Amongst many topics that have risen to the forefront during the lockout is that of the perceived competitive advantage that large market has over small markets. If you follow me on Twitter, @AzazNYK, you probably saw my rant disparaging this on Monday. It befuddles me that making the game balanced has become a major hang-up in the CBA negotiations, when if the issue is examined closer, it is evident that smart management trumps everything in the NBA.
Many of the owners believe that small market teams have become farm systems for the evil, large market teams. On the surface, this may seem accurate. Especially when one looks at recent history with Lebron, ‘Melo, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, and Chris Paul, all having left their small market teams or strongly hinting to leave them. The casual NBA fan, who will not dig deeper, will simply say that the system is broken and there is an uneven playing field.
However, I believe, this is false.
Let me begin by saying that basketball is a sport where it is a huge advantage to have a star player. One player can transform your team from a 20-win team to a 50-win team and the fact of the matter is there will simply never be 30 marquee players in the NBA at a given time. On the more concerning issue of being able to keep a star you draft, I have a simple solution: smart roster management.
If a closer look is taken at the recent superstar movement that has taken place, it becomes evident that the real reason stars are leaving their teams is because they are tired of putting their respective teams on their shoulders only to get knocked out of the playoffs, year-after-year. Lebron James toiled in Cleveland for seven years, putting his city on his back, while Danny Ferry, Cleveland’s general manager, was busy signing Larry Hughes, instead of Ray Allen, and getting Mo “All-Star” Williams to be Lebron’s sidekick. Cavs fans, maybe point the finger at management a little?
Carmelo Anthony spent 7 and half years in Denver and never made it to the Finals. Dwight Howard’s sidekick is Jameer freaking Nelson. Howard, as he has recently said, does not know what else he can do. This frustration, of year over year failure, causes these players to pack up and leave. Deron Williams, now a New Jersey Net, played with a middling roster on the Jazz, and even though he is now in a big market, Deron is yet to sign an extension. Why u ask? Because he wants to see signs of smart roster management from the front office.
All of the players mentioned played at lease six years on their respective teams before jumping ship. Not exactly a short time period to build a team. None of the players left a championship level team. Actually, the reason they left is primarily due to the fact that they do not have championship level teams, or cap room to grow into championship teams. While I do concede market size is a factor, it is a very small factor and not the real reason these stars are leaving. In fact, Kobe Bryant was ready to leave the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the biggest markets in the world, when he did not see a bright outlook for his team. However, Jerry Buss, an esteemed owner, made a smart move in trading for Pau Gasol, and, ultimately, Kobe stayed and won two more championships.
Kevin Durant, in the small Oklahoma City market, loves it there because of the fact he is playing with a bona fide all-star in Westbrook and emerging talent in Harden and Ibaka, among others. However, New York City, arguably the biggest market in the world, couldn’t get a single marquee free agent in the 2000′s because their management situation was a mess.
But, look at the Knicks now. They are, arguably, one of the premier teams in the eastern conference, if not in the entire league. In 2008, James Dolan, owner of the Knicks, announced that Donnie Walsh would be the team’s president of basketball operations.
He joined the team while they were in massive turmoil. The Knicks were affected by many overpaid, underperforming players. These deals left the Knicks around $20 million over the NBA salary cap and in a position were they did not seem likely to sign any marquee free agents. However, Donnie Walsh worked his magic. By the summer of 2010, Walsh was able to bring the Knicks under the salary cap by $34 million.
Donnie Walsh is a testament that small and large market teams do not affect how a team ultimately performs, but rather, well executed deals, done by managements, is what brings a team out of the shadows.
Time and time again, smart roster management will trump market size, and it needs to be noted that, in no possible system, can all 30 teams compete, simply because there aren’t 30 stars.
Here’s a simple solution to all the small market owners holding up negotiations to “restore competitive balance”; I’m looking at you, Dan Gilbert… Build a championship level squad around the stars that you draft and keep them for at least five years, instead of surrounding them with the likes of Larry Hughes, Gilbert Arenas, Mo Williams, and Rashard Lewis.