Why Miami Is Bad For The League

LeBron James has won back-to-back championships and Finals MPV awards.

LeBron James has won back-to-back championships and Finals MPV awards.

Last season the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) resulted in a lockout and a shortened NBA Season.  One of the key issues at stake was a failing business model that left over three quarters of the league in the red.  Small market teams were struggling to make money.  The primary reason for that was their inability to sell a quality product.  Simply put: their teams were not contending.  In order for small market teams to be profitable, they must be competitive.  The Detroit Pistons are a prime example; after having made six consecutive appearances in the conference finals and selling out every game for multiple seasons on end, the Piston, in the midst of a rebuilding process, have been unable to sell out games since the 2009 season.  The number of teams that fall into the same category far outweigh the teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat who have no

Pat Riley is the mastermind behind the coupe that brought together three franchise players.

Pat Riley is the mastermind behind the coupe that brought together three franchise players.

problem selling out games, even when they miss the playoffs.  Because small market teams have difficulty luring big name free agents, the only way they can stay competitive is via the draft and trades (with occasional shrewd and clever free-agent signings helping to bolster their roster).  In the summer of 2010, the Miami Heat took a huge gamble and changed the way teams build rosters.  They cleared cap space and made a run at three key free agents that season and built a super-team.  The result?  Three consecutive trips to the NBA finals.  A successful model no doubt, but one that cannot be imitated by all teams.  The problem is that smaller markets (and less desirable markets like Toronto) cannot replicate this model and so find themselves out in the cold.  Whereas great drafting and shrewd trades used to be the best way to build a contender, now the best way is to clear caps space and lure free agents.  This undermines the parity of the league in two ways.  First, it disallows small markets from competing for these free agents; and secondly, it raids the talent pool of these same teams, making them less competitive.  In short; the Miami Heat winning is bad for the league.

 

Since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team has not only failed to make the playoffs, but has also failed to make a profit.

Since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team has not only failed to make the playoffs, but has also failed to make a profit.

After having seen some of the highest ratings in the NBA finals since ABC bought the rights to air the games, some might suggest that the league has never been healthier.  This though, is a small measure of success.  For true success all teams, or at least most, need to be profitable.  This is not the case.  The Cleveland Cavaliers, like the Pistons, had sold out every games for consecutive seasons.  Losing a franchise player like LeBron James to free agency not only sent the team into the lottery, but also sent fans out the stadium in droves.  The team’s value dropped dramatically and profits turned into losses.  The Toronto Raptors had a slightly different scenario.  Their failures were due largely to a poorly run team.  A roster that could have featured a starting front court of Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger, instead, after Bosh’s departure, feature Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson and Leandro Barbosa.  Still, the departure of Bosh sent a team on the cusp of making the playoffs into rebuilding mode.

 

Players like Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony have likewise tried to join 'super-teams' and neither has cared to wait until free agency to do so.

Players like Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony have likewise tried to join ‘super-teams’ and neither has cared to wait until free agency to do so.

Other players, having seen the success of the Miami Heat, seek the same.  Since the 2010 free-agency period, the league has seen an increase in the number of franchise players demanding trades: Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.  What do these players all have in common?  They played for relatively small markers: Denver, Orlando and New Orleans. What else do they have in common?  They all ended up in big markets: New York and Los Angeles.  The looming free agency period of 2013 will likely see the building of another super-team featuring Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.  The problem?  While having such great talents on one team will be great to watch and ensure high ratings come playoff times, it will reduce attendance for teams like New Orleans, Denver and Orlando; the teams who used to host games featuring Anthony, Dwight and Paul.  The team/teams that lands these players will do well, but the teams that have already lost them will struggle to remain profitable and stay competitive.

Despite having a team build through exceptional draft picks, the Thunder were unable to overcome the Heat's 'super-team' in the 2012 finals.

Despite having a team build through exceptional draft picks, the Thunder were unable to overcome the Heat’s ‘super-team’ in the 2012 finals.

