The New York Times is reflecting on the past decade in the N.B.A., which has evolved perhaps more than any other major sports league.
The N.B.A. has been less bound to tradition than the other major sports leagues, embracing uniforms changes more so than the N.F.L. and embracing rules changes more readily than the M.L.B.
But the core of the N.B.A. — its strategy, culture and narrative — has been upended in significant ways, both by choice and by urgency, over the past decade. (Remember what free agency was like before “The Decision”?)
Our writers’ task was to pick what changed everything for the N.B.A. at its core over the past decade, be it a moment, a theme or a trend.
Senior staff editor and reporter
The 76ers decided that the way to win in the N.B.A. was to lose, and lose a lot. Their scheme, dubbed “The Process,” involved making little or no effort to improve the team, losing a lot of games (63, 64 and 72 in consecutive years) and getting great draft picks. The architect of The Process, Sam Hinkie, was eventually fired, but it sort of worked. The 76ers took Joel Embiid with a No. 3 pick and Ben Simmons with a No. 1. It also sort of didn’t work. The No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and the No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor did not turn into stars.
But in a big way, The Process really didn’t work. Even if Embiid and Simmons someday lead the 76ers to glory, those tanking seasons are lost forever, and the fans forced to sit through a 10-72 season in 2015-16 will always have the dismaying memories of a team that often played hard on the court but was continually undercut by an intentionally woeful performance by its front office.
Did The Process change everything? Let’s hope not.
Hall of Fame sports reporter
The N.B.A. Players Association’s stubborn refusal to allow the league to institute “smoothing” — a gradual salary-cap increase starting in 2016-17 season instead of a nearly $25 million jump — paved the way for the Warriors to sign Durant away from Oklahoma City. Golden State’s failure to win the championship in 2016 after taking a 3-1 series over lead over Cleveland was another huge factor, since Durant almost certainly would not have chosen to join the Warriors if they were two-time reigning champions. But the cap spike is what made it mathematically possible for the Warriors to afford to sign Durant even with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green already on the roster. There was no stopping the Warriors from becoming a dynasty once Durant joined them.
Senior staff editor
It is hard to imagine what the decade would have looked like had LeBron James not signed with Miami before the 2010-11 season. The concept of a Big Three was hardly new — just ask Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor — but the teaming up of friendly rivals broke with a tradition in a way that many people found unsettling.
Players, however, seemed to like the idea. With James absorbing much