Young NBA Stars Too Big for Their Markets
There's nothing wrong with getting paid big bucks to play NBA basketball.
It's basically the dream of every kid that picks up the orange ball as a youth and swishes it through a hoop. Ask anyone if they would take a job as a player in the NBA and the answer will be "yes" 99 percent of the time.
The biggest stars are in a position to possibly be a little more choosy. It's not necessarily about the money the team is paying the individual players. In this day and age of self-promotion, players are thinking about their images and marketability off the court as well as on it.
LeBron left Cleveland for "South Beach," not Miami, if you remember correctly. That's because South Beach is the hot spot; Miami is just the name of the city.
Carmelo Anthony was in Denver; now he's in New York City. Same player, putting up the same—actually, worse—numbers on a team no better than the ones he played on in Denver, but now with more visibility.
The following list is one comprised of players who are unquestionably among the league's best players and playing in small markets.
That's good for the league and for those teams, but not always good for those individual players.
Kevin Durant: Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City has a population of 579,799 people, making it the 31st-largest city in the United States.
The Oklahoma City Thunder might just have the best player in the entire 30-team league on their roster.
Kevin Durant isn't just among the best players in the NBA right now; he's going to be considered one of the best players in the league for quite some time. At only 23 years old, he's already a perennial MVP candidate.
Durant still has five seasons remaining on his contract and has shown no signs of discontent in Oklahoma City, but it will be interesting to see what happens in the next three or four seasons.
If Oklahoma City can't win a title, then Durant may grow slightly anxious—not to leave Oklahoma City specifically, but to win a title.
If that isn't happening in OKC, then he may seek out a ring elsewhere.
Russell Westbrook: Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook grew up and came of age in one of the largest cities and media markets in the entire world.
The star point guard was born in Long Beach, Calif. which is a big part of the massive suburban sprawl that surrounds the Los Angeles Metropolitan area. Westbrook transitioned from the sprawl of Los Angeles to the center of it by attending college at UCLA.
Since being drafted in 2008, he's spent his entire NBA career as a member of the Thunder. Not only is Westbrook playing in an smaller market than the one he played in at college, but he's not even his own team's brightest star.
The odds of Westbrook ever surpassing Kevin Durant in star power while playing on the Thunder are very slim. If that's not a problem for Westbrook, then the Thunder will gladly retain him for the remaining six seasons left on his contract.
But if Westbrook falls prey to the temptations of the spotlight that only a major metropolitan area could provide, then he would make for a very valuable trade commodity.
Kevin Love: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan area is the 16th largest in the United States. It's not small, but is it too small for the growing superstar aura of Kevin Love?
Love leads all NBA players in minutes per game. He's the fourth-leading scorer and the second-leading rebounder. Add in his dynamic outside shooting and Love is among the league's very best players.
Love won't turn 24 until this coming September and he's signed a contract extension to keep him in Minnesota for the next four seasons, but that deal has a player opt-out option after the third year. He'll still be only 26 years old at that point.
Love will still have time left in his athletic prime when his option comes up. If a team in a major market could clear enough cap space to hand him a max deal, then it's not impossible to envision a scenario in which he heads off to find a market that lines up more accurately with his star power.
LaMarcus Aldridge: Portland Trail Blazers
The NBA's eighth-leading scorer plays in the nation's 29th-largest city.
The odds are, no matter how much Aldridge likes or dislikes Portland, it probably feels somewhat small to him.
Aldridge still has three lucrative years remaining on his current contract, but Portland is embarking on a rebuilding effort. The team is making Aldridge the centerpiece of that effort, but will it bear fruit in the form of a title-contending team and convince the star power forward to remain a Blazer?
Rudy Gay: Memphis Grizzlies
Rudy Gay's career has been hampered by a series of injuries the past few seasons, but there's no denying his talent and star power. He's a unique athlete that can defend big men and still play offense with the versatility associated with smaller guards.
Rudy Gay is already 25 years old and currently plays in a city that is the 20th largest in the nation. The people of Memphis love basketball, but at times they love the college team more than the pro one.
When the Memphis Tigers are competing for the top rankings in NCAA basketball, they routinely outdraw the pro team. That makes an already small market feel smaller.
Gay is signed to a contract that keeps him in Memphis for three more years following the conclusion of the current one. He can opt out in two years, though, and he'll still be only 28 when the 2014-15 seasons tips off.
Could Gay move on to an environment where his skills can get more attention? It's certainly a possibility.