David Stern and his gaggle of lawyers struck a preemptive blow against the NBA in the form of a couple of lawsuits yesterday. The suits are an attempt to turn the decertification move on its head, and if the owners get the desired result, decertification would turn the league on its head.
Basically, if the union - or technically just the players, because the union wouldn't exist after a decertification - wants to sue the league for antitrust violations, they first have to decertify. What the owners are trying to do is get a ruling on the books that will allow them to void every guaranteed contract should the union decertify. If this legal action sets that up as a possibility, there's really no way the union would decertify, unless they've all lost their minds. The argument would be that every one of those contracts was negotiated under the terms set forth in the collective bargaining between the league and the union, and when that union disappears, so does the binding agreement in the contract.
There's more legal maneuvering going on here, but that's the key point in my mind, and it's again a topic we can distract ourselves with while this drama drags on. It will not happen. No way, no how. It's not going to happen, let me be clear about that. But what if it did? What if the league decertified, every single contract was voided, and every player was suddenly a free agent when the lockout ended.
In a perfect world, this would completely reset the league. Each team would have $62M or so to spend on whomever they wanted, the world's biggest, most expensive fantasy draft. A level playing field, finally. Of course, that's not what would happen, because the advantages the premiere cities have in free agency today would still be there. The Lakers, the Knicks, the Heat, the Celtics, the Magic and maybe the Mavs would have the immediate upperhand in signing the superstars, simply because the superstars would want to play in those markets, or in Dallas' case, want to play for that owner.
I guess, for us, the question is how far down the list would Philadelphia be? The answer is probably a little higher than they were about 14 months ago. Philly may not be glamorous, but it is a big market. Doug Collins is a huge selling point, and he'd be a great salesman for the franchise and now instead of a stiff as an owner, they've got their very own billionaire who's made a fortune negotiating with guys who have bigger egos than NBA superstars.
So realistically speaking, here are the destinations I see as definitely being more attractive than Philly:
- Nets (Brooklyn, plus mini-giraffe-owning owner)
Then you get into a questionable group of teams which are probably right there with the Sixers:
- Warriors (San Fran/Oakland is a big market, deep pocketed owners)
- Clippers (The appeal of LA is offset by the owner, but it's still LA)
- San Antonio (Simply because of Popovich and their reputation)
- Washington (Not really sold on them being in this group, but they've got a slick owner and they aren't in a flyover state)
- Portland (I have no idea why, but some people like the Pacific Northwest, plus there's money behind that team)
So that puts the Sixers somewhere between 9th and 15th in the pecking order. And how many true superstars are there in the league. I mean guys you can build a team around?
In no particular order:
- Dwight Howard
- Deron Williams
- Derrick Rose
That's pretty much it as far as established players who aren't at the very end of their prime, or past it. Then you've got the guys in their twilight years.
Then you've got young players who haven't reached the superstar level, but seem destined to:
- Blake Griffin
- Kevin Love
- Russell Westbrook
- John Wall, maybe
- Steph Curry, maybe
Then you've got the guys who aren't superstars, but people seem to think they should be:
- LaMarcus Aldridge
So that's 18 players who you'd maybe consider as legitimate number ones if you were rebuilding a team. Factor in the fact that there are going to be teams in the top eight who get more than one of these guys, and what would that leave for the Sixers?
That was an awful lot of lists to get to the point, but short of a miracle, the Sixers would probably be in about the same boat after the decks were reshuffled as they are right now. If they were smart with their money, and did a great job of selling the team, maybe they'd wind up with a better roster than they have right now for their $62M, but odds are the best they could do would be to grab one guy from the destined-to-be-a-superstar list, overpay to get him, then build a smart team around him and hope he develops into something. But honestly, they'd be following the Detroit model from the get-go, out of necessity, because there would still be superteams, and they'd probably be pretty much the same teams we see at the top of the league right now.
The way free agency has worked under this current CBA, and even the way trades have worked, is that players decide where they want to play based, for the most part, on things that have little to do with basketball, then they force their way to those teams however they can. The lesser markets only get great players if they draft them, they only get very good players if they pay them like they're great players (and no one else is willing to pay them that much, which happens rarely), the exact same thing would happen if they tore up all the contracts and started from scratch.
The team that would be helped the most is the Knicks. They could restart and probably replace Amare and Melo with two legitimate stars. The team that would be hurt the most would definitely be the Thunder, unless Kevin Durant is the most loyal guy in the world. My guess for worst team in the league would be the Timberwolves, they've got the killer combo of a city no one wants to live in and terrible management. Toronto may as well fold up shop. Memphis, New Orleans, Charlotte, they'd all be laughingstocks.
It'll never happen, but it would be a funny exercise. The haves would put together their fearsome twosomes pretty quickly and the Milwaukees of the world would be begging Al Jefferson to please take $15M/year to come be their best player.
So here's the question for you. If this happened, would the Sixers be able to lure anyone of note, or would they be a middle-of-the-pack team, either way?