What 2010's gonzo free agency period taught us about the league and its fans
When LeBron James announced just over a year ago that he was joining Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat, the NBA world exploded with questions. Were stars free to buck loyalty and team up in the city they liked the most? For big-market teams, was this the new model of roster-building to aspire towards? Were the Heat going to win the next decade of championships? Was life worth living in Cleveland? The noise never died down, and "The Decision" was the catalyst to an especially memorable NBA season. But it also exposed the NBA's hierarchy, leading to greater existential questions like whether some teams are too big to fail (yes), and whether some teams deserve to succeed at all (sometimes).
It's no big secret, but parity doesn't exist in the NBA. In the last 30 years, just eight teams have won the championship, of 19 franchises who've made the Finals and 30 in the league overall. The winning teams have three things in common: smart management, a lot of money, and luck, which was evident in last year's free agency period. Of the teams with salary cap space to pay for big-name players, only Miami, Chicago, New York, and New Jersey had the type of organizational clout to go after James, Wade, and Bosh. (The Los Angeles Clippers had money to spend and a big market, but they're a carnival.) The Heat had grand master Pat Riley showing off a beautiful city and a stable organization, while the Chicago Bulls sold the House That Jordan Built, a promising core in Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and genius coach Tom Thibodeau's team vision. The New York Knicks pitched free agents on the glitz of playing in New York, after then-GM Donnie Walsh was able to sort out the hellishly convoluted roster he'd inherited from Isiah Thomas.