The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Forget breaking up the Warriors, the NBA commissioner wants more teams like them

(Cary Edmondson/USA Today)

OAKLAND, Calif. — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver does not want to break up the Golden State Warriors. He just wants the rest of the league to catch up to them.

The Warriors stormed to an NBA championship with a 16-1 record, one year after winning a record 73 games in the regular season. They have a nucleus of players in their prime outwardly committed to staying together in the Bay Area. They are head and shoulders above the rest of the league, and appear set up to remain so for years to come. There are the Warriors, and then there are 29 other teams.

Such dominance cuts against the league’s hope of competitive balance, which it has tried — and largely failed — to achieve through collectively bargained measures since 2011. Golden State played exciting basketball, but its games rarely provided competitive drama.

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Silver, though, took no issue with the construction or quality of the Warriors. He expects other franchises to keep up.

“Rather than focusing on the top of the league, we should be focusing on the rest of the league,” Silver told The Post before Game 4. “Rather than talking about how to break up or knock down a championship-caliber team, my focus should be on how we do a better job developing more great players in this league.”

Silver pointed out that the Warriors had succeeded through savvy drafting and player development before signing Kevin Durant, who became NBA Finals MVP. They chose Draymond Green with the 35th pick, Klay Thompson at No. 11 and Steph Curry seventh. Signing Curry to an extension early in his career allowed them the flexibility to keep their nucleus together with key role players.

“And yes, an incredible free agent was added to that squad,” Silver said. “All the focus seems to be on, ‘They’re too good’ as opposed to, ‘What is it we should be doing to create more great teams in this league?’ That’s what my response is.

“My answer is, let’s create more great teams, rather than completely focus on one incredible team and whether that’s seemingly unfair to the other team. I think it’s the nature of competition. Ultimately, it’s about raising the bar for all the teams in this league and celebrating excellence.”

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There is a danger, though, in franchises and players chasing the Warriors, perhaps even more harmful to the league’s competitive concerns than the Warriors lording over the league alone.

Silver is right — other franchises will attempt to compete with the Warriors. But the only way to combat their five all-stars would be to gather stars themselves. “There’s going to be a lot of teams that’s trying to figure out ways to put personnel together to try and match that,” LeBron James said after Game 5.

At some point, though, there are only so many stars to go around. New CBA provisions aim to prevent teams from luring stars, and the salary cap spike the Warriors took advantage of in signing Durant was a freak occurrence, tied to the NBA’s new television rights deal, that will not happen again. But players control player movement more than ever, and they have options to accommodate teams wishing to sign them, if they choose.

A logical conclusion is an extreme version of the star-clustering currently happening in the NBA, with two tiers of teams — a small few with stars, and a vast many with none. It would create titanic clashes with national appeal, but local ratings and attendance would decrease.

“That’s of course something we wouldn’t want,” Silver said. “Are stars born, or are they made? The issue here, this wasn’t a function of a bunch of star players coming together and saying, ‘Let’s choose a team to go play for.’ You had one incredible free agent join a group of other stars who weren’t stars until they came together, and came together under Steve Kerr and demonstrated excellence.”

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The NBA and the NBA Players Association enacted changes in the CBA meant to prevent stars from aligning that will take effect next year. Teams can negotiate with their homegrown players sooner, and they can offer more money under the salary cap.

“Of course, over time, we’ll continue to look at the CBA,” Silver said. “And if there are additional changes we need to make to promote competitive balance, we will.”

Silver also believes the NBA can solve the potential problem of not enough big-name players to go around by simply creating more stars. He thinks a greater number of international players can raise the level of play. He wants to change the NBA’s age-limit rule, primarily to develop more skilled, prepared players entering the league.

“Draymond, four years in college. Steph and Klay spent three years in college,” Silver said. “So what does that say? The message is, it doesn’t mean that we should absolutely raise the minimum age. It just means that what we should is focus on, is there something about the way they were developed that turned them into such great players? My answer is, let’s create more great teams.”