The league must find a way to raise the profile and prestige of smaller-market teams or risk even more devastating financial problems and conflicts in years to come.
News Thursday night that the NBA was killing a deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers to pair him with Kobe Bryant was as surprising as the proposed deal itself. But it was the right thing to do.
Nonetheless, nixing the deal did nothing to address one of the NBA’s most troubling problems. The attempt to send Paul to the Lakers angered several owners, particularly Cleveland's Dan Gilbert, who saw this move as unfair to smaller markets and possibly orchestrated by the NBA itself.
Complicating matters in the Chris Paul case is the fact that the NBA temporarily owns the Hornets. Of course the league is looking for an owner to take over the New Orleans franchise, but to make that happen, the NBA had better find a way to ensure that the New Orleans Hornets are competitive and viable.
Trading Chris Paul to the Lakers or any other team at this time certainly undermines that.
Another of the top stars, Dwight Howard, wants to leave Orlando and move to a more attractive market. According to The Orlando Sentinel, Howard now wants to go to the New Jersey Nets, where he could then be the centerpiece of a franchise that will soon be reinventing itself in Brooklyn.
Nothing wrong with fortifying the NBA’s largest market, but what is the league doing to make the smaller markets more inviting to its stars? So far, nothing. It’s already looking like business as usual in the NBA, a league where in recent years, only a handful of franchises have made a profit.
If the NFL was run like the NBA it would not be nearly as successful or as highly regarded as it is today. How is it that one of the top-five franchises in the NFL can be located in America’s smallest sports market?
Green Bay, Wisconsin is a thriving NFL city with a population of only 100,000 people. But ironically, not far away, Milwaukee is considered one of the NBA’s least attractive franchises.
If the NFL can successfully sell Green Bay to the public, a much smaller city than nearby Milwaukee, then it is obvious that the NBA has real work to do to ensure that all of its franchises are healthy.
The Colts’ Peyton Manning is a four-time MVP living and playing in Indianapolis. For years he was also the NFL’s No. 1 product endorser. The Indianapolis Colts have been a top 10 franchise in both value and prestige.
But just a couple of blocks away, the Indiana Pacers struggle for respectability and profitability. The disparity between the Pacers and Colts is startling. There are a number of other markets where this contrast between teams from the two leagues is startlingly true.
So as the the NBA finally gets set to kick off a new season, you would think that lessons were learned and that old unsuccessful habits would not take hold again. But already there are signs that nothing has changed.