In the aftermath of Kevin Durant’s decision to take his talents to the 73-win Golden State Warriors, the basketball world has obsessed over and decried the latest NBA trend of “superteams.”
With the Warriors taking the idea of superstars teaming up to a new level, many have argued how these superteams make the league anticompetitive, how they are a product of max contracts undervaluing the league’s best players, and above all else, how they need to go away.
On Saturday, Miami Heat President Pat Riley (who knows a thing or two about superteams) offered his solution to this problem: create an NBA franchise tag, which would allow each team to sign one player for as much money as they wanted, no salary-cap rules applied.
“I believe that there should be a franchise tag on one of your guys. My opinion of a franchise tag — this is why they don’t allow me to talk and give opinions in the collective bargaining agreement — is that a franchise player to me would be a player in which you can pay him as much money as you want.
“It doesn’t go against the cap. Everybody gets one player, that Kevin [Durant] you get 50 [million], LeBron you get 100 [million]. Somewhere along the way there are players in this league that are worth that kind of money. Or there’s a limit on that. But if you franchise somebody then you have the ability to protect [against your star player leaving for a super team.]”
There’s some truth to the notion that Durant’s decision to team up with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green has made the league less all-around competitive: We’re in the heart of the NBA offseason and, barring some unforeseeable, blockbuster trade, a Finals rematch between Cleveland and Golden State already feels like a foregone conclusion.
But so long as elite NBA players are willing to take pay cuts in order to play with other elite players (which is, in part, a product of rings and legacy remaining national obsessions), superteams will forever continue to exist, at least in some capacity.
Still, the question of altering the collective bargaining agreement in some way to structurally defend against the creation of superteams remains an intriguing one.
Riley’s idea is certainly thought-provoking, though its logic is based on an assumption that a prestigious NBA free agent would always stay with his current team because that team has no limit in how much money it could spend on him.
That’s maybe true for some players, but again, many players (understandably) care more about winning championships than anything else. And for those dying for a ring, why opt in to a $50 million franchise tag if that team is never going to actually compete for a title? Instead, you could sign a max contract (about $27 million per year) under the salary cap with a better team — a team that would have likely offered its own franchise tag to another superstar. And wouldn’t that, then, just be another superteam?
Another possible flaw in Riley’s concept is that there are very few sure things in sports. As The Big Lead notes, shelling out $50 million or $100 million is almost always a risk. Would owners really want to spend that kind of money when a freak injury could end a career?
If nothing else, Riley’s solution is interesting in a subject that will continue to gain traction as the season gets underway — because for now, superteams aren’t going anywhere.