The NBA’s Small Markets May Have Big Futures

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Thirty, nine and eight: no, these aren’t this week’s lotto numbers, but they do tell an interesting tale.

In 30 years, nine total teams have won an NBA championship, and eight of those years have been held for consecutive title reigns. Although these figures indicate an alarming lack of parity within the NBA, what’s more compelling about them is the fact that out of those nine teams, only one of them is considered a small market. That team is the San Antonio Spurs.

 
Photo: AaronIsNotCool/Creative Commons
 
The Spurs’ first title victory in 1999 was considered a fluke or an upset by some. They didn’t have the most exciting style of play, they didn’t play for a city that was widely recognized in the world of sports and they won during a lockout year. However, they would go onto prove that they were a force to be reckoned with, winning three more titles in the new millennium. Their success is a bit of a mystery, and a lot of people are still scratching their heads as to how they’ve been able to remain consistent even today. The reason is simple, really, but it’s a concept that most major market teams are apparently no longer familiar with: building.
 
When David Robinson sat through the 1996-97 season with multiple injuries, the season was a bust for the Spurs, but their hardship was a blessing in disguise. The luck of the draw played well in their favor as they got the number one pick in the draft and selected Tim Duncan first overall. In 2001, they selected Tony Parker deep in the first round of the draft and signed Manu Ginobli in 2002. This trio would turn out to be their core for the future, and it was done so by proper scouting, developing a certain style of play and knowing which players to draft and sign to complement their pinnacle piece.
 

Fast forward to today’s NBA, and select teams are starting to follow that mantra once more. Teams such as the OKC Thunder, Portland Trailblazers and the Indiana Pacers have been quietly plotting over the course of the last five years in an effort to one day seize the throne from the likes of the Miami Heat, LA Lakers, or any other big market team that’s had the proverbial silver spoon fed to them.

 
Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons
 
Take the New York Knicks for example, a club that has one of the highest payrolls in sports because of its location, and is also considered to be within easy grasp of a title because of its willingness to spend big bucks on a player such as Carmelo Anthony. Even though the Knicks did put specific players around him to contribute to the load, it still wasn’t enough due to a lack of chemistry and identity. Their erratic live-and-die-by-the-jumper mentality will only get them so far. Think of it as the proverbial blonde bombshell that’s desirable until she opens her mouth: hot on the outside, empty within.
 
Better yet, look at the Brooklyn Nets. They’re on record to have the highest-paid starting five in NBA history. Their owner throws money left and right by taking on Joe Johnson’s absurd contract, as well as trading for two vets in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (who are beyond their primes), Deron Williams (who’s a shell of his former self) and an injury-prone Brook Lopez. Just to add insult to injury, a few months fresh off retirement and they hire Jason Kidd as a head coach, despite his lack of prior official coaching experience.
 

This is by no means how to build a team for the long run, but it’s understandable that in today’s generation, the biggest names in the game want to go to the big markets and play with the other big name players (thanks LBJ). But imagine if the newly-instated commissioner Adam Silver instituted a new salary cap method that the players’ association agreed upon (Chris Paul, this one’s for you), one mirroring the National Hockey League in which every team has an equal spending cap. That would herald an end to the phenomenon of eight teams essentially having a monopoly on the league’s best box-office talents.

 
Photo: TopBet
 

Of course, this is not likely to happen. However, if at least one of these small market teams ends up not only winning a title, but repeating the feat in the process, then we may see a shift of power transpire across the association. The NBA may see the end to “purchasing” a title by lining a bench with top-tier (and well-compensated) talent, and the reemergence of a team working its way up and strengthening its core to ensure its survival in the years to come. If this does become the norm in the future, then expect Paul George to keep his talents in French Lick, Indiana.

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