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Shaun Powell

With two titles and three straight Finals appearances, the Lakers just keep on truckin'.
Juan Ocampo/NBAE/Getty Images

Among NBA's healthiest franchises, champs reign supreme

Posted Jul 20 2010 12:22PM

The Warriors sold for a record $450 million, and while money buys a lot of things, it doesn't always reflect health.

Make no mistake, the Warriors might become a sound investment over time. They're located in a populous and wealthy region of the country. They draw exceedingly well at the gate for a team that hasn't had an All-Star or decent playoff run for years. And Stephen Curry is awfully fun to watch.

But franchise health goes beyond mere dollars and purchase price and estimated worth on the open market. For example, the Pistons, who own their own building, are one of the league's most profitable franchises. But in wake of the death of owner Bill Davidson, a recession-wrecked Detroit, and mild results lately on the court, the club is searching for better overall health. It's about winning, stability, a manageable payroll, vibrant and loyal fan base, creative marketing, sound coaching, sharp management and solid ownership. Therefore, the Warriors, diamond in the rough, are still a work in progress.

Given those guidelines, here are the top 10 "healthiest" franchises on one man's ballot:

1. Lakers. Nobody in the NBA can touch the Laker brand, which, like the uniform color, is pure gold. There haven't been many valleys on Dr. Jerry Buss' watch, which must be a Rolex, given how the franchise value (now $600 million-plus) has quintupled. They've cashed in twice in three straight trips to the NBA Finals and are basketball's equivalent of the Yankees. Stability and continuity are trademarks for the franchise. They lose a star, get another: Kareem, Magic, Shaq, Kobe. Phil Jackson, greatest coach ever, keeps coming back despite health issues; he wouldn't do that for just any team. General manager Mitch Kupchak, under fire early, has settled in nicely as replacement to The Logo. Lakers charge a princely sum for ticket prices and the house stays packed, anyway. They are clearly the No. 1 sports attraction in a city lacking the NFL. Not all is perfect in Lakerwood, though. Finances are coming under greater scrutiny, and it remains to be seen if Jeannie Buss is a chip off the old block. Still, Lakers rule, on and off the court.

2. Spurs. Sure, they got lucky, getting David Robinson and then Tim Duncan in Draft lotteries. But the ownership-management-coach combination is as good as it gets. The Spurs are the best bang for the buck in basketball, keeping an amazingly reasonable payroll for a team with such success. Also, they always find players hidden under rocks, either late in the Draft (Parker, Ginobili) or free agency or trades. San Antonio is the best model for a small-(medium-?) market team in the NBA. The only glaring misstep was not doing everything possible to get an arena on the Riverwalk.

3. Heat. Micky Arison is the best under-the-radar owner in hoops. Very quietly, the heir to a cruise ship fortune has steered the Heat in the right direction, no easy feat in a football town. Most important step was getting Pat Riley, forming a formidable front office. And now, Riley has another Showtime on his hands, with the LeBron-Wade-Bosh circus. Even when winning, the Heat was a tough draw at home, but that could change beginning this season. If all goes well, the center of the NBA universe could stay in South Beach most of the decade.

4. Magic. Recession? Tell that to the thousands who've already signed up for season tickets in the new Amway Center next year. Tell that to the Magic, on the hook for roughly $30 million in luxury taxes, with the highest payroll in the NBA. The Magic will do whatever it takes, and have created a winning formula in Orlando, which admittedly isn't tough to do in a one-trick-pony town. Like the Spurs, the Magic are adept at finding a franchise big man in the lottery.

5. Jazz. For decades, the Jazz were known for being consistent winners and Jerry Sloan. Nothing much has changed, here in 2010. The club will be tested, though, after losing Carlos Boozer, Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver to free agency and selling off Ronnie Brewer and Eric Maynor last season. They'll have to hope the offseason additions of Al Jefferson and Raja Bell pay off big. Utah is never high on players' list for desired places to play, but that has no reflection on the organization itself, which gets steep marks for stability.

6. Mavericks. It's good to be Mark Cuban, who changed the Dallas basketball culture and also elevated his own profile after buying in. Mavericks' games are a see-and-be-seen event in Dallas, and while a second fiddle to the Cowboys, there's a big distance between the Mavericks and whoever's No. 3. Cuban is not shy about paying top dollar, but often gave to the wrong people (Erick Dampier, Michael Finley) while turning cheap with Steve Nash. Detractors note with glee that Cuban has spent millions on a team that hasn't won a title with him as owner.

7. Celtics. Might not be a stretch to say the organization was in chaos until Kevin Garnett arrived gift-wrapped. Still, Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers have restored luster to the proud franchise. Arguably they would be sitting on three straight titles right now if not for untimely postseason injuries to KG (2009) and Kendrick Perkins (2010). The Celtics managed to carve out a respectable audience amid the beloved Red Sox and dynastic Patriots in what could be the most competitive place in America for the sports entertainment dollar.

8. Thunder. Ordinarily would be a cinch to wear the black hat, after packing and leaving Seattle. But Memphis and New Orleans could learn a thing or two about relocation from the Thunder. The town is insane over the team and home games are hot dates on the calendar. Perhaps it was dumb luck landing Kevin Durant in the Draft, who has turned out better than Greg Oden (the No. 1 pick in Durant's Draft class). But the Thunder are clearly an up-and-comer with a solid GM in Sam Presti (still don't understand why he passed on Curry and Tyreke Evans in the 2009 Draft, but whatever) and coach Scott Brooks. Classy fans gave team a standing O after a spirited playoff tussle with eventual champion Lakers.

9. Bulls. Would be much higher if not for the failed experiment with coach Vinny Del Negro and subsequent ugly falling-out. But Jerry Reinsdorf is an excellent owner and the Bulls (worth roughly $475 million according to Forbes) print money at the United Center, filled to the nosebleed even when the team was down. Club could be on the upswing after signing Boozer, but much will depend on the continued development of Derrick Rose.

10. Rockets. They rarely make bad decisions that harm the franchise either on the floor or at the gate or in the community. The Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming era didn't produce massive results, but the Rockets didn't allow the bottom to fall out here in the transition period. Daryl Morey runs a solid team without much fat to trim, and the Rockets are one star away from making another run in the standings.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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