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Matt Calkins: If and when Sonics return, let’s hope NBA is different than its current version

UPDATED: Thu., July 5, 2018

By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Like you, I’d let out an eardrum-popping scream if I found out the SuperSonics were coming back. I would sprain my larynx in celebration of a team that never should have left Seattle in the first place.

I want them here. You want them here. I’m pretty sure most of the country wants them here.

But if and when they do come back – it better not be to the NBA as we currently know it.

When DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Warriors on Monday, it felt like an April Fool’s prank played out three months too late. The reigning NBA champions’ starting lineup now consists of five 2018 All-Stars who are on pace for the Hall of Fame.

Golden State may have already had the most talented roster in sports history, and now they filled their one position of need with a top-three big man. If you’re in suspense as to who is going to win the NBA title next year, you’re also in suspense as to how the Roadrunner will fare against Wile E. Coyote.

The Cousins signing itself wasn’t as egregious as others before him. The former New Orleans Pelican was coming off a season in which he had ruptured an Achilles tendon and did not command a lucrative market.

For a guy who has yet to play in a playoff game, it’s understandable why he would ink a one-year, $5.3 million contract with a team in hopes that a supermax deal awaits him in 2019. But it does raise two questions: How did the NBA get like this – and how do we fix it?

One need only glance at sports books to see how top-heavy pro basketball is compared to the other major leagues in America. At 6 to 1, Vegas gives the Patriots the best chance to win the Super Bowl next year, and puts 10 other teams at 20 to 1 or better. At 7 to 2, Vegas gives the Astros the best chance to win the World Series and puts 10 other teams at 20 to 1 or better. At 10 to 1, Vegas gives three teams an equally good shot at winning the Stanley Cup and puts eight others at 20 to 1 or better.

But when it comes to the NBA, the Warriors are 2 to 3, the Lakers and Celtics are 5 to 1, the Rockets are 8 to 1, the Sixers are 10 to 1 and then – poof. Everyone else is done. The Spurs are next at 40 to 1, the Bucks and Raptors are at 50 to 1, and, well … you get it.

Part of this is because of the nature of basketball, in which luck plays less of a role in the outcome than the aforementioned sports. A mistake in football, baseball or hockey can cost you a touchdown, three runs or a goal, all of which can define a game. A mistake in hoops can really only cost you three points, which is easily recoverable.

The much, much bigger factor in these odds disparities, though, is this super-team era that eliminates the championship chances for almost every franchise in the league.

If you live in Portland or Milwaukee or Charlotte or Indianapolis, you know your team isn’t going anywhere unless it hits paydirt in the draft. That’s how Golden State was able to build its initial championship squad, and why Oklahoma City remained near the top of the NBA for so long.

But other than talent, the only assets that seem to attract big-time free agents are oceans or giant media markets. That nixes parity and leads to the most vile thing in competition: boredom.

SB Nation’s Tom Ziller highlights two major factors that allow these super teams to exist. The first is the NBA’s “soft salary cap,” which lets franchises find various ways to exceed the cap sans any real penalty. The other, interestingly enough, is a cap it puts on individual contracts, which limits the annual salaries of players such as LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant to around $40 million when they may be worth almost double that. Signing two guys worth $35 million each is doable. Signing two guys worth $70 million each? Not so much.

I don’t know what can be done about this problem right now. I do know that when the collective-bargaining agreement is up in 2024, the league has to make some adjustments to bring parity back – because this isn’t getting better. The super teams are only getting superer.

If the Sonics come back to Seattle, this whole city is going to cheer. But unless new policies are put into place, fans might not have much to cheer once the games actually begin.

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