Damian Lillard, LeBron James and the NBA’s need for stars on bad teams

Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard
Photography: Getty Images

It’s no secret that this current iteration of the NBA is struggling to make its regular season meaningful. Star players are missing games night after night, and matchups we look forward to because they could be previews of the postseason suddenly become irrelevant. Only two things really move the NBA needle on social media anymore: House of Highlight-worthy clips and individual performances.

That’s why it’s not strange to say that the NBA needs great players who actively carry a bad organization. Super teams are great for the playoffs because of the polarizing nature of dynasties. However, from last October to mid-April, we need to put the biggest names in the game in position to act like superstars.

Ask yourself: Does the NBA want to see Damian Lillard win a title, or does it want to make January relevant by scoring 40 or more goals in six of 11 games, including a 50- and 60-burger?

If Kobe Bryant had played his entire career in a super team, he would never have scored 81

Steph Curry has four 40-plus point games this year, and that’s because he isn’t asked to have the sense of urgency that Lillard, or even LeBron James the last two seasons, had to muster in January and February.

The Trail Blazers and Lakers were behind more or less all year, and their stars had to play like that. The same applies to Luka Dončić this year, and Nikola Jokić in the absence of Jamal Murray.

Remember the Warriors season after Kevin Durant left and Klay Thompson had to sit out to rehab a torn ACL? The media was completely confused by the possibility that Curry had to go full “Kobe plays with Smush Parker”, and were devastated when the injury deprived them of it.

The argument against super teams is that we want to see KD and LeBron rev the engine as hard as they can.

And it’s only when we learn that whatever they have isn’t good enough that we accept stars looking for other stars to win titles. (That’s where we are now with Lillard.)

The NBA isn’t completely incompetent and that’s why it’s easier to score

This season has seen plenty of huge 40-, 50-, 60- and even 71-pointers by big names. It’s obviously easier than (almost) ever to score in the NBA, and we haven’t gotten to the point where it’s become as bad for the game as the no-hitter in baseball.

We’ll probably never get to that point because watching our favorite players put up huge numbers never gets old. Defense it doesn’t sell out arenasbut LeBron breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record absolutely will.

The league wants to keep the game as open as possible during the regular season because fans are still stunned when they see “Doncic: 60, 21, 10” pop up on their feed or scroll through the ticker. Who knows how long it will take until we’re all numb to the outrageous results, but it’s a problem for future NBA fans.

Right now, fans are content to sit back and enjoy individual accomplishments because we’ve been programmed to believe they’re great. Once that feeling wears off, I can’t help but wonder what changes the NBA will make next to satisfy fans.

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