NBA competitive balance in danger

– Say leading sports consultants

NEW YORK, (Reuters) – The NBA could be in danger of  losing its competitive balance if outstanding players such as LeBron James continue to join forces to form super teams,  according to some leading experts in sports management.

James may have started a disturbing trend when he plotted with former Olympic team mates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh this month to sign as free agents with the Miami Heat, New York University sports management professor Robert Boland told Reuters.

“You have to be careful about furthering the gap between the haves and have-nots,” the New York University professor said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“One of the big concerns is players don’t want profit  maximisers, they want market maximisers. It’s a concern for the union and to teams, because it means certain teams will not get free agents.”

James, who left Cleveland, former Toronto player Bosh and Wade, who chose to return to Miami, all signed for less money in order to help the Heat stay under the league’s salary cap.

“Probably one thing the league would want to do is pass  rules that players shouldn’t be colluding with one another or talking about leaving their team too early like Chris Paul is talking about now,” Boland said about the New Orleans guard.

Paul, who has two years left on his contract, has given the Hornets a short list of teams he would like to be dealt to. One of them is the New York Knicks, who Denver’s Carmelo Anthony has said he would like to join as a 2011 free agent.

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“If Chris Paul is plotting to be in New York with Amar’e (Stoudemire, recently signed by the Knicks) and Carmelo in a year that’s what we’re afraid of,” said Bill Sutton, professor at University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sports Business program and a former NBA marketing executive.

Keeping players from hatching plans could be difficult.

“It’s hard to know how leagues could address this legally,” said Rick Horrow, a sports lecturer at Harvard Law School.

“Lawyers, executives, anybody in any walk in life talks to fellow employees about how they can improve their lot in life. It’s hard to imagine a league could ever prohibit players from talking to each other and maximise whatever leverage they have,” Horrow said.

Craig Esherick, assistant professor of sports management at George Mason University and a former Georgetown University head basketball coach, said Miami’s dream team could be good for the  NBA in the short term but questioned the long-term effect.

“If they end up winning seven, eight NBA championships, you  could face an issue that they’re so dominating that fans could  lose interest. But that’s down the road,” Esherick said.

“Short term, it’s a good thing for the league. It will be  interesting to see them play next year. Miami is going to be  motivation for every team that comes to town.”

Former NBA greats Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson both criticised James for leaving his Cleveland hometown.

Six-times NBA champion Jordan told reporters: “There’s no way…I would’ve ever called up Larry (Bird), called up Magic and said, ‘Let’s get together and play on one team.’“

Image consultant Mike Paul said times have changed.

“There’s too much crying over changes that always happen in sports,” Paul told Reuters. “LeBron is in a different generation than Michael. It’s time to pass the baton.”

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