The Myth of Small-Market NBA Teams

The next time some NBA fan whines about the plight of small-market teams, do the world a favor: punch them in the face. Do it for Sean Young. Why? Because the 2014 Minnesota Timberwolves are the 1989 Sean Young. 


Sean Young was an up-and-coming Hollywood star in the late 1980s, appearing in Blade Runner, Stripes, Wall Street, and Dune. She was beautiful. Talented. Undeniably on her way to the top. She was cast as the female lead in Tim Burton’s Batman, a sure-fire blockbuster. The future was sparkly and certain.

A week before pre-production ended, Young, horse-riding, was thrown from her steed and broke her arm. Kim Basinger took her role in Batman. Quick as snapping your fingers, Young was out of the loop. Yesterday’s news. Forgotten.

I'd like to thank Sean Young's horse and chaos theory for making this award possible...

I’d like to thank Sean Young’s horse and chaos theory for making this award possible…

A few years later, Young, in the running for the role of Catwoman in Burton’s Batman sequel, was passed over in favor of Annette Benning, who became pregnant and lost the role to Michelle Pfeiffer. Attempting to win back the role, Young constructed a homemade Catwoman costume and appeared on-set, attempting to confront Burton and lead actor Michael Keaton. Soon she appeared on Joan Rivers’ talk show to push her point, but failed to win back the role. Her career, once so full of promise, never reached the heights it seemed destined to hit.

In 2008, the Timberwolves drafted O.J. Mayo and traded him for Kevin Love. This may have been the last good move the Wolves made.
In 2009, with the 5th & 6th picks, they took 2 guys who played the same position—Ricky Rubio (statistically the worst shooter in modern NBA history) and Johnny Flynn (no longer in the NBA)—despite 2 superior options and future All-Star guards being available afterward—Steph Curry and Demar Derozan, plus near-All Star Jrue Holiday.

In 2010, Minnesota took Wesley Johnson ahead of Demarcus Cousins (a burgeoning All-Star) and Paul George (already there). In 2011, they took Derrick Williams with the 2nd pick, the highest pick in franchise history, ahead of Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, and Kawhi Leonard. Williams was traded two years later for Luc Mbah a Moute, who played less than 14 minutes per game for Minnesota in about half a season. The Wolves traded their 2012 pick for Chase Budinger, who averaged less than half a game and less than half a season over 2 years for them. The Wolves traded 2013 1st round pick Trey Burke for so-far bust Shabazz Muhammed (over probable All-Rookie 1st teamer Tim Hardaway Jr.) and Gorgui Deng, who’s shown flashes in the last months of theis season. After all those drafts, that’s the best Minnesota has to show: flashes.


Isn't he dreamy?

Isn’t he dreamy?

Meanwhile, the most anticipated NBA storyline this year beyond “Is Derrick Rose the new Penny Hardaway?” is what will happen to Kevin Love, an unrestricted free agent after next year, meaning he’s free to sign wherever he wants and there ain’t nothing they can do about it. There will be a ton of press devoted over the next 12-14 months on Love’s future destination—Chicago? Los Angeles? New York? All we know is it won’t be Minnesota. The Wolves are stuck in mediocrity, the NBA’s version of hell—better to suck than to be .500. There will be a lot of hand-wringing about poor wittle Minnesota, a lot of moralizing about the plight of small-market teams and their impossible struggle against the big markets and bi-coastal bullies.
You want to know the truth? Minnesota is where they are because of their own stupidity. Whatever happens, they deserve it.

Minnesota, like every other team in the NBA, can designate one player to offer a 5-year contract extension. The same geniuses running the Wolves’ drafts the past 5 years decided to give that extension to Rubio rather than Love. This is like producing The Avengers movies and locking up Hawkeye/Jeremy Renner for the trilogy rather than Iron Man/Robert Downey Jr.

Why did they do this? Who knows? Maybe they fell for Rubio’s hair flop. Maybe they favor the sizzle over the steak. Maybe they decided they never won anything with a historically great power forward named Kevin before, so why risk the same outcome twice?
There’s going to be an awful lot of whining between now and whenever Love is traded about loyalty and small-market inequalities and the such. We’ll hear about poor wittle Minnesota being forced to trade their best player to some evil, big-market team, about this being the ethos of the NBA, about how the league will never be as successful as the parity-driven, drug-and-crime driven NFL.

