Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The backward commish

David Stern has it backward. And that's exactly why there is talk in National Basketball Association circles that the league is seriously thinking about contracting. Eliminating teams to more specific.

When the league sits down with the players association in an effort to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement, Stern believes eliminating teams will be on the table.

". . . are there cities and teams that cannot make it in the current economic environment?" he said. "I'm not spending a lot of time on it. . . . We are committed to small-market teams. We are going to have a new CBA eventually and we're going to have a more robust revenue sharing."

Stern also allowed for the possibility of parroting what the National Football League does when it comes to holding on to elite players. The implementation of a franchise-player tag will be a subject of discussion during the bargaining process.

It's very possible NBA teams might want to follow suit to prevent what took place this past summer with LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Amar'e Stoudemire leaving their original teams. Smaller market teams losing their star attractions did not resonate well around NBA Nation, although all the moves were within the existing rules.

The league projects losses of nearly $350 million for the coming season. Stern said changes must be made "I would say the league is viable as long as you have owners who want to continue funding losses," he said. "But it's not on the long term a sustainable business model that we're happy supporting. It needs to be reset.

But if Stern had put his foot down and disallowed the player movement of his elite players in the best interest of the NBA, some of his problems would be automatically solved.

For example, the Cavaliers have sold out every game for the last several years. Why? Because of LeBron and the winning culture he brought to the franchise. Packed houses at the Q were the norm. It was the place to be seen during the season.

Shift to this season. How many sellouts can owner Dan Gilbert expect? At least two -- Thursday, Dec. 2 and Tuesday, March 29, both against the Miami Heat and LeBron -- and quite probably no more. That'll be it. The turnstiles will spin a lot less frequently for a team that will struggle all season.

Gilbert will lose money. Local interest in the team will fade significantly. The team will become an afterthought except when it plays the Heat. Then, and only then, will the fans care. It'll be a return to the bad old days before LeBron.

The Cavaliers will become irrelevant again. An NBA joke.

They're scheduled to appear on national television only twice this season -- against the Heat, of course, on Dec. 2 in LeBron's first game back in Cleveland, and the March 6 game at the Q against the New Orleans Hornets. That's it.

From must-see TV to relative obscurity.

Thank you, David Stern, for allowing the Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors to become candidates once again for possible contraction. Both franchises, which were doing very well before your inaction this past summer, will lose gobs of money this season. And all because you thought it would great to have a league with a few super teams.

Want to know what the problem is? Look in the mirror. The shaky economy, your pat excuse, didn't hurt the Cavs the last several years.

As for LeBron, now that the season is about to commence, the hurt will always be there for Clevelanders. That scar will never heal properly. The wound is too deep. The damage is permanent.

As hard as it might be for Cavs fans to admit, LeBron is a great player. That hasn't changed. Eventually, he will become the face of the Heat franchise, not Dwyane Wade.

Even Dan Gilbert, now that he's had plenty of time to think about it, knows this to be true. His anger at the time overwhelmed his objectivity when he declared the Cavaliers will win an NBA title before the Heat. That's not going to happen. Not now. Probably not ever.

LeBron is only 25 years old. He's still a few years away from approaching his prime. And that is scary.

He does not abuse his God-given talent, although there are those who correctly point out that his performance in Game 5 in last season's playoffs against the Boston Celtics definitely looked suspicious.

He no doubt has circled Dec. 2 on his calendar. Considering the fan reaction to his departure to Miami, it would not be surprising if he wants to really stick it to the fans that night and goes off for something like 50 points. And he's good enough to do it.

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