Stempak: NBA takes the most pieces to win
R.J. Stempak | Monday, April 18, 2016
Editor’s Note: This week, our Sports Authority writers are answering the question, “In which competition is it most difficult to win a championship?”
The Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy is the most coveted one in all of sports, because the NBA is the most difficult league to win. The NBA is the premier basketball league in the world, unrivaled in talent and popularity. At the start of this season there were a total of 100 international players on NBA rosters. Every basketball player in the world dreams of playing in the NBA, and everyone who is good enough ends up there.
Despite the large talent pool concentrated in the league, over half of the league’s teams have either one or zero championships. The fact that only give players are on the court means that each player is vital to a team’s success, and finding the right combination of players to complement each other can mean the difference between being in contention for the championship or being out of the playoffs.
The nature of the league is that teams are stuck in their position in the standings for periods of a few years at a time. Rosters remain stable, and team success is dependent on the development of each team’s own players. Very rarely will a single trade turn a team into a contender. This results in teams perpetually stuck where they always make the playoffs but will never actually be a contender. So every year only two or three teams every year have a realistic chance of winning it all.
This reality forces teams who want to move up the rankings to take risks. If these risks do not pan out a team can be stuck with an old team without draft picks, like the Brooklyn Nets are right now. History has shown that the most successful teams either have Lebron James (Heat and Cavaliers) or have hit home runs on multiple draft picks in consecutive years (Warriors, Thunder and Spurs). For the rest of the league it is next to impossible to win.
The format of the playoffs also makes it very difficult to win the NBA title. The seven-game series format makes upsets unlikely. The better team will regularly win four out of seven games against an inferior team, even if they give up a game or two in the series. In the Western Conference over the past few seasons, there have always been three or four really good teams that you would have to beat just to make the Finals. In the Eastern Conference you have to get through LeBron, which has not happened since 2010.
Looking through the history of champions, it is easy to see how these ideas hold up. Michael Jordan was by far the best player in the league when he played, and had teammates that complemented his style of play, most notably Scotty Pippen. Pippen was traded to the Bulls soon after being drafted, and developed alongside Jordan for the beginning of his career. If the Bulls had not traded for Pippen that early then they would not have been able to get him and they might not have won six championships in the time Jordan played for them.
On the other side of the spectrum, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony have not been lucky enough to win a championship. They both moved from the teams that drafted them onto big-market teams where they became the focal point of their respective offenses. However, these teams have never been able to construct the proper supporting cast to complement their stars to lead to a championship, essentially wasting the prime years of Paul and Anthony’s careers.
The NBA is the most difficult league to win a championship in because the league is top heavy and formatted so that the best teams win. If you do not have the best players and you do not have luck in the draft, you have no chance to win. Might as well try your luck in another sport.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.