Cohen: Market Size Shouldn't Be Big Factor

By Josh Cohen
November 14, 2012

ORLANDO -- In the present NBA age, many observers have come to a conclusion that is by and large erroneous and invalid.

As a result of the current competitive imbalance – which generally speaking accentuates big market teams as the more superior squads – many have deemed it impractical for smaller market franchises to succeed in the NBA.

That’s a fallacy.

Yes, it is spot on that presently the two Los Angeles teams, the Lakers and Clippers, the two New York teams, the Knicks and Nets, and other larger market teams including the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls are among the richer, more talented clubs across the league.

However, this is not permanent. Rather, this is just part of the NBA cycle.

First and foremost, let’s realize that Miami – the city that hosts the reigning NBA champs – is not really a “big market.” It would be unjustified and irrational to categorize Miami as a big market when it ranks 12th in the league.

The Heat managed to stack up on immense talent because they handled their finances extremely well leading into the free agency class of 2010, had an excellent recruiting pitch from Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade to persuade LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join them and reside in a location that features beautiful weather all year long and no state income tax.

You can credit the Knicks, Nets and Clippers all you want this season, but let’s scrutinize some facts.

From the termination of the Patrick Ewing era in 2000 until the time they acquired Carmelo Anthony in 2011, the Knicks were one of the worst, most defective teams in the league. From 2002 until ’11, New York advanced to the playoffs just once and had a combined record of 279-459.

The Nets and Clippers – aside from those two New Jersey trips to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 – have always been viewed as the two most meager franchises in the league and in all of professional sports.

When Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls (second time), it took Chicago about a dozen years to get back into contention. The Celtics had the second worst record in the NBA the year before they landed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

It is proper to imply that big markets such as Los Angeles and New York have a greater advantage in terms of trying to lure All-Star caliber free agents to their teams.

We saw how Dwight Howard demanded to be traded to just three teams – all big markets – when he decided he preferred to move on from Orlando. We saw Shaquille O’Neal do the same 14 years earlier.

We saw how Carmelo Anthony essentially forced his way to New York when he chose to channel his way out of Denver.

However, especially with the new luxury tax penalties in effect, it is far more convoluted for max-income players to dictate their way to particular cities.

The Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Celtics, Clippers and Lakers have all exceeded the salary cap and have no leverage to add any more talent to their teams. They are all championship contenders (Chicago only if Derrick Rose is healthy), but once players fade and once some of the young budding talent rise and become perennial All-Stars, the cream of the crop will alter again.

What will happen when Kobe Bryant retires – potentially in 2014? What will happen if Amar’e Stoudemire never gets healthy and the Knicks are stuck with that torturous contract?

And this is not a criticism of some of the larger market teams. The Lakers deserve credit for the position they are in. They are the team that took a chance on Kobe in 1996 by acquiring his draft rights from the Hornets. They are the team that selected Andrew Bynum 10th overall in 2005 when everyone else figured him to be a bust. They had the prized trade chip to get Pau Gasol (his brother Marc) and Howard (Bynum).

All of those decisions have absolutely nothing to do with market size but rather brilliant front office work.

There is a reason why the Heat are the best team in the league. And it has nothing to do with the size of the market. They had a plethora of cap space at the right time and exist in an attractive location.

Magic fans should be thrilled when they stare down to their rivals from the south.

As we have seen before, every time Orlando has sufficient cap space, it wins. It pushed aside all competitors to grab Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in 2000 (nearly also got Tim Duncan) and landed the best possible free agent in 2007 when it acquired Rashard Lewis.

Orlando – despite being ranked 20th in the league in market size -- represents gorgeous weather, no state income tax, the best arena in the world and the perfect location to raise kids with Disney World around the corner.

The Thunder and Spurs – two of the top five teams in the league – are toward the bottom of the league in market size. San Antonio is 24th and Oklahoma City is 29th. That sure isn’t stopping them from flourishing.

Yes, smaller markets generally have to rely on the draft since the A+ talent will likely not choose their teams in free agency.

But that doesn’t apply to a place like Orlando, which is a distinctive smaller market. Dwight’s decision to leave was fueled by the belief that the grass was greener on the other side. But to my knowledge, you cant find greener grass than the landscape spotted in Florida.

Don’t be fooled by the current competitive imbalance. It’s just part of the NBA cycle.

In five years, you can be certain there will be a change in dominance around the league. And Orlando – as it always has in the past – will be in that mix once again.

 

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