Heisler Column: Now watch the stars stampede to big markets

Good news for you little markets …

You’ll be making a lot more money!

Unfortunately, as far as competing with the big teams, they’ll be them and you’ll still be you for a while, or, possibly, forever, whichever comes last.

Whether it was overdue or the owners were due that much, they redressed the economic balance once and for all.

Of course, there was a price — and, as usual, it was their non-economic demands that would have leveled the playing field for the small markets.

To get their $3 billion over 10 years, the owners caved on the system issues that would have stopped superstars from joining hands and heading for glamour markets, settling for restrictions including a more punitive luxury tax — although that won’t start for another two years.

So for at least two seasons, the rich will also make a lot more money, while becoming even more unassailable!

Last fall, the creaking Lakers and Celtics, who were out of moves with few tradable pieces and no cap room, made out like bandits with cheap players from a mile-long list of free agents (Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, Delonte West, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff.)

With Shaq complementing Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics, the NBA’s most physical team with Kevin Garnett their only player over 6-9 in stocking feet, became truly menacing.

They were 33-9 when Shaq’s hip “locked up” in a win over the Wizards.

Unfortunately, he played four more games, they finished 23-17 with Nenad Krstic taking over at center, and there went their menace.

None of the Lakers’ additions panned out, and there went the defense of their back-to-back titles.

In the good news for both….

It’s not over!

It’s like when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, as John Belushi’s Bluto Blutarsky noted in “Animal House,” running out of the room and challenging his Delta brothers to follow him.

Those who learn the lessons of NBA history are about to see them again, as that Spanish guy said, more or less.

Once again, the cachet of old powers like the Lakers and Celtics, and younger, more powerful teams like the Bulls and Heat, gives them first pick of an even longer list of free agents like Caron Butler and Shane Batter, as amnesty takes prohibitive price tags off, say, Brandon Roy.

That is, the big teams will pluck from this long list — after seeing whether the Dwight Howard and Chris Paul situations will play out on the fast-track.

It was clear everyone’s first call would go to Orlando and New Orleans, seeking the prize 2012 free agents.

What wasn’t clear was that either would be available.

The Magic still thought of itself as a winner, no matter how badly it screwed itself up with its Vince Carter deal, and hoped to win Dwight back.

Paul wasn’t expected to go anywhere until the Hornets were sold … to the NBA, which bought out George Shinn for $320 million ($11 million each from 29 owners), seeking $400 million.

When rumors (Paul for Rajon Rondo; Paul for Eric Gordon, Mo Williams and Minnesota’s No. 1 pick next spring, which the Clippers own) started flying, I called them “garbage” or “moronic” in a tweet. I can’t remember exactly which, but I typed them both out at one time or another.

So much for my perfect season.

I then learned from a GM that the Hornets were taking offers for CP3.

A day later, Magic GM Otis Smith signaled he was open to trading Howard.

Insiders still expect the DeVos family, whose indecision cost them Shaq in 1996, to try to win Dwight back, as the team moves into its new arena, preparing to host the All-Star Game. If, or when, Paul and Howard move, it’ll almost certainly be somewhere big and/or glamorous.

(The qualifier is for the Clippers and Nets, who are in huge markets, aspire to cachet but to this point remain late night comics’ fodder.)

ESPN’s Chris Broussard, who has a good track record on the thoughts of Leon Rose/CAA clients (LeBron James, for one), reported Paul — another Rose/CAA guy — won’t sign an extension in Boston, where the present is tenable but the future murky.

CAA, a new player on the agency scene as far as the NBA is concerned, has already made a major impact, pushing clients to glamour markets (Carmelo Anthony to New York, the Heat big three to Miami.)

Whether the Lakers will offer one of their 7-footers remains to be seen.

If Howard is available, Jim Buss, who now has the say, would probably move Andrew Bynum, his oft-injured fave.

It remains to be seen if the Lakers will offer Andrew for CP3.

I would, and as far as Bynum was concerned, I was always the Jim Buss of the Laker press corps.

Bynum would average 20-10 standing on his head in New Orleans if he stays healthy, but he never has.

Since the Lakers need a great point as much as a great center, trading ‘Drew for CP3 is the percentage play … with Pau Gasol held back to offer for Howard at the trade deadline.

As for the comers, they’re about to get better.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had dead wood masquerading as rotation players, but Heat president Pat Riley is about to upgrade those slots.

The precocious Bulls started 10-8, finished 52-12 and made the East Finals with no shooting guard who could shoot (Keith Bogans) or defend (Kyle Korver).

Whether it’s Jason Richardson, Nick Young, O.J. Mayo (restricted free agent), or a forward like Caron Butler, with Luol Deng moving to guard, their starting lineup will soon have one more shooter.

