NBA Finals television ratings may have been high, but the 2017 playoffs were overwhelmingly uncompetitive overall. It’s clear that one team from each conference is positioned far atop the others in the NBA’s talent hierarchy. That made the first three rounds of the playoffs essentially meaningless, given the lack of competitiveness, upsets, and smallest of surprises for that matter. I mean let’s be honest: there have been more surprises this NBA offseason!
Is the NBA Lack of Parity Fixable?
Heading into the Finals, 13 of 14 playoff series had at least one decisive victory by at least 10 points. Of those 13, 11 series featured one team losing at least three games by 10+ points. The NBA should be even more worried that half of the postseason series were decided by five games or less.
Some basketball fans could move past the underwhelming path to the Finals, given how wildly excited they were for the third installment of the Cavaliers-Warriors trilogy. This Finals matchup was hyped all the way back in the preseason, with both teams possessing clear paths to respective conference championships. Dream-like, media-inspired storylines ultimately came true about 10 months later, after both Cleveland and Golden State cruised to the ‘big dance’ with a combined 24-1 playoff record.
NBA Finals Arrived
Well, the highly-anticipated Cavaliers/Warriors matchup came and went, rather quickly at that. The clash of conference superpowers had all the makings of an all-time classic finals matchup. Three MVPs. Multiple future Hall of Famers.
To say it was a dud for NBA fans is an understatement.
Five games. Three more blowouts. Game 3 was exciting down the stretch, but just one of few games of that nature during the playoffs. Game 3 was the Cavaliers best chance to get back in the series. Kevin Durant had other ideas, though, drilling a clutch three-pointer with under one minute remaining. That ultimately proved to be the symbolic dagger that ended the Cavaliers slim chance at back-to-back titles.
The Golden State Juggernauts
This Warriors team is the poster boy for the league’s disparity issue. They went on the longest playoff win streak (15) in NBA history, owned a ridiculous +13.5 playoff point differential while averaging 119 points per game. This team showed that even with their head coach absent, they still could consistently dominate. With a style of play that incorporates Durant seamlessly in place going forward, the Warriors practically run on autopilot. Golden State finished the most successful playoff run the league has ever seen at 16-1. This team gelling even more going forward is likely.
Television ratings for the NBA Finals may indicate the league is at a healthy point of its existence. But if the parity gap continues to grow and the Finals remain essentially predetermined (pending injuries derailing Golden State) before the season even gets underway, that’s bound to change.
Dynasties have always been a part of the NBA. Russell’s Celtics, Magic’s Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, Duncan’s Spurs. Aside from the Celtics example, there were always teams to challenge Magic, Jordan, and Duncan-led teams. The Showtime Lakers battled the Celtics. The ’90s Bulls went to war against the Pistons and dueled with the Jazz. The Spurs tilted with the Lakers.
What’s changed is that Golden State (with Durant) doesn’t have any legitimate challengers capable of beating them four out of seven games in a series. It’s worrisome for the league that the Warriors core will be intact for the next two seasons, possibly longer. Durant is expected to opt out of his player option and return on a deal that pays him a touch under the max. As for Curry? He’s set for a supermax contract this offseason. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are locked up until 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Disparity is Good
More disparity would be welcomed with open arms in coming seasons. If we use the NHL playoffs, for example, the sixteenth-seeded Nashville Predators have made a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final. That sort of unpredictability draws fans in by making the early playoff rounds intriguing, given no one truly knows who will waltz to the championship round. The NBA could benefit from that level of uncertainty. While it may be tough to have all eight playoff teams in each conference realistically competing for a title, the NBA must do more to enhance parity.
The league could explore altering the salary cap, so a Kevin Durant signing is never again in the realm of possibility. The only issue with that is the league’s collective bargaining agreement is signed through 2023, and can only be opted out of by 2022.
With not many plausible solutions in place, the NBA’s parity issue isn’t going away anytime soon.