Coupled with this, the teams who are run well, teams like: the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers, have all struggled to remain competitive against teams who raided other small markets to create a super-team.  While injuries have no doubt played a role for each of these teams, they have each lost to the Miami Heat in the past three seasons and saw their title dreams dashed by a super-team.  The respective general managers (GMs) of these teams have done a fantastic job of building teams.  The Pacers have brought in: Granger, Hibbert, Paul George and a host of other players through the draft or draft day trades.  Only David West was a free agent signing and he was a modest player signed to a modest contract.  The Spurs have likewise used the draft to build their core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker.  The Bulls drafted Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Lual Deng while the Thunder drafted Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Serge Ibaka.  But, despite having made such great decisions in the draft, these teams have suffered defeat, not at the hands of GM who made better draft-day choices, but at the hands of a GM who simply raided the talent of other teams to create and All-Star team.  One must commend these teams though, as they have still remained competitive against the Heat despite a clear handicap (and I won’t even get into the officiating bias).

This finals may have been Tim Duncan's last chance at winning a championship.

This finals may have been Tim Duncan’s last chance at winning a championship.

So, if a GM for a small market team does make all the right moves, what is the point?  It may be surprising to some, but before this current incarnation of the Miami Heat, only the Los Angeles Lakers championship teams of 2000, 2001 and 2002 were built around a player that had signed via free agency (Shaquille O’Neal).  Every other championship team was built around players that the team either drafted or trade for.  The 80’s saw the Lakers and Celtics win titles behind two famous draft picks name Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.  The Pistons won with Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars.  The Bulls with Jordan and Pippen.  The Rocket with Hakeem.  The Spurs with Duncan and Robinson.  The Pistons with a rag-tag team of spare parts they got through the draft and trades and modest free-agent signings.  Even the 2006 Heat were built around Wade and Shaq who they had traded for.  Boston build through the draft and free agency, Dallas built around Dirk Nowitzki and the Lakers built around Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum (both drafted by the team) and Pau Gasol whom they had traded for.  The Miami Heat is an anomaly, but they are a dangerous anomaly, one that threatens the parity of the league and in turn the ability of small market teams to remain competitive and profitable.

 

 

Had Larry Bird and Magic Johnson been teammates, the league would have missed out on the competitive nature of their rivalry that fueled ratings in the 80's.

Had Larry Bird and Magic Johnson been teammates, the league would have missed out on the competitive nature of their rivalry that fueled ratings in the 80’s.

Had Magic and Bird simply joined forces, the 80’s would not have been entertaining.  Had Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing simply became teammates, there would have been so many epic playoff battles stolen from us.  Had Duncan and Shaq signed onto the same team, the league would have been boring to watch.  As it stands right now we are missing out on what could be a classic Wade v. James series, but we are missing out on seeing the true spirit of the game.  It is not difficult for an All-Star team to win a series against a team built almost strictly through the draft, even if that team was built very well.  Late first-round picks like the ones the Pacers used to build their team can simply not compete with early first round picks that have proven to be perennial All-Stars.  While injuries have perhaps put an asterisk alongside the championships of the last two season (Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook have all missed important playoff runs for contending teams), injuries are part of the sport.  This happens every year.  What doesn’t happen every year is that one team raids two other playoff-calibre teams for their franchise players and puts them on the same team.  This has killed the competitive spirit of the league and if this pattern continues, then the league will have to simply hope for an increase in the level of talent to compensate for this trend (an unlikely scenario), or face a business model the forces contraction, increased losses and threatens the long-term viability of this league.  Had the Indiana Pacers player the San Antonio Spurs in the finals, the ratings would have been much lower, but the league would have been healthier.  Casual fans do not make small market teams profitable, they make the NBA brand profitable via increased ratings for playoff games and merchandise.  The fans of small-market teams are the ones who make this league viable and if the league continues to shut them out, the league’s long-term success will be in jeopardy.

 

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