What this means for superbly-managed Oklahoma City, the new king of the small market teams, remains to be seen.

Personally, I don’t think the Thunder’s time is yet.

Now to see who goes where, and if the Thunder ever has a time.

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops. His columns appear each Monday.






  1. Chris says

    The NBA just had a perfect time to fix their league. The NFL prospers because every year, all 32 teams have a shot at winning it all. In the NBA, not so much. There are only 5 teams, NY, BOS, CHI, LA, and MIA. Dallas and OKC don’t count. They’re just there, being good as a team. It’s ridiculous. Why have 32 teams, when ALL the talent are only on teams that are in big markets. 2,3,4 superstars on 1 team, while Minnesota or Charlotte never have a chance to get 1! How about this. A HARD CAP! Luxury tax penalty? ha, what a joke. The rich can pay higher penalties, duh. oh well, Guess it’ll be another 10 years before we get a shot a a balanced NBA. But it won’t happen then either. That’s why the NBA’s dying. Just learn from the NFL for God’s sake.

  2. Travis says

    So much for the lockout solving the player movement “problem!” Heaven forbid these guys get to choose where they work!
    Weird that Orlando isn’t making a play for Paul. I remember hearing about that a while back but nothing since. What happened? I’m sure Orlando could get both men to sign extensions. As a Laker fan though, this is great news. I would love to have a core of Paul/Kobe/Howard/Gasol and keep MWP at the small foward with Lamar off the bench. That said, if I had to make a choice, I would get Howard and take my chances with finding an FA point guard – possibly Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey/Kobe/MWP/Gasol/Howard sounds more balanced and realistic in terms of strength/weakness.

  3. Sean says

    I really would have liked the new CBA to take some of this power out of the hands of the players and having the teams losing the players handcuffed as badly as they are. The owners really should have taken a page from MLB and added draft pick compensation for free agent signings.

    As really the only free agent signings that really kill teams are when they lose guys who are All-NBA first, second and third team caliber players. Basically the top 15 guys. I would suggest doing two things, neither of which would hurt the player, and wouldn’t cripple the signing team either, while drastically helping the team losing the player.

    1) Signing team gives up its next available 1st round pick. The signing team loses one of their trade chips, but worth it for a superstar.

    2) This is the big addition. The team losing the player gets a supplemental (IE free) 1st round lottery pick in the immediately following draft. This pick would be treated as a worst record/highest % chance at the highest pick. In this example, say the worst record team actually gets into the top 3 picks after the lottery, the team that has lost the superstar gets the #4 pick, if they get lucky and get into the top3, so be it. If multiple teams lose superstars in the same year something akin to a coin flip would select draft order if neither end up in top 3.

    As the top 15 aren’t likely to move teams that often this probably wouldn’t be used that often, but it would keep the smaller market teams much more competitive than revenue sharing ever would. Players make teams competitive not necessarily money and if the smaller revenue markets are going to be treated as a staging ground for the bigger markets, the smaller teams will have those players on the cheap making up for the money they’d earn upon leaving.

    If a superstar decides to leave the team drafting him they’d have the right to, although at a smaller pay scale. If the team chooses to trade for existing players and reboot on the fly they are also free to do so, but hey aren’t held down with the need to get anything rather than losing the player for nothing. Having an option of a high pick or two in the next draft instead of taking another teams trash in a sign and trade is something a lot of teams would take advantage of. I’m sure in many cases staying with the team that drafted them for a larger pay check would suddenly seem much more attractive.

  4. jarrett says

    this is exactly what I’ve been saying. How dare small market owners cause the lockout and not get anything out of it. The fact that Paul and Howard basically decide who they will be traded to coming off a lockout where the NBA missed games is puzzling. Its really a shame what these new age players are doing though, budding up superstars on mega teams in big markets. At this rate the same teams will be good for the next decade of the NBA. Also a question anyone with knowledge can answer: Are the Clippers/ Brooklyn Nets still considered big market teams in the players eyes? I mean I’m sure no one would argue LA and NY are huge markets, but does being the second team sharing a city with the Lakers and Knicks hurt their chances of landing Dwight Howard and Chris Paul? In theory, if Dwight wants to be a big fish in a big market, and get movie deals, shine etc. like Shaq did, whats the difference between playing for the Lakers and the Clippers? Especially if his presence with either team would mean being a serious contender for a championship — and marketing a winner is the easiest thing to do?

    • UncleZeke says

      What’s the difference between playing for the Lakers and the Clippers ?
      I think starting with these numbers 16 and 0, as in NBA Championships is a good place to start.
      And then I would look at the Buss family track record vs Donald Sterling.

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