The Love situation has nothing to do with any of that. It has to do with a lot of smokescreens and scapegoating. Just like what happened with Lebron leaving Cleveland, and Dwight leaving Orlando, and Melo leaving Denver. It will be wealthy old white guys scapegoating the Other. Same as it ever was.


You shouldn’t feel one iota of sympathy for so-called NBA “small markets.” There’s no relationship between market size and owner wealth. You know which NBA owner has the highest net worth? Paul Allen, who owns the Portland Trail Blazers. Surprised? In fact, Portland, Orlando, Denver, and Cleveland make up 4 of the highest 7 owner values. Glen Taylor, who owns the Wolves, is in the top half of owner values. Orlando’s owner is worth more than Miami’s. Oklahoma City’s is worth more than the Lakers’.

Every couple years, the NBA gets locked out by owners who claim they have to do it, to protect the integrity of competition, for the sake of the poor, oppressed small-market teams. Don’t fall for it. Every lockout is led by so-called small-market owners for their own benefit. Every change in the CBA benefits these guys. The Knicks and Lakers are more screwed in 2014 than ever before. These small-market teams tweak the system to their benefit, then cry afterward about how they can’t compete, all the while pocketing record revenues. It’s a convenient way of passing the buck and ignoring their own failings.

Look at Cleveland. They had Lebron from 2004 to 2010. In all that time, who was the best player they paired with him? Larry Hughes? Mo Williams? Anderson Varejao? Lebron had a chance after 2010 to live and work in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh or stay in Cleveland with Antawn Jamison and a bunch of nobodies. He made the logical choice. Cleveland’s ownership had 7 years to construct a winner. They didn’t. But when he left, they dumped it all on him.clev overhead

Where would you rather live?

Where would you rather live?


Dwight Howard made it clear he wouldn’t re-sign in Orlando when his contract neared its end. He did make a mess out of his departure, true. But can anyone blame him for any of his decisions, once they were made? The Magic committed long-term deals to two mediocre drug cheats: Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. At least for one year in L.A., Dwight had the promise of three Hall of Famers in Kobe, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol. After a disappointing season full of injuries and scapegoating, Dwight signed for MILLIONS less to play with James Harden in Houston. Since then, the Rockets are on the upswing and the Lakers are a corpse. But when Dwight left, what did we hear? He doesn’t want it enough. He isn’t willing to deal with the “pressure” of a competitor. Funny: he looks to be handling it just fine down in Houston. Maybe Dwight’s problem wasn’t the “pressure” of being as maniacal as Kobe as much as it was needing time to recover from back surgery.

Carmelo gave Denver the best years of his career. Took them as far as they’ve ever gone in their NBA history. Then he decided, the one time he wielded the hammer in his career, to compel them to send him to New York. No one hates the system when 18- or 19-year olds are forced to go spend 5 years of their prime working and living somewhere they have no choice or affinity toward. But when the workers invoke some authority and some agency? Run around, Chicken Little: the sky is falling.

The Wolves have had years to surround Kevin Love with complementary talent. They’ve bombed every draft since. They could have had him under contract for another year, but screwed up the negotiation by prioritizing Rubio. They’ve screwed up every chance they were given. And now, when they finally have to ship Love out the door, they’ll be sure to dump a bunch of bullshit on him before that door hits his ass on the way out.

This year, in particular, there’s a ton of teams tanking: losing games on purpose because they’ve concluded the draft is the best way to build a winner. They’ll point to Oklahoma City as the model for this success, never admitting to their fans that the Thunder’s success with the draft is like someone being born a supermodel: built on unbelievable chance and good fortune, rather than intent. OKC got Kevin Durant because Portland took Greg Oden instead. Sure, the Thunder did great to get Russell Westbrook, Harden, and Serge Ibaka, but there was as much luck there as reason. Bottoming out on draft picks is like unprotected sex: it feels good in the moment, but you’re taking a big risk. You only need to be wrong once to pay the price. Be wrong more than once? You may never recover. Ask Sean Young how big risks can turn out. Who’s Sean Young? Exactly.






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