In the NFL, one of the catch words of the past decade has been parity. Never has it ever been more possible for so many teams to legitimately have a shot at winning a Super Bowl.
In the NBA, it appears to be the complete opposite - and there might not be a change in the foreseeable future.
When the season started, experts could peg maybe four teams as legitimate title contenders: the Lakers, Celtics, Heat and Magic. As we near the end of the regular season, that number, by trade and inspired play, has been raised to six. Boston, L.A., and Miami remain. As Orlando has slid off the radar, the Bulls, Thunder and surprising San Antonio Spurs have emerged.
Having only a few championship elite every year is no surprise: in the past 31 years of NBA play, only eight franchises have won the title. In that time frame, there are two single-championship winners (Heat and 76ers). That means in those other 29 years, there have been only six teams that have won championships (Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Bulls, Pistons and Rockets).
Which begs the question: what's going on with the rest of the NBA?
Besides the six favourites, there are only 10 other teams with winning records in the NBA - that means, almost half of the teams in the league (14) have more losses than wins.
Of those teams, a whopping nine have a winning percentage lower than 40 per cent.
The discrepancy between the haves and have-nots stands out significantly in the Eastern Conference. Only six teams have a winning record. If you don't count Philadelphia, which is a just a single game over the even mark, the other winning teams are 10 games over .500 or better. The middle class is non-existent. It's so bad that Indiana, at nine games under .500, holds down the final playoff spot.
That middle class exists more in the west. Aside from the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder, the Dallas Mavericks continue to churn out 50-win seasons (they completed their 11th straight such campaign this year). The bottom four in the playoff spot are no slouches. While not a favourite to advance in the playoffs, Denver, Portland, New Orleans and Memphis are no easy outs, and have to be considered legitimate professional franchises. Houston and Phoenix, currently out of the playoff mix, have still been able to keep up a winning record, and would be playoff bound in the East.
And that already-slim seven or eight team middle class could be further grinded down, as the formation of super teams in 'preferred' NBA destinations has become the recent trend in the league.
In doing so, either by trade or via free agency, star players are choosing or forcing their destinations and leaving their former franchises reeling. Of course, the two most notable were the departures of LeBron James from Cleveland and Chris Bosh from Toronto, as they joined Dwyane Wade via free agency. While not the only reason, it played a large role in the subsequent free fall that both the Cavaliers and Raptors are in this year.
It has now become the hot topic for analysts to look ahead to who might become a free agent, and where they may end up. As we watched with Carmelo Anthony, we will soon hear talk involving Chris Paul leaving New Orleans, Deron Williams leaving the Nets empty-handed and maybe even Dwight Howard bolting Orlando. That's three all-star calibre players, still under contract until after next season, in discussions potentially moving to a team that's listed amongst the favourites to win a title.
And it's not just the middle class. Other struggling franchises that have cornerstone pieces may watch their stars bolt once free agency hits, or demand to be traded. Among those on the list are Clipper sensation Blake Griffin and other young talents like Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans and John Wall.
While this works in favour of the power NBA cities, other fan bases are left to wonder when they'll get their chance to cheer for a championship-calibre team.
The upcoming negotiation for a new labour agreement may be the last hope. Talk of contraction continues to swirl, as does a hard salary cap, and the urgency to include a franchise tag similar to the NFL model for teams to keep their star players in the fold.
Others argue that it's up to each franchise to find a way to make their city a preferred locale by building a winner. While some argue that it's too difficult to make that happen, teams like the Thunder and Spurs have made it happen. More recently, the Nuggets have been getting it done after dealing their superstar for talented depth.
You've read what we have to say; now it's your turn. What can be done to bridge the gap from elite to mediocre in the NBA? As always, it's Your Call!