Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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NBA will crown sixth different champion in six years after Nuggets’ elimination as parity hits all-time high

NBA fans who relentlessly complained while the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers were meeting up in the Finals for four straight seasons must be throwing a party right now. With a 98-90 Game 7 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, the defending champion Denver Nuggets were eliminated from the playoffs, meaning that there will be a new NBA champion for the sixth consecutive season.

No team has won consecutive titles since the Warriors in 2018, and the fates of recent champions have been dire. In the last five postseasons, no reigning champ has even made it past the second round.

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It’s been a rough go for the last five NBA champions

There are many potential reasons for this recent phenomenon — fatigue, salary cap restrictions, injuries — but there’s no denying that NBA parity is at an all-time high. By the end of this postseason, either the Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks or Boston Celtics will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. All of those teams finished at .500 or below in at least one of the past four regular seasons.

Not only that, but no player on any of the four remaining teams has won an MVP award. One budding superstar age 26 or younger — Anthony Edwards, Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum or Tyrese Haliburton — will win their first title next month.

After Sunday’s Game 7 loss, Nuggets coach Michael Malone discussed how difficult it is for a team to repeat in today’s NBA.

“We knew it was hard, something I talked to our team about in training camp,” Malone said. “With the rules being what they are now, I think it’s going to become even harder and harder to repeat as champions.

The “rules” to which Malone refers involve what is known as the second apron for luxury tax teams. Essentially, once a team spends a certain amount of money on players, they’re restricted from using their mid-level exception on free agents or signing players in the buyout market, and they face significant trade restrictions. Logically, as a team gets better, their players are going to command larger and larger salaries. So it’s almost inevitable that a championship-caliber team will eventually pass the second apron unless it parts ways with one of its high-salary players.

The intent of the second apron was clearly to avoid situations like we had with the Warriors and Cavs in the late 2010s, and we’ve already seen a massive uptick in parity before the rules have even fully gone into effect. More fan bases can realistically think that their path to contention can be shorter than expected (the Oklahoma City Thunder are a prime example), and that’s always a good thing for the league.

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