The Warriors opened at -200 to win the NBA championship in 2018, which means you have to bet $200 to win $100. Jeff Sherman of the LV SuperBook told ESPN’s David Purdum that “They’re going to be the highest favorite we’ve ever had going into a season, any team in any sport.”
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are both free agents this offseason, but it’s widely presumed that both will return to the Warriors, and it’s even been reported that Durant — who in the Finals solidified himself as the team’s best player, and arguably the best player on the planet — would be willing to take less money to keep the team intact.
Chris Paul ain’t pushing the Spurs over them. Swapping Kevin Love for Paul George wouldn’t make a three-game difference for the Cavs. Barring injury, tragedy, and/or multiple Kardashians dating Warriors players, they are going to win the title next year. Probably in 2019 as well.
Because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, shoe companies pay the best players more than their teams are even allowed to spend. You can make an argument that it’s a good investment for Durant to take less money from Golden State in order to secure far greater odds at winning multiple championships. Even before his first title, he had a Nike contract worth upwards of $300 million.
An argument could also be made that the NBA owners should be fine with this arrangement. While the Finals lasted just five games, television ratings were through the roof. The national TV deal is the biggest source of league revenue, and franchise valuations have skyrocketed.
But, there’s absolutely no reason beyond an aesthetic love for basketball to watch the regular season or even the first two rounds of the playoffs next year. There are going to be a lot of empty arenas. To the extent it hasn’t already, the league is on the path of becoming college basketball, where the masses only care about the sport for one month a year.
The latest CBA, which incentivized players staying with their teams for more years and more money, was supposed to be a safeguard against what has happened with the Cavs and Warriors. But, the one-time spike in the salary cap triggered by the new TV deal enabled the Warriors to land Durant, and the constraints that everybody else has in terms of what they could offer Curry and Durant will mean that in all likelihood the team retains them.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
NBA owners could, when the next CBA comes around, get rid of max contracts. Let’s say there was still the reported salary cap of $113 million next season: what would teams offer Curry and Durant? Is it unreasonable to suggest that Durant could command $50-60 million on this type of market?
Combined with endorsement deals, max contracts incentivize superteams to stay together. At some point, the NBA owners will have to figure out which they value more: an artificial wage ceiling, or competitive balance. Under a system with a salary cap but no max contracts, you could really only have two top-tier stars.
Until max contracts are abolished, superteams are here to stay.