In comments made to reporters the other day, Dirk Nowitzki gave a brief thought on the subject that has been on everyone’s minds throughout this NBA Finals: whether “superteams” are ultimately good for the league.
Here’s what Dirk said:
Dirk Nowitzki on the dominance of Golden State: "There’s talent-pooling going on now and that takes away franchise players from other teams"— Eddie Sefko (@ESefko) June 6, 2017
We asked three of our senior staff to weigh in on Dirk’s comments. Check out their responses and add your own in the comments!
It's easy to look at Dirk's quote and nod in approval as we watch Golden State viciously run down a squad with LeBron James on it like they're a college team. The NBA has never felt more imbalanced, with a largely trash playoffs as two teams clearly rose above the muck.
Stepping back, I don't agree. The main reason Golden State is the deathslayer of basketball that they are is through their own means of talent evaluation -- they took Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes outside of the top-5 in the draft, took Draymond Green in the second round and made the proper coaching change from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr when the time was right. There was no collusion there, no robbery of another team. Just good decision making and some luck. Sure they poached Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala, but that doesn't happen without the moves in the draft. Golden State didn't take Steph or Klay or Draymond from anyone.
Besides, as garbage as the playoffs have been, there are plenty of teams with franchise players still in their prime -- Milwaukee has Giannis, Washington has John Wall, Houston has James Harden, San Antonio has Kawhi, etc. Golden State and Cleveland are the only real super teams, while the rest of the league's talent seems fairly spread out across the landscape, even if the playoffs were largely butt. The 2017 draft class will add even more talent to teams desperately needing it (Hi, Mavericks!).
HOWEVER, the one place I'll maybe see to Dirk's line of thinking is this -- the rules set in place by the NBA to prevent or at least discourage superteams from happening are myths. The entire point of the salary cap, max contracts and such was to help teams keep their stars, punish idiot teams for dumb contracts and prevent bigger spending teams from loading up like the 1998 Yankees. Except that never happens. Golden State should have suffered for their Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson contracts, except the Jazz happily wiped it away thanks to a couple of draft picks, letting the Warriors sign Iggy. The Mavericks should have had the ghosts of Erik Dampier and Brendan Haywood lording over them, but seemingly snapped their fingers to get them off the books. The Heat shouldn't have had room to sign LeBron and Chris Bosh since they just drafted at the number two spot the year before, but, it's OK, Minnesota was ready to take their draft bust for nothing. As the league has emphasized building through the draft, lower-run teams have no problem tanking, not making any competitive roster moves and sucking up bad contracts to meet the salary floor and recoup draft picks.
The only reason Houston didn't form their own super team with Bosh, Dwight Howard, Harden and Chandler Parsons isn't because the salary cap and CBA hindered them from squeezing all the dollars in, but because Chris Bosh wanted to stay in Miami. The Mavericks thought they would be ahead of the curve to building a super team by clearing out cap space, failing to recognize that it doesn't matter -- if a superstar says he wants to come, the league magically (also legally) lets you find ways to make it happen.
In the end, that's fine. Players who have no real power over where they're drafted should be able to pick to go where they want when their first or second contract is up -- but let's stop fooling ourselves like the league is actively discourage these superteams from forming. Whether that's bad or not for the NBA is a discussion I don't really care for since the Warriors haven't even won their second ring yet. But it's one I'm not sure the league truly wants to tackle right now.
While Dirk isn't singling out anyone in particular here, much of the recent debate about super teams has centered on the Warriors and their addition of Kevin Durant last summer. A lot of people have taken a negative opinion of Durant's decision and it's clear that Nowitzki is wary of similar moves around the league. I don't share that opinion.
Durant did what he thought was the best thing for him and his career. Looking at where he and the Warriors are right now, you'd have to be a fool to say that he made the wrong choice. But that's the debate that's raging on renowned academic think tank Twitter right now.
To Dirk's point that "talent-pooling" is taking franchise players away from team, it's a bit of an absurd assertion. Nothing is taking them away. The players don't belong to teams. The only thing that binds them to a team is a contract and that team, at any point, can trade that contract. That's the relationship between team and player for the vast majority of the league. That's not to say that bonds don't form beyond just that but, time and again, the business of the league takes precedent. And right now, the players are in the driver's seat of the NBA's free market.
Durant joining the Warriors creating a juggernaut is good for the league. They have set the bar very high for every other franchise. The end result is that every team, if their end goal is to be competitive or vie for a championship, will have to rise to the level of the Warriors one way or another. Better basketball is the outcome. That's not a bad thing. Besides, this is the the modus operandi of the NBA. It's a league built on the back of dominant superteams.
Right now, those teams are the Warriors and whatever team LeBron James is/was on. Before this era, it was the 3-peat Lakers. Before that it was the Bulls of the 1990s. And for most of the league's history, the Cetlics and Lakers have gone back and forth, trading titles. The only time there wasn't one or two dominant teams was the 1970s when eight different franchises won it all, including the Seattle SuperSonics, the team that drafted Kevin Durant.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with the Warriors’ dominance. There's nothing wrong with Durant wanting to be a part of the best team in the league. Unless we lie to ourselves or have some kind of deranged mental illness, it's the same thing we want in our own lives. We want to be part of a good organization that values our talents because they make the team better. A big paycheck makes it even sweeter. For Durant, he knows that he's a desired commodity in the NBA's free market. He made the system work for him. Why should we hate him for it?
Dirk's factually wrong, to start with. The Warriors drafted three of their four best players. It's not talent pooling if other franchises (including the Mavericks) don't put emphasis on drafting and player development.
Then there's the other issue, the simple historical one that super teams have never been bad for the league growth. Look, I love our Mavericks, but 2004 to 2008 was one of the more boring periods in league history. Dirk, for all his awesomeness, was never a figure of worldwide renown like LeBron or Kobe. That each other those two either assembled or were lucky enough to be on a superteam is really just the way the cards fall. That's also what made 2011 so amazing for us, because in the Dallas-Miami Finals, the Mavericks did not have the most talent (but they did have the most depth). They beat Goliath. It was awesome.
The Mavericks just need to get better about drafting and team building, period.