Evaluating modern dynasties in the NBA (Part 2)

In the rising “Player Empowerment” era, we take a look if dynasties are harder to build as we enter a new decade. Part 2 explains why modern dynasties are going to be a rarity.

(Part 1: How dynasties are built)

Every decade, two to three teams usually separate themselves from the rest of the pack and dominate the whole era. In the current NBA, having that one team dominate the league is now more difficult because it is harder to build a dynasty today. NBA team-builders now have to deal with a salary cap that makes it difficult to take on multiple superstars, difficulty in finding the right mix players because of constant player movement and the scarcity of championship-level coaches.

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Superstar Movement

Today we see more player movement in the league than ever before. Looking at past dynasties, a hometown star usually sticks with their team which gives the front office enough time to surround him with talent until they ultimately get the pieces together into a contender. Take a look at Michael Jordan. He didn’t start winning significantly until the Bulls were able to bring in Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Phil Jackson into the fold. It took seven years before Jordan took home his first championship. Throughout those seven years, he stuck with the Bulls even after multiple Playoff flameouts.

In today’s NBA, the leash for teams to surround a superstar talent during his prime has shortened with the threat of losing their prized asset through free-agency or a trade for young assets and picks to salvage that player’s value. There’s been an increase of movement when it comes to the Top 10 players in the league. Guys like Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard being traded to LA teams, Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors, LeBron James joining Miami Heat are just examples from the last decade.

As the division of small-market and big-market teams has widened, this places an even bigger pressure for front offices to draft the right players and persuade him to stay for the long-term. Money and contract length just won’t cut it any more. Add to that the fact that there are more means of communication emerging which means, teams will have to continue to find a way for their stars from being tampered with. All the while, trying to stay in the best position to land free-agents to surround their superstar. There’s just too many things to juggle for front offices. Dropping one ball, could mean the difference in a star player leaving or staying long-term.

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Overvalued Players

As we enter the Player Empowerment era, money and talent are the two biggest factors that have changed in the modern NBA. As players want to maximize their prime years by earning the most money while being competitive, many teams are forced to overpay for All-Stars (not even superstar-level players) while trying to having enough cap left to build quality talent around that player.

This has forced many contenders to look at different ways to recruit talent while having less time to gel with the team such as through the G-League, the buyout market, or veteran-minimum deals. The go big-or-go home mentality could be seen as a double-edged sword for teams today as rosters load up quickly on talent, but sacrifice the time to build team chemistry which has been a long-standing formula for dynasties.

That mentality has produced a mixed bag. The Warriors loaded up with the Hamptons Five and the Raptors rolled the dice with Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, both resulting in immediate championships. The other end of the spectrum are teams like the Rockets who have paired James Harden with two different point guards in the past three seasons and the 76ers who gambled on guys like Al Horford and Jimmy Butler to complete the process.

While luck is definitely a factor in dynasties, fewer injuries and a great team culture ultimately help put the odds in the favor to multiple championship teams. That’s why a team like the Spurs with their Big Three dominated for such a long time.

The dilemma of overpaying an All-Star with max money usually reserved for superstars or letting him walk for cap flexibility is one of the biggest challenges of general managers today. This has caused many franchises to steer in a different direction under new management or a new coaching staff which does not work well for the long-term success of the team. More All-Stars continue to be stuck with mediocre teams who usually get bounced in the first or second round of the Playoffs like Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard. There may be some stars happy with this, but ultimately, the losing can take its toll and they end up leaving for a chance to win a title. Just take a look at the Big Three Heat, the Hamptons Five Warriors, or the current contenders with two superstars in the ongoing NBA season.

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Dwindling Number of Elite Coaches

While coaching changes are nothing new in the NBA, the number of elite coaches in the NBA today is dwindling. That has caused teams to roll the dice with first-year coaches hoping they lead them to the title (Steve Kerr, Nick Nurse, and Tyronn Lue). Rather than a long-standing winning record from a coach like Lenny Wilkens or Jerry Sloan, teams are now looking at the coaching tree of past great coaches and college winning records for their next hire. So far that has produced mixed results, with either the coaches and players not fitting each other well or a coach’s time to win simply running out. The increased movement of coaches around the league could be an interesting trend to look out for in finding the next dynasty in the NBA. 

Coaches are usually shipped first before a franchise’s best player. That’s why it cannot be understated that great coaches have struggled today to adjust to the roster moves by the front office while being the scapegoat when things go south. Looking at you, Kenny Atkinson and Brett Brown. Dynasties have been completed around a great coach building the right system for his players, but in the player empowerment era there has been increased emphasis on the superstars choosing who their coaches will be. A guy like LeBron James has enough pull to force the front office to hire a coach of his choice. While this strategy works well for the players, a coach that is given time to build the culture of the team while finding players that work well in his system helps in the long-term success of the franchise and benefits the front office in making better moves for the roster.

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The increasing emphasis on analytics and big markets continuing to have an edge in acquiring superstar talent will be an interesting trend to look out for in the new decade of the NBA. As the current issues the NBA is facing definitely pushed back the salary cap, this is an opportunity for small market teams with young superstars to build a team around them quickly. With the star-studded 2021 Free Agency class approaches, more player movement is expected and the front-running team for the next few years could determine the direction many teams follow as their blueprint to a title.

With the increasing difficulty in building long-lasting success in the NBA, it will be interesting if the dynasty formula in the league will continue to hold or will a development happen that will once again alter the landscape of the league.