Two minutes to midnight – Stern’s Pro Jordan Small Market Rules and the possible fate of Gotham’s Manhattan Project
So, which of the following applies to the current standoff as the NBA Player/Ownership divide nears an apparent Zenith?
“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” (The Art of War, Maneuvering, Paragraph 36, Sun Tzu)
“It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill.” (The Art of War, Maneuvering, Paragraph 33, Sun Tzu)
As mentioned previously the evolution of the Super team takes its cue in part from the powerhouse teams of the late past decade. But championship caliber teams composed of multiple impact players and/or stars are not a recent phenomena simply resigned to the vitriol directed a Lebron’s Miami Heat (or Gotham’s Manhattan Project in waiting). Rather such teams have existed at different times in the NBA. Surprisingly, such teams are not incompatible to small market locales and was evident in (now small market owner) Michael Jordan’s three peat encore Championship tour. Yet, as ownership moves to reengineer the league against their rivals, the coral employed to reign in players and free agent destinations leaves the NBAPA less and less room to maneuver. Cornered by the aggressive approach of the NBA, a nuclear standoff that started with the league’s election to lockout the players nears midnight with the players’ limited options including the counter nuclear alternative of decertifying the union.
As Knicks fans should know by now large market teams have underwhelmed or struggled during the past two CBAs in existence (1999 and 2005). That is the miserable history of Gotham’s Knicks from 2001-02 through 2009-10. But the Knicks weren’t alone in partaking in big city misery. The Chicago Bulls during the early part of the post Michael Jordan Era cycled through the draft and various head coaches for the right mix of talent and coaching. Need we mention the Los Angeles Clippers and the decline of Detroit Pistons post “Bad Boy” era and post Chauncey Billups.
Meanwhile small to mid sized Market Teams have proven to be successful in the field of competition. Several have even sported their own stellar constellations of players as well. For instance, the San Antonio Spurs under David Robinson and Tim Duncan won two championships (during 1998-99 and 2002-03 seasons). The Spurs — of the post Robinson era — with Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Toney Parker also won championships (2004-05 2006-07). The Cleveland Cavaliers under Lebron James were a playoff constant (reaching the Finals in 2006-07). The Pacers reached the Finals during the 1999-2000 season under Larry Brown and Reggie Miller (and a strong cast of supporting players). The Pacers again became a force early in the 21st Century with a cast that included Miller and Jermain O’Neal, Steven Jackson and Ron Artest in their primes. The Portland Trailblazers during Kevin Pritchard’s stewardship to the present have been consistent playoff mainstays. The Memphis Grizzlies under Lionel Hollins with a roster consisting of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, RudyGay (amongst others) have had their most successful season to date. Meanwhile the Oklahoma City Thunder with a talented roster that includes Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Kendrick Perkins appears poised to mirror the Spurs rise to prominence.
That success or failure and competitiveness is not particular to market has been documented by basketball sports and team writers alike. Rather a teams success or failure regardless of team or market relies on:draft quality and fortunes; quality of off season free agent signing and use of cap exceptions (to retain or secure complimentary or impact talent); and coaching which impacts aspects of the game such as defense, chemistry and player development. That clinics on how and how not to build teams can be held by teams as different as the big Market Knicks (Pre Donnie Walsh, Amar’e Stoudemire Revival) and the small and mid market Thunder and Spurs betrays the dubious nature of ownerships crocodile tears over spending, market size and franchise success.
Yet despite sufficient information debunking the myth that competitiveness is a product of market size and means, the NBA has successfully pushed the union into a corner. One that reengineers the league towards a model that restricts player movement, may neuter desirable or larger markets and may even prove to be a wrecking ball to star studded small market teams on the rise. The end result could produce a reshaped league in which ownership’s development options may be either: 1) to build around a star with a deep mid-level supporting cast; or 2) build around two stars with a mix of mid level talent, and luxury tax lower mid level talent. In such a reworked landscaped “Super teams and Powerhouses” may end up severely restricted in their ability to retain the sort of supporting casts that betrayed the Heat’s first championship foray. An occurrence that threatens to confound the Knicks own Manhattan Project (not to mention the rise of the deep and Star Studded Thunder). A project that may level the playing field to the benefit of small market owners like Michael Jordan. A pro small market set wrecking ball of mediocrity leveling the playing field in Jordan’s favor?
As the clock nears midnight on NBA Armageddon players must decide their next step. But can the players get beyond their mistaken belief that good faith concessions (during the course of their ‘negotiations’ with the league) would be reciprocated by ownership. To the players chagrin that mistaken assumption should inform their approach should the league again besiege what little remains for the union to defend in latter Collective Bargaining Agreements. But for now, what remains for the players to decide is whether they will take a bad offer that drastically reengineers free agency options or whether the players will initiate their own nuclear option of Decertification. The sole remaining option the Union has avoid in good faith but that may be needed to level their own playing field against the owners in response to the overwhelming leverage the NBA first unleashed through their lock out.