Mac Engel

Cuban’s legacy should be competitive balance in NBA, not wishing for sprained ankles

The NBA offseason has become far more entertaining, intriguing and captivating than the regular season, and now the postseason, too.

NBA (free agency).... It’s faaaaaaaaaantastic!

Between the NBA Draft and the expected hurried movement of your favorite stars as free agency approaches have trumped the dunks, the 3-pointers and the excitement of an actual game, because we know we are fairly confident how this script ends — Warriors in four. Or five.

Outside of The Bay, wherever LeBron James plays, San Antonio and maybe one or two other NBA cities, we all clamor for some semblance of competitive balance. We beg the NBA for hope.

The one man who has the power and the voice to express such a desire for an improvement in this area is Mark Cuban. In his reign as owner of the Dallas Mavericks, no man has been more willing to push for an improved product than our beloved Marky Mark.

On this one, it’s not coming. If Mark cares at all about his legacy in pro basketball, which he does, he should make improving competitive balance a priority, which remains an embarrassment to pro sports.

I asked Mark if the NBA can do anything to improve this situation for a league he obviously cares deeply about and in which has invested so much money and time.

“The whole ‘Super Team’ thing ... let me just tell you — I rate teams by obviously the Warriors are champs, but behind the Warriors I rate teams by how many sprained ankles away they are,” Cuban said Friday afternoon at the American Airlines Center. “ ‘The Warriors are one sprained ankle away by not being champs’.

“Last year we (the Mavericks) were about six sprained ankles away, and hopefully this year it will be one or two.

“Look, I am willing to compete against anybody and I don’t think there is a lot of need to change. Free agents get to go where they want. The nature of this business is no one plays forever. On top of that, injuries happen. We saw what injuries did to us. We’ve been in other situations where injuries could have sidetracked us from what could have been a championship run. That’s just the way it goes. I don’t think there is some overriding need to make significant changes.”

Neither does NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. So that’s that.

All interested parties, from the owners to the GMs to the coaches to the players, are simply making too much money to consider this issue a concern. Until the money starts to run out, and the TV sets tune in to full-contact transgender chess, the NBA will remain averse to parity when it should be more of a priority.

In 1987, when the Celtics and Lakers were running over the 23-team league, parity or competitive balance was not that much of an issue. For any sport.

And in the ’90s during the Michael Jordan dynasty years with the Chicago Bulls, it was not that much of a concern, either.

It’s 2017, and now there are more options than ever to blow our money on entertainment in ways we could not have conceived 20 years ago. If I am considering buying a ticket to an event, and a basketball game, I want to believe my team has a shot at something.

Personally, I always prefer the suspense of parity over the predictability of the dynasty.

When the two best teams are a combined 24-1 in the playoffs before playing each other, as the Warriors and Cavs were, that’s too much of a gap between the good and the great.

There are too many teams in the NBA that have no shot at anything other than draft picks.

Parity became priority for the NFL. And the NHL. Even baseball has been able to figure out a way to competitive balance better than the NBA.

“You’ve listed all of these complaints,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle chided me. “Well, how do you propose to fix it?”

A legit question. Anyone can whine about it, but it’s another to come up with a solution.

Some of this is a basketball problem; one player among but 10 on the court at the same time can influence a game’s outcome in a way the other team sports cannot.

Some of this is inept managing, team construction, and “sprained ankles.” For instance, the Mavs’ plan to add top-tier free agents when it was clear none wanted to sign here is not the fault of the NBA.

Never blame the player for leaving for more money elsewhere.

It’s not the NBA’s fault that the Portland Trail Blazers’ best two draft picks that should have been stars — center Greg Oden and guard Brandon Roy — suffered career-ending injuries at a young age.

But some of this is an NBA problem the league has yet to solve in its collective bargaining agreement with the NBA players’ union. The league’s effort to prevent “Super Teams” has flopped, and the current agreement does not expire until 2024.

Basically, too much of an NBA fan’s hope is for sprained ankles.

We need more than that, and it would be nice if a guy who cares as much about the NBA as Cuban does leads a movement to improve it.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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