It's sometimes hard to remember, but NBA franchises are about more than just the product that's put out onto the hardwood.
Professional basketball is a business, after all.
It's about winning, sure. But it's also about appealing to fans, drawing big crowds, making money and building a valuable brand. And that's why the on-court product is only a part of these preseason power rankings for the NBA's big-market teams, the first piece in a three-part series that will also focus on the medium-sized and small-market teams.
So, how do we determine the 10 franchises that qualify as "big-market teams?"
It's all about the population in the cities they call home, which you can view here (the data is aggregated by the United States Census Bureau). The teams with the 10 largest hometown populations are considered the big-market teams for the purpose of this article.
Below are the squads we're dealing with, sorted by estimated 2012 population:
- New York Knicks
- Brooklyn Nets
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Chicago Bulls
- Toronto Raptors
- Houston Rockets
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Phoenix Suns
- San Antonio Spurs
Now that you know which teams we're analyzing, read on for the original metric used to rank the teams and then a countdown from No. 10 to No. 1.
In order to determine how well off each franchise was, six factors were looked at:
Current success is important to the brand of a franchise, so we couldn't possibly ignore this.
Since these are power rankings, what's happening now matters most, and as a result, this category was weighted most heavily. Each team's rank was multiplied by three before it was included in the overall market score.
The best way to measure the interest of fans is to look at home attendance.
By delving into ESPN's numbers for the 2012-13 season, I was able to glean the percentage of the home arena that was filled up throughout the year. Unfortunately, there's no simple way to predict what attendance will look like in 2013-14, so this will have to suffice.
3. Franchise Value
How much is each team worth?
That's what this section boils down to, and Forbes has our answer by providing an estimate of each franchise's value at the end of the 2012-13 season.
This is a pretty important figure, as a lot goes into value. To account for that, the rank in this category was multiplied by two before being added into the overall market score.
I also wanted to isolate the amount of money that a team was making. A product can be great, but it's fairly irrelevant if it isn't actually making money.
Forbes also helps out here, but this wasn't valued as highly as franchise value, so each team's rank was allowed to stand alone without receiving a multiplier.
5. Franchise Growth
There aren't many better indicators of a franchise's recent progress than the one provided by the percentage growth the value has experienced in the last year. On average, according to Forbes, NBA teams experienced 30 percent growth in 2012-13, and we'll be looking at how the big-market teams stack up in this category.
Once more, the rank stood alone without any sort of multiplier.
6. Future Flexibility
These rankings were lifted directly from ESPN's future rankings of the NBA franchises, according to ESPN Insider (subscription required), so a massive thanks goes out to Chad Ford, Amin Elhassan, Tom Haberstroh and Kevin Pelton.
As they described, this consists of "projected salary-cap situation; ability and willingness to exceed cap and pay luxury tax."
Because the ability to build a team in the future is of high importance, this category received a multiplier of two.
Once all the categories were calculated, the team's ranks (with relevant multipliers included) were added up, and the lowest total came out on top.
Wins Rank: No. 9
Attendance Rank: No. 9
Franchise Value Rank: No. 7
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 8
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 8
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 6
At least there's hope for the Phoenix Suns. Just not during the 2013-14 campaign.
With Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic forming a successful backcourt—as they have during the preseason—the light at the end of the tunnel is now present, and it's only aided by the fact that Phoenix will have money to spend going forward.
The Suns have plenty of club options on the books next year, and Marcin Gortat will be hitting the open market, clearing up over $7 million of cap space. Plus, this franchise has always been willing to spend money when necessary.
That's the positive in the desert.
But unfortunately, they finish at the bottom of the big-market teams because no one comes to games and, as a result, the franchise just hasn't been as profitable as others. Making $13 million is obviously nice, but it leaves the team well shy of the top finishers in the franchise profit category.
Wins Rank: No. 8
Attendance Rank: No. 8
Franchise Value Rank: No. 10
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 5
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 10
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 5
For my American readers who might not have a handle on just how big Toronto is, it's huge. The city boasts well over two million residents, leaving it trailing only the New York teams, the Los Angeles teams and Chicago in terms of population.
That gets the Raptors into the realm of big-market teams, but it doesn't help them rank any higher than No. 9.
While Toronto might not be highly competitive during the 2013-14 campaign, there's a lot of hope for the future. Not only does the team almost clear the books two offseasons from now, but the presence of Masai Ujiri will help out quite a bit.
