said Paul, whose trade to the Lakers the summer before of course was nixed by Stern. “I’m where I’m at.”

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Yes, C.P., you are where you’re at: stuck as an elite point guard on the No. 2 team in town and, at best, the seventh- or eighth-best team in the league. As a new NBA season dawns this week, the Clippers, like 27 other teams, have no bona fide shot of winning the championship, no shock-the-world prayer of unseating Kobe or Kevin Durant in their own conference, much less of dethroning LeBron and the Heat. Meantime, the rich get richer across town.

From the league that used “competitive balance” as its mantra through the lockout that shortened last season — because, we were told often, those scrappy little payrolls in Milwaukee and Sacramento should be able to hold their own against a player-collusion Death Star like Miami — comes . . . yet another uberteam.

Woo-hoo. Go World Bank!

I’m sorry. I am genuinely excited for another season of the world’s greatest athletes levitating above the rim.

I want to see LeBron take the next step and seize the torch from Kobe for good. If that happened in the NBA Finals, beautiful. It would feel a little like Michael vs. Magic 1991, when Earvin Johnson was simply too old to match Jordan entering his prime. But even the appearance of two supernovas is must-watch ball.

I want to select three unspecified front-court players on my all-star ballot for the first time in league history, because JaVale McGee should not get votes just because no one plays center any more.

I can’t wait to see the Kings rename their home the “The Sleep Train Arena,” because nothing says playoffs like a mattress company sponsor.

Hell, I want to see the Knicks implode, because nothing matches a good, old-fashioned implosion like a New York one.

I want to see pro basketball in Washington again — but, hey, you can’t have everything.

Anyhow, as the new season dawns, 90 percent of fans who live in an NBA market have just one great aspiration, one attainable goal: to see their team lose in the second round, rather than the first, to the Heat, Thunder or Lakers.

The anti-parity NBA numbers are pretty startling. In Major League Baseball, 19 franchises have won the World Series since 1980 — 31 years if you take out 1994. In the National Hockey League’s 31 years of holding a Stanley Cup playoff since 1980, 15 champions have emerged. Fourteen organizations — including the Steelers, 49ers, Redskins, Cowboys and Giants multiple times — have won Super Bowls since 1980 in the NFL.

The NBA’s ability to spread the wealth: nine teams. That’s it — just nine franchises have won NBA titles since 1980. Lockout or full season, the rich get richer and Charlotte goes to the lottery.

We knew Stern, the most progressive commissioner in all of sports, wanted to take the league international. We didn’t know he would go so far as to follow Central America’s resource distribution model.

The team I feel bad for is Oklahoma City, which had to move James Harden late Saturday night because the Thunder’s third-best player reportedly refused a contract extension worth $52 million. Long term, OKC may be better off. Short term, their carriage just became a pumpkin. Losing Harden makes it that much tougher to return to the Finals.

Yeah, San Antonio has won four titles and Tim Duncan’s club continues to be one of the great purveyors of what the game should be: Sharing the ball, disciplined play, finding a way to win. But the Spurs have never moved the national needle like Russell Westbrook flying down the floor at warp speed.

Durant and Westbrook are the one, great hope to ensure LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Kobe and big-market teams everywhere don’t step on the little guys annually. The Thunder is essentially the next generation of Sacramento, where the Kings of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby and all their great role players captivated the country with their stop-and-pop game and came so close to winning it all.

And at the exact moment OKC appears ready, the Lakers buy at least another round in the playoffs, make themselves matter again via their wallet before Kobe calcifies.

Yep. Feel sympathy for the most recent Little Team That Could. But feel worse for Indiana. The Pacers are the NBA’s biggest problem. In theory, Indiana should actually be that team that graduates to championship caliber within two years. They have good, young players on the cusp of being perennial all-stars.

It took the Pacers awhile, but Indiana has rebuilt after the loss of Reggie Miller and the best team in franchise history from a decade ago.

But, really, what chance do the Pacers have of getting to the NBA Finals? Maybe they could beat the Bulls, who will be without Derrick Rose until 2013. Maybe they could somehow stun the Heat, whose number they almost had last season, in the first round or polish off a decrepit Celtics team or a not-yet-ready 76ers squad in the second round.

But the chances of the Pacers beating all those teams in a seven-game series en route to the Finals is almost none. They are not a bona fide contender. Neither is Denver, Memphis, the Knicks, Philadelphia, Dallas and any franchise but a small smattering of teams: In ascending order the Spurs, Celtics, a healthy Bulls team, the Lakers, Thunder and Heat have a real shot to hoist the trophy. And if we’re being brutally honest, there are only three who have the firepower to pull it off: Miami, Oklahoma City and those plucky scrappers doing it on a shoestring budget in L.A.

There are no L.A. Kings, coming from the eighth seed to hoist the Cup, in the NBA. There are no New York Giants, who had to win their last game to qualify for the playoffs before rolling to the Super Bowl. There are only bright lights, pastels, beaches . . . the opulence of Miami and L.A., of LeBron and Kobe, seeing who can court the better teammates to join their thriving corporation.

In this ongoing Star Wars league, it’s all on the Thunder. Help us, Kevin Durant. You’re our only hope.

For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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