Many of us in the NBA analysis business came of age during the era when the league was like a game of king of the hill. For most of the '80s and '90s, once a team reached the championship perch, it was awfully hard to knock them off. That's the way the NBA has always been to a certain extent, save for the relatively wide-open '70s. During that decade, you had franchises like the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, Washington Bullets, Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle SuperSonics rise up to win championships. The NBA is a little like that now.
More than ever, the league seems to be about putting yourself into position to win a title, then hope the clutch shots, officiating calls, injuries and matchups fall in your favor. It's not exactly fair to say the league has parity -- the chasm between the league's top and bottom has never seemed greater, in fact. But among the elite, there is a certain egalitarian sense. The top of the league isn't a perch, it's a mesa. On it reside a handful of teams, any of which could win a title in a given year under the right circumstances.
The top of the league isn't a perch, it's a mesa. On it reside a handful of teams, any of which could win a title in a given year under the right circumstances. ... it's now harder to know when to tear down a contender.
One consequence of the NBA's current landscape is that it's now harder to know when to tear down a contender. Michael Jordan's decision to tear down the Bobcats was a no-brainer. Charlotte wasn't on the mesa. Two years ago, there were all sorts of calls to tear down the Dallas Mavericks, who appeared to have plateaued at a non-championship level. Mark Cuban stuck with his core and his coach, showed a willingness to foot the considerable bill that accompanies a top-notch veteran roster, and made some seemingly small roster tweaks. His patience was rewarded by Dallas' first championship.
It's a lesson fans of the Spurs would do well to learn today at a time when many of them have to feel like the West is about to become the sole domain of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the next decade or so. If the aging core of the Spurs can't take down their Thunder counterparts this year, how is next year going to be any different?