The deterioration of the NBA

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One could argue that last year’s NBA season concluded with one of the greatest games in league history. LeBron James reached the culmination of his career in thrilling fashion with an NBA Finals Game Seven victory, shocking the world with his talents yet again. Regardless of those 48 minutes of jaw-dropping competition, we need to face the facts: the direction in which the NBA is heading towards is disheartening for longtime fans of the sport. Whether it’s the painfully grueling and seemingly never-ending regular season, the ridiculously disproportioned scoring margins in many of the playoff games, the lack of physicality or the combinations of superstar-type players arranging to play on the same team each offseason, the NBA is not what it used to be.

At first, the NBA regular season might not appear as drawn-out as previously implied, sitting at a somewhat-modest 82 game mark, especially with the MLB season casting nearly double this number. But when you think about the extreme toll that each exhibition places on a player’s body and match that with the constant impact of sprinting and stopping on a dime, cutting violently back and forth or exploding to the rim, it’s no wonder that there are so many injuries throughout the league every year. With that being said, the repercussions of a single injury can be devastating not only to the player, but also to his team, franchise and even potentially his entire city. One injury can redefine the trajectory of a player’s career, as we have seen time and time again, most recently with the myriad of injuries experienced by Derrick Rose. Surely, there is a great possibility that cutting down the number of games could decrease the risk of injury, but quantifying that truth would be challenging, based on the varying severity that each injury presents. On top of that, the regular season presents few storylines of interest to the average spectator. It’s one thing to be present at a game and enjoy the thrill of witnessing your favorite players on your hometown team, but if you are sitting through commercial after commercial to watch lackluster defense along with sporadic barrages of three-point attempts, all I can kindly say is “to each their own.” The unfortunate reality of the situation is that regardless of how uninteresting and non-beneficial the regular season is, as long as the current schedule is prosperous for NBA shareholders, the season will remain lengthy, even if it is not in the best interest of its players.

To combat the extreme stress that the NBA season exerts on players, the way that the game is being played and the way that rosters are constructed is changing as well. As seen in recent history, superstars are more frequently joining forces in order to alleviate some pressure from themselves. Just this last offseason, we saw Kevin Durant join the powerhouse Golden State Warriors, Dwyane Wade team up with Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler in Chicago and Joakim Noah look for a new beginning with fellow all-star Carmelo Anthony in the Big Apple.

Now all this is fine and dandy in terms of creating more interest in the league, right? Wrong. It is so disappointing to watch the best in the game play on the same teams. Prior to 2007, when the first “big three” (Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) came together, it would have been practically unheard of to see superstars — let alone rivals — team up with one another. Nonetheless, it is becoming commonplace in the sport because players don’t want to labor day in and day out chasing a championship ring in what might as well be deemed a one-man mission. One can’t fault a player for feeling this way, nor throw hate on their decision, but with the current structure of the NBA, this negative trend will only persist.

Hate is not the only thing being thrown around in the NBA. Today’s players are hoisting up shots from the perimeter at ungodly rates. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is Stephen Curry’s consecutive single-season three-point records. This demonstrates that the game is not nearly as physical as it once was and that fewer back-to-the-basket-type players are coming into the league. Nowadays, it seems that every scout is looking for the next foreign seven-footer whose passing and ability to shoot the ball either matches or exceeds his skills when playing down low in the post. I again credit the decreased physicality to the length of the season. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who wants to bang in the post for the entirety of the night, at least 82 times a year. It is so much easier to become a great three-point shooter and spend the majority of time on the floor waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities. Shooters are also much more valued in today’s league, as virtually every position is now expected to be able to hit jump shots. Furthermore, the power forward position has completely transformed, and I will even go as far as saying with Tim Duncan’s retirement, there will never be another true “power forward” in the NBA. With Timmy D’s departure, the new definition of the “four” position in today’s game is one who can hit the ten-to-fifteen foot jump shot and maybe grab a few rebounds here and there. With each ensuing reality building on the last, it is clear that the league is not headed in the right direction.

I will say it once again: the NBA is not what it used to be. It is neither right nor wrong; it is simply how the game has transformed due to the league looking to maximize profits, regardless of the toll it takes on players. Don’t expect big changes any time soon either. Unless there is a sudden drop in ratings or substantial changes within the next collective bargaining agreement, the format of the league is here to stay. The NBA also signed a massive television deal that will come into play in the next few years as well, further increasing revenue for the league. This deal will continue to bring the sport into the homes of millions of fans of all ages. In doing so, these consumers will continue to feed into the vicious cycle that has been previously created. There is great irony in the current state of the NBA between the fans and the product being presented to them. The situation is ironic in the fact that the true fans of the sport were supposed to be rewarded by a lengthy season when in fact their vast interest in the sport has led to its downfall. Too much of a good thing can certainly turn into a bad thing, and, at this point in time, that is the inescapable reality for the NBA, as well as its players and fans.