Remember, Ujiri built a successful Denver Nuggets team almost from scratch before jumping ship for the team that originally gave him a chance. With the exception of Ty Lawson, every single prominent member of the rotation was acquired by Ujiri through either the draft, a trade or free agency. Plus, he inked Lawson to a bargain of a contract extension.
That bodes well for Toronto, but things still don't look too great in the present.
The Raptors are profitable, but they don't draw as many fans as the other big-market teams (91.6 percent of the Air Canada Centre filled on average), and the franchise is the least valuable of the bunch ($405 million).
But who knows. Maybe they'll rank No. 1 in a few years, and we'll look back saying something like, "They started from the bottom...now they're here!"
I immediately feel bad about writing that.
Wins Rank: No. 10
Attendance Rank: No. 10
Franchise Value Rank: No. 9
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 10
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 3
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 2
The Philadelphia 76ers are going to be absolutely awful this year.
They're heavy favorites to "earn" the worst record in the NBA—not just the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference—and they could challenge the lockout-season Charlotte Bobcats for all-time futility if Thaddeus Young misses even a few games.
It should be no surprise that they finish dead last in the wins category (not just among the big-market teams) and attendance. But on top of that, the franchise is less valuable than most others from big cities and hasn't been particularly profitable, making only $0.8 million last year.
However, the franchise's value is still growing at a rather rapid rate, and that will only continue as more standout prospects join the team. With Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel on board and someone like Andrew Wiggins eventually arriving via the 2014 NBA draft, there's hope.
And in addition, Philly has some serious financial flexibility. According to HoopsWorld, the team has $15,026,029 committed in guaranteed money for 2014-15 and absolutely nothing for the season after that.
Wins Rank: No. 4
Attendance Rank: No. 6
Franchise Value Rank: No. 5
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 6
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 1
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 9
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Brooklyn Nets experienced more franchise growth than any other team in this level of market size. After all, they moved from New Jersey to one of the boroughs of New York City.
Resultantly, the franchise benefitted from 48 percent growth in value, upping the total to $530 million. It's still well shy of the top dogs, but at least the Nets are in the top half of the category now.
As for the other categories, Brooklyn doesn't have much potential to improve in the near future. Although owner Mikhail Prokhorov has demonstrated his ability to spend money like no other and his apparent disdain for silly institutions like the salary cap, luxury tax and apron, the Nets are just about capped out and set to pay the largest tax bill in the sport's history.
It's time for them to win now, and that's something they can certainly do.
The three record projections used in the calculations average out to just over 52 wins, and that would make the Nets highly competitive for one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And if all the veterans are healthy come postseason time, anything can happen.
Wins Rank: No. 6
Attendance Rank: No. 5
Franchise Value Rank: No. 1
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 1
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 2
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 10
No NBA team is more valuable than the New York Knicks, nor are any more profitable. And the scary part is that the franchise value is still growing at a ridiculous rate.
After a 41 percent value change, New York is now so valuable that it can't be represented in millions. We have to add another comma and talk about billions. The Knicks are worth $1.1 billion, making them one of only two NBA teams to hit 12 figures and, according to Forbes, the 23rd-most valuable franchise in all of sports.
However, the value of the team can't save it from finishing in the bottom half.
Not only do the Knicks have the least monetary flexibility going forward, but they also don't draw as many fans as other teams featured in this slideshow. During the 2012-13 season, they filled up "only" 96.3 percent of Madison Square Garden.
Additionally, their projected record of 49-33 leaves them trailing the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets. They're still an elite team, just not when matched up against the other big-market squads, which usually tend to do pretty well for themselves throughout each and every season.
Wins Rank: No. 5
Attendance Rank: No. 7
Franchise Value Rank: No. 4
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 4
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 7
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 3
General manager Daryl Morey has helped out the Houston Rockets in a big way.
He's shown that he's willing to spend money and move all sorts of players in order to land stars, and that serves both him and the franchise well. Plus, it'll help the Rockets look even better going forward, as they're sure to draw even more fans than the 92.4 percent attendance figure from 2012-13.
However, the Rockets are just in the middle of the pack across the board, and that's resulted in a middle-of-the-pack overall ranking.
Worth $568 million, Houston is looking good in that category, but the worth is growing at a slower rate than most of the other big-market teams, so you still have to temper your excitement.
Also helping out the franchise is the future flexibility.
Morey aids the cause, as mentioned above, but so, too, do the salary figures. The Rockets have $53,730,889 committed in guaranteed money next year, but then the total drops to $38,115,802 in 2015-16, even with both Harden and Dwight Howard still aboard, according to HoopsWorld.
