A very common expression in my household when I was growing up was, “life isn’t fair.” Usually the context involved eating dessert before dinner or staying up late to watch the end of the Sunday Night Football game. And it is true; life isn’t fair because of the many things in our life that we cannot control. However, in a professional sports league, shouldn’t the game be set up to create as much of a competitive equilibrium as possible? Because if not, we might as well take the NBA and cut the number of teams from 30 to 10 and just let the ten teams that would always be relevant duke it out for rings each year.
The MLB and the NBA have a flawed system when it comes to creating top to bottom competition. The biggest ways we see the flaws in creating competition are the MLB’s lack of salary cap and the NBA’s lottery draft. The salary cap-less MLB is more of a crime against small-market teams, but it still does not help create a balance when the best teams can sign even better free agents with no regard to money. The lottery draft in the NBA is honestly one of the biggest jokes in professional sports and has completely altered the landscape of the NBA ever since its introduction in 1985. In that draft, The New York Knicks, who did not have the worst record in the league, secured the first pick and were able to land a pretty good player. Patrick Ewing, to be exact. If there was no lottery system, Ewing would have been a Pacer and there is no certainty on how that acquisition could have changed the future of the league. Looking back on that 1985 draft, I’m rather certain that the Pacers would have traded their pick that they ended up making for future Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing. The Pacers drafted Wayman Tisdale. Sure, he was a 12-year veteran, but this is Patrick Ewing we’re talking about.
On top of mixing up the draft orders in every single draft since 1985, the lottery system has also come under scrutiny for playing favorites to bigger name teams. Is it just a coincidence that Derrick Rose was born and raised in Chicago or LeBron James is from Cleveland? Well, I guess the jury is still out. All I’m saying is that LeBron could’ve been drafted by Denver and Derrick Rose could be in Miami while Blake Griffin could be enjoying his afternoons in downtown Sacramento or Anthony Davis could be in Charlotte, making life a bit easier on ol’ Michael Jordan. The scenery of NBA draftees is always going to be in flux and unpredictable until the NBA can adapt a reverse-order draft like every other major sports league.
Baseball is as simple as this: if there was no salary cap involved, do you think a free agent from this past offseason such as Chase Headley would rather play for a team that finished this past season sitting on their couches in October or a team that just won the World Series? Well, he picked the Yankees. Why? Because they have more money to spend than any other team, bottom line. With a salary cap, that would not be the case, as teams from around the league would have identical budgets to spend on a former Silver Slugger such as Headley. Yes, New York is an attractive place to live, just ask Carmelo. But, can anyone truly say that San Francisco isn’t?
The solution: the NBA and the MLB need to adapt their policies on drafting and salary cap management to that of the NFL. Have a reverse-order draft and create a hard cap with essentially no loopholes. In doing this, the NFL has created a very balanced system that sees their franchises go in and out of so-called “rebuilding processes” almost seamlessly. We joke that the NFL is somewhat of a mockery because it is so hard to predict which teams will be good each and every year. But isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want a league where there aren’t teams that are never good and some teams that make the playoffs year in and year out? Sure, savvy front offices’ are always going to help a team’s chances at success, but you’re lying to yourself if you think that free-agent budgets and drafting don’t have to do with 95% of a team’s success. The Yankees would not be what we think of the Yankees today and the NBA draft would not be a complete and utter mockery.
It’s a shame to see the leagues that we watch year in and year out tear down the competitive balance of the game that makes the season that much more interesting. Change is needed in the MLB and NBA, and if you don’t believe me, just take a gander at the Sacramento Kings’ last few draft picks or how many big free agents the A’s have been able to land over the past few off-seasons.