No Small Market Sympathy

David Stern floats the possible “franchise tag” as a player movement blocker, while a vocal contingent conspires to keep NBA talent in the most obscure outposts. Much of my anti-franchise tag thought is informed by Beckley, who explains its flaws with an eloquence that makes British nobility sound like drunken grifters. Seriously, watch this video if you want to hear God speak through a man:

And now you know how to make a perfect omelette.

Note: Such a tag couldn’t work within the NBA as we know it. When an NFL team gives a player an average of the top five salaries for his position, it’s a pay raise, within the context of a hard cap. Basketball has a soft cap, and many “max” contracts (the average of “max” is “max”). So I’ll take this abstract franchise tag to mean some theoretical constraint on a player’s ability to play where he actually wants to. Which I’m against.

Our new era of self determination has monocles shattering around the country. It seems something must be done, because, well…because the NBA is always drowning in the unsolicited advice of concern trolls who hate the league?

Don’t listen to the haters, this big market exodus has been fantastic for pro basketball. Normally boring chapters have been injected with trade-chatter intrigue. Even better, players are gravitating to places where human beings actually live–which is, by some crazy coincidence, where TV ratings also live.

But, something will be done, because the league–like the Democratic party–often bends over backwards for those who would break it. Think the players all dress like thugs? Dress Code! Think the players are entitled punks? More technicals! No taunting! More photogenic charity work! Of course, the anti-basketball ninnies will never be placated. And addressing a “problem,” merely advertises the idea that you’re in deep trouble. I just know we won’t see something like the Deke finger wag, ever again, thanks to groveling “reforms” that hinder humanity.

So I question the concept of fixing this situation. The need to “keep” players in small markets feels like a desperate reach at furthering the already implausible lie of fandom. David Shields put it well when describing how Derrick Coleman and Shawn Kemp joked and jostled pre-game:

“Fans want to think that it’s us against them (Seattle vs. New Jersey, say), and that the players on “our” team are in cahoots with us in some difficult-to-define way–difficult to define because their contempt for us is so manifest. One of the things I’ve felt at the games so far is how bound together the five Sonics on the floor are with the five players on the floor for the other team, like boxers, and how the opposition is really the noise of everything else–coaches, refs, cameras, commercials, especially fans.”

What fans really want is for Kevin Durant to actually love being in Oklahoma City, to feel one with the town, one with its people, blissfully committed to fighting for their honor. It’s not happening. But, Kevin Durant will stay in OKC because it’s a competent, rising organization. If you build it, they will stay. Or you can splurge on bad players, lose your franchise piece, and juggle comic sans like a sad clown.

Speaking of Dan Gilbert, his net worth is listed at 478 million dollars. Should I really be concerned about Dan’s inability to compete on a level playing field? America grows more economically unequal by the day, here in the real world–so excuse me if the difference between Gilbert and Dolan eludes my worries.

Anyway, many fans and writers are operating under two premises, which I disagree with.

1. Team monogamy is good

I’m talking about David Stern’s preference for helping players stay with one squad, over the course of a career. And though I’m sure Pacers fans get emotional over Reggie Miller, that’s not the lifeblood of a league. Speculation over player movement drives traffic, gossip and interest. The Melo saga gifted relevance to pro basketball, even when games weren’t being played. In contrast, nobody’s talking about Tim Duncan right now–even with the Spurs winning more than loaded dice. The “Bird Rights” model is as heart-warming as it is entertainment-dulling.

2. The NBA needs small markets to thrive

After all, that’s why the NFL’s great! I feel like this is the “correlation is not causation” fallacy. Just because football thrives in Green Bay, doesn’t mean basketball should try its hand in places that lack eyes and ears. In particular, small Southern cities are a perpetual leaden kaboose, tethered to the sputtering NBA gravy train. Why is it virtuous to lose money in apathetic, unprofitable markets? If a small city like Portland turns out for its team, that’s fantastic. I just don’t see the numbers in prosthelytizing to some of the other, NBA-neutral towns. And I see even less sense in bending the rules so as to favor the relative boonies. The league needs a Grizzlies vs. Hornets playoff series or it will die?

So if a small market owner can’t keep players, even with the help of rookie contracts, restricted free agency and Bird Rights…what should the league do? I’d say “nothing,” and I’d say an athlete should work where he damn well pleases. Above, I talked about the implausible lie of fandom, and how ridiculous it is to believe that a player guilelessly fights on behalf of a city. Well, we’re seeing Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony actually represent New York in a way that feels special. I’m lukewarm on the trade as a basketball move, but it’s nice to see Anthony soak in an atmosphere of his choosing.

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