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NBA turning into two-class system: Good or bad for the league?

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By John P. Lopez

The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out a remarkable similarity between what the NBA is becoming and what the English Premier soccer league has long been.

It’s frightening for small-market teams. But does it sell?  Can it save a foundering league desperate for dollars and TV revenue.

With Deron Williams now headed to the New York market, joining Carmelo Anthony, forget the balance of power discussion of Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference that LeBron James has (accurately) depicted.

This is a clear case of big markets winning. Small markets losing. Does it and should it point to franchise tags becoming a crucial element to the next collective bargaining agreement?

Here’s the Journal’s great analysis:

If there’s a philosophical divide among sports fans that cleaves our ranks roughly down the middle, it’s the question of what we consider more entertaining—a league where every team has a chance to win every season, or a league where the most popular teams are its perennial contenders.

Carmelo Anthony’s trade to the New York Knicks Monday night is the latest sign that the NBA is drifting in one distinct direction. It’s becoming a league where a handful of glamour-puss teams are attracting all the marquee players and where, if recent events are any indication, they may vacuum up championships for years to come. In fact, as more stars like Anthony defect to these few teams, the league may quickly come to resemble (gasp!) English soccer.

In England’s Premier League, which is widely considered the world’s deepest pro league, only four teams—Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United—have managed to finish No. 3 or better in the final league standings over the past seven seasons. Not coincidentally, these teams have also been the prime destinations for mid-career superstars who’ve taken a change of scenery. (Manchester City, a team that has spent lavishly on superstars, has also prospered. It’s currently poised to take this season’s No. 3 spot).

The NBA hasn’t seen anything approaching that level of predictability. This season, teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, which have built their teams without skimming the basketball cream, continue to hold their own in the standings.

But the winds of change are clearly blowing. By switching teams to the big-market Knicks, Anthony (formerly of the Denver Nuggets) joins Amar’e Stoudemire (formerly of the Phoenix Suns), in making New York a prime player. LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (Toronto), have joined Dwyane Wade to make the Miami Heat a perennial power. This comes not long after the Los Angeles Lakers loaded up with Pau Gasol and Ron Artest and the Boston Celtics grabbed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play alongside Paul Pierce.

seasons, these talent centers have been changing the complexion of the league. The Lakers and Celtics have taken up five of six possible spots in the finals and are both in contention again this year. And since this summer, the Heat—and now the Knicks—have vaulted into the ranks of bonafide contenders.

This consolidation of talent has had another measurable effect on both leagues: the worst teams seem to be getting worse. This season, the James-less Cavaliers set an NBA record with 26 losses in a row, while last season, the New Jersey Nets became the fifth NBA team in 50 years to win just 12 or fewer games over a full season.

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