The Death of the Small Market and the Super-Max

If the Anthony Davis saga has taught us anything it’s that: A) New Orleans should be barred for eternity from pissing away another generational talent, B) whatever the NBA hoped it could achieve with the super-max is as good as toast.

AD’s exodus from the Big Easy and his probable landing point in either LA, Boston or New York, is just another defeat for the viability of small market teams. The idea that small market superstars could be persuaded to re-sign with truck loads of cash is no longer viable.

Ever since the super- max deal was initiated with the 2017 CBA, nine players have qualified for a super-max deal. Of the nine, Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and John Wall were signed on a super-max; Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins and Kyrie Irving were traded, rendering them ineligible for the super-max with their current teams; the ninth is Davis, who is forfeiting his rights on one of the biggest deals in NBA history.

While those odds seem favorable, the signings of Steph, Harden and Westbrook are hardly boosting  middling franchises or small-markets, while Wall’s albatross contract may handicap the Wizards for another generation. Several teams may also have ducked the prospect of the looming super-max contract by simply trading out, with both Butler and Cousins shopped before their massive paydays.

Suffice it to say the super-max has been an utter failure. The Super Team arms race will only intensify this summer with Durant, Irving and Davis all potentially on the table.

Ironically, while the unprecedented player mobility may spell doom for the small market teams, it’s arguably the key to the NBA’s growing popularity, particularly among millennials. In the Twitter age, the anticipation of the Woj bomb at any moment is intoxicating. The fact that the AD conversation dominated Super Bowl week indicates a changing of the guard in the U.S. sports pantheon.

For small market teams it’s time to rethink how they do business. Rather than gradually building around home-grown superstars, teams may be encouraged to sacrifice long-term prospects to go all in for short-term windows.

Philly, while not necessarily a small-market, has provided a model for small-market feasibility. With the potential of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons super-max eligibility in the coming years, the Sixers abandoned the Markelle Fultz projects and stripped the team of its depth, going all in with trades to land Butler and Tobias Harris. It’s a huge gamble. Philly may lose both Butler and Harris this summer, but they arguably have the best starting five outside of Oakland.

While the prospect of more super teams is so damn sexy, it doesn’t look good for NBA polarity or the small markets, especially with LeBron deliberately shifting the NBA chess pieces at his leisure.

 

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