In the wake of Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder in free agency to join the Warriors, a team already stacked with three all-stars, including the reigning MVP, many are questioning whether the NBA should allow such a concentration of top talent. Don’t count J.J. Redick among those people, however, even though Golden State now appears to present an even greater roadblock to his Clippers’ title hopes.
Redick took to Twitter Thursday to defend Durant’s move and point out the hollowness of recent complaints that the league is losing its competitive balance. He noted that the NBA has had five different championship teams in the past six years — the Mavericks, Heat (twice), Spurs, Warriors and Cavaliers — and that no one seems to complain when club executives put “super teams” together, just when players take it upon themselves to make it happen.
Redick’s comments came amid a debate that has gained renewed vigor with Durant’s defection to the two-time Western Conference winners, but began when LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010 on the Heat and continued when James joined Kyrie Irving in 2014 on a Cavaliers team that subsequently added another all-star in Kevin Love.
With the Cavs and Warriors meeting in the past two NBA Finals, and Golden State seemingly getting even better with the addition of the 2014 MVP, no less an interested party than Commissioner Adam Silver recently said he doesn’t “think it’s good for the league. . . . Whoever is favored, try telling that to the 420 other players who aren’t on those two teams.”
“We have the greatest collection of basketball players in the world in our league, so I’m not making any predictions,” Silver added. “But there’s no question when you aggregate the great players [on those two teams], they have a better chance of winning than many other teams. . . . It’ll be interesting to see what happens. But to be absolutely clear, I don’t think it’s ideal from a league standpoint.”
Silver noted that the league was in a “collective bargaining cycle,” giving everyone a chance to “take a fresh look at the system.” Redick, meanwhile, is entering the final year of his contract, so perhaps he is wary that Silver may be attempting to play on the disapproval of Durant’s move to leverage better terms for owners in the next collective bargaining agreement.
That aside, Redick has a point about the disparity in perception from when a general manager such as the Celtics’ Danny Ainge is able to maneuver to put top-flight players on the same team and when players themselves do the same. Why is the former lauded, and latter derided?
(Here’s another question: Given that the NBA has long traded on the popularity of individual superstars, it can easily be argued that the best thing for the league is for its best players to win titles, and in that light, what difference does make how those title-winning teams are formed?)
Redick received some pushback from Twitter users, and he posted responses to several tweets, including one with this clarification: “My point was on the idea of [competitive] balance. The NBA will never have parity like the NFL. It NEVER has.”
Whereas football requires a huge amount of players, so that even quarterbacks, who just play offense, can only do so much to affect the outcomes of games and seasons, basketball lends itself to domination by a handful of elite players. In other words, any team with James on it is well on its way to being a super team. The ineptitude of management in his first go-round in Cleveland kept him on frustratingly title-deficient squads, and in that light, James can hardly be blamed for eventually deciding to essentially become his own GM (even if the way his move to Miami unfolded was very easy to criticize).
Redick also pointed out to Twitter users that recent NBA champions, most of which had some form of “Big Three,” were not put together solely through free agency. He noted that Golden State drafted Curry, Thompson and Green; San Antonio did the same with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (later acquiring Kawhi Leonard in a draft-day trade); and Miami, Dallas and Boston all featured at least one star they drafted.
The larger point could be that so-called “super teams” are not, actually, bad for the NBA. Its history is one of Hall of Famer-studded dynasties, and it could hardly be argued that the Lakers-Celtics rivalry in the 1980s — stuffed with the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish — was far from “ideal from a league standpoint.”
Bird himself recently fanned the flames of the debate by saying (in an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio), “I couldn’t imagine going to the Lakers and playing with Magic Johnson. I’d rather try to beat him.” Of course, he also added, “I could never imagine myself going and joining another team with great players because I had great players. I was in a great situation.”
In theory, Durant, too, was in a great situation, playing on a team with an all-star point guard in Russell Westbrook and talented big men in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. But the NBA’s current system allowed him to leave for what he perceived to be a better situation, and Redick is right to be alarmed that the outcry about the Warriors could lead to more restrictive player-movement policies.
It is more likely that the Golden State case represents an anomaly (aided, it’s worth mentioning, by Curry’s far-below-market-value contract), one that shouldn’t be seen as symptomatic of a problem the NBA needs to address. Redick is also right to point out that individual talent plays such a huge role in the NBA that achieving true competitive balance is essentially impossible.
Given the popularity the NBA has enjoyed with previous “super teams,” including the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Horace Grant/Dennis Rodman Bulls and the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers, it’s hard to see why Silver would even be perturbed at the prospect of a long-running Cavs-Warriors rivalry. Redick may have his suspicions about that, and in any event, he had some solid points to make Thursday while coming to the defense of a competitive rival.