Friday, October 27, 2006

The CBA and its system

On Tuesday night, Guangdong brushed aside Shangdong. Two days before, they shell-shacked the Zhejiang Lions, and walked away with a 35 points victory. The game before that was another 35 point win, this time against Shanghai. In short, after a 6-point opening win against Bayi, they have dominated everyone. No team has come close to even challenging them, let alone getting a win. Maybe this will change when Jiangsu and their Player of the Week Tang Zhengdong comes calling on Friday, but the Tigers' dominance has already been established for all to see.

This team is a dynasty by anyone's standards. They already have the "three-peat", and a fourth straight title in looking very, very likely. Indeed, they might threaten the Bayi Rockets of old, who won the CBA's first six titles. And one question that is already being asked around the league is: Can they win it all? That is, can they go undefeated throughout the regular season and sweep the playoffs? As the season progresses, that seems more and more likely, and with a shorter season, the odds for it get higher and higher.

And perhaps the most scary thing of it all is that this team isn't even as good as they want to be, as the team's collective prime has yet to be reached. Their three native starters, Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, and Yi Jianlian, are 23, 23, and 19, respectively. Although they'll almost certainly be losing Yi next year to the NBA draft, they'll hardly be affected, as junior national team starter, Zhou Peng, will simply be able to step in and fulfill his role. You could take away their foreign import, Terrence Green, but they could fill that hole with Chen Jianghua or Liu Xiaoyu, two of China's best young point guards. To say that they are stacked at every position is a big understatement.

Now, why write about this? Well, the Tigers are probably the perfect example of the almost unique (and outdated) system that is now in place in the CBA. Basically, there is no trading, no salary cap, no draft, and the only free agents are players that were released by their team (can you imagine a free agent market where the best free agents were Keith Van Horn and Dermarr Johnson?). Because of this, the Guangdong GM doesn't have to worry about whether one of his starters will get fed up and demand a trade, or whether there's enough room left in the salary cap to resign his star player (actually, I don't even think CBA teams have a GM, since he wouldn't have much to do). As a result of this, a team can easily retain their superstars, and become and remain a dynasty for many years, while the bottom-level teams stay the same. So, while Steve Kerr is wondering "Is parity good for the league?", the CBA is (or should be) wondering how to make the league more competitive. Thee remedy is actually as clear as anything: Every league has player movement, maybe some more and some less, and in different forms, but they all have a lot of players moving around. In the interest of competitiveness and progress, something similar should be instituted in the CBA. Maybe it doesn't even have to be all at once, but a step-by-step implementation will do wonders for the CBA's overall competition level. And no just for the competition; as each team gets better and has a better chance at winning, the fans will stick around and become more intereseted, thereby raising the popularity of the games, the attendance, and ultimately (and most important), the profit.

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