Wins Rank: No. 1
Attendance Rank: No. 2
Franchise Value Rank: No. 8
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 9
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 3
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 7
The Los Angeles Clippers take a very different approach than the Houston Rockets, even if they're tied in the overall rankings.
While Houston was all about balance, Los Angeles is all about the present.
The Clippers are projected to win more games than any of the other big-market teams, checking in at 60 wins in my rankings, 53 in Dan Favale's and 57 in ESPN's. That narrowly pushes them ahead of the San Antonio Spurs and gives them a big boost, as projected wins were the most heavily weighted of the categories.
But the other present categories look good as well for the Clippers.
They're drawing a lot of fans. In fact, the Staples Center was filled to 100.9 percent of the capacity seating during the average home game in 2012-13, a mark beaten out by only the Chicago Bulls among this set of teams. And that's not likely to change after the squad got even stronger in the offseason.
Plus, now that the Clippers are finally relevant, the value of the franchise is starting to grow in rather dramatic fashion.
Wins Rank: No. 2
Attendance Rank: No. 4
Franchise Value Rank: No. 6
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 7
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 6
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 4
It should come as absolutely no surprise that if you add together the ranks for projected wins and future flexibility, the San Antonio Spurs have the lowest total among the 10 teams in question. The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets are all tied for second.
Led by general manager R.C. Buford, the Spurs have functioned as the NBA's model franchise for quite some time.
They make the right decisions, they find value in the draft and they're always competitive, even if they don't break the bank. Of course, having a coach like Gregg Popovich and a franchise star like Tim Duncan tends to help with that.
All of this has allowed San Antonio to rise up the rankings, a process that has been aided by the passion of the fans in the city. On average, the Spurs filled up 99.2 percent of the AT&T Center, pushing them over 90 percent for the second consecutive year.
However, the franchise is, ultimately, held back by its lack of value. Typically, $527 million is a lot of money, but not among this group of teams.
Wins Rank: No. 7
Attendance Rank: No. 3
Franchise Value Rank: No. 2
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 2
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 9
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 1
It doesn't even matter that the Los Angeles Lakers aren't going to be very good in 2013-14. Tautological as this statement may be, they're still the Los Angeles Lakers.
The purple-and-gold uniforms resonate on a global scale, and the "Lake Show" is one of only two franchises that can claim its worth at least a billion dollars. The Lakers trail the New York Knicks in both franchise value and profit, but those two organizations are still in a league of their own.
Plus, the Lakers still draw plenty of fans—both celebrities and normal people alike—even when the product isn't all that exciting. Unless Kobe Bryant comes back at 100 percent and there are a few unexpected breakouts, this isn't going to be a playoff team, and yet, the Staples Center will still be filled to capacity almost every night.
Also working in favor of LAL is the insane amount of flexibility they have to work with.
Their much-ballyhooed cap space for the summer of 2014 will dry up if Kobe and Pau Gasol don't take pay cuts, but L.A. has always been able to draw in big names. And according to HoopsWorld, they have only $10,616,243 in guaranteed salaries on the books for 2014-15 and then nothing after that.
Even if this is a down year, L.A. will still be able to reload, and the franchise will remain just as valuable as ever, especially if that ridiculously expensive deal with Time Warner is any indication.
Wins Rank: No. 3
Attendance Rank: No. 1
Franchise Value Rank: No. 3
Franchise Profit Rank: No. 3
Franchise Growth Rank: No. 3
Future Flexibility Rank: No. 8
Unless, you're talking about the ability to spend money in the future, the Chicago Bulls are doing pretty well for themselves.
In 2012-13, they boasted the NBA's best attendance percentage at home, filling up 104.6 percent of the United Center on a nightly basis. Scary as it may be, could that number actually rise now that Derrick Rose will be suiting up in something other than, well, a suit?
The Bulls franchise—still bolstered by everything that Michael Jordan did for the brand—is also quite valuable. They check in at $800 million, made a profit of $34 million and still managed to grow at a higher rate than all big-market teams except the two New York-based squads.
All of those numbers are elite, and the same can be said about their project win total.
I have the Bulls winning 57 wins. Dan Favale and ESPN are slightly more modest in their projections, giving Chicago 54 and 55 victories, respectively. But that average of 55.3 still leaves them trailing only the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs.
Chicago is pretty darn elite across the board, and that makes them the big-market franchise in the best shape entering the 2013-14 campaign.