Living in New Orleans, one of the most common sentiments echoed by the Pelicans fans is that being a small market makes it difficult for the Pelicans to win. I am not just talking about championships. I am talking about just getting to the playoffs.
I am not sure if the same argument gets made among other small market fan bases. I don’t live in those cities so I can’t speak on experience. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. If you find yourself hindering the state of the hometown NBA franchise due to being in a small market, you’re just wrong. Period. This isn’t 1974.
Before I dive into all of my cases against the claim, here is the current list of NBA markets ranked in order with the current market size…
- New York Knicks – 7.1 Million
- Brooklyn Nets – 7.1 Million
- Los Angeles Lakers – 5.27 Million
- Los Angeles Clippers – 5.27 Million
- Chicago Bulls – 3.25 Million
- Toronto Raptors – 2.83 Million
- Philadelphia 76ers – 2.82 Million
- Dallas Mavericks – 2.62 Million
- Washington Wizards – 2.48 Million
- Houston Rockets – 2.42 Million
- Golden State Warriors – 2.41 Million
- Boston Celtics – 2.37 Million
- Atlanta Hawks – 2.34 Million
- Phoenix Suns – 1.86 Million
- Detroit Pistons – 1.78 Million
- Minnesota Timberwolves – 1.71 Million
- Miami Heat – 1.70 Million
- Denver Nuggets – 1.59 Million
- Orlando Magic – 1.57 Million
- Cleveland Cavaliers – 1.40 Million
- Sacramento Kings – 1.36 Million
- Portland Trailblazers – 1.14 Million
- Charlotte Hornets – 1.13 Million
- Indiana Pacers – 1.00 Million
- Utah Jazz – 936K
- San Antonio Spurs – 924K
- Milwaukee Bucks – 848K
- Oklahoma City Thunder – 677K
- New Orleans Pelicans – 624K
- Memphis Grizzlies – 623K
By The Numbers
Looking at the market size of everyone. If it truly mattered and played the ultimate role in hindering the little guys, New York is 11 times the size of Memphis and New Orleans. That is the total range of the NBA franchises.
Hell, even dropping from New York to Chicago, you’re looking at a market more that doubles Chicago.
It would be way too easy to just say that the argument is out the window when arguably the two biggest dumpster fires in the NBA are the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Kind of steps all over the argument by itself. But I’ll play the game and dive into more reasons.
Unlike the NFL and NHL which implores a hard cap, the NBA structure is a soft cap. The soft cap allows teams to spend a certain amount on their roster. In a soft cap, you have the luxury tax which is a small amount allotted to teams who may spend more than the cap. Typically the luxury tax is used so teams can in fact retain players vs signing new players. Teams will be penalized financially for exceeding the cap unless it involves special circumstances such as Bird Rights, which helps teams retain players who have spent three or more seasons with the franchise.
They have several other policies like Bird Rights which help in retention.
With teams operating their roster under the same budget, it puts every market on the same playing field financially.
This isn’t like MLB where the top markets can splurge on all the best players leaving everyone else to play Moneyball.
Playoff Teams and Success
Considering more than half the league makes the playoffs (16 of 30), the excuse for lack of success is pretty bad when you consider the drop off from 1 to 16 is nearly 5 times the size versus the drop off from 16 to 30 which is only 3 times the market size.
If your argument is market size, then the playing field is much more even in the bottom half of the league.
Let’s take a look at what teams have made the playoffs since the 2005 season (when the last expansion team was added). Out of 15 seasons, here is the number of playoff appearances by team. I have excluded the Nets from the list due to them moving from a mid tier market to the largest market recently.
- San Antonio Spurs – 15
- Boston Celtics – 12
- Dallas Mavericks – 11
- Houston Rockets – 11
- Miami Heat – 11
- Atlanta Hawks – 10
- Chicago Bulls – 10
- Denver Nuggets – 10
- Indiana Pacers – 10
- Cleveland Cavaliers – 9
- Oklahoma City Thunder – 9 (excluding 2005 season due to Seattle being a major market)
- Golden State Warriors – 8
- Los Angeles Clippers – 8
- Los Angeles Lakers – 8
- Memphis Grizzlies – 8
- Milwaukee Bucks – 8
- Portland Trailblazers – 8
- Toronto Raptors – 8
- Utah Jazz – 8
- Washington Wizards – 8
- Detroit Pistons – 7
- Orlando Magic – 7
- Philadelphia 76ers – 7
- New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans – 5
- Phoenix Suns – 5
- Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets – 3
- New York Knicks – 3
- Sacramento Kings – 2
- Minnesota Timberwolves – 1
When the low market value San Antonio Spurs are arguably the most successful team in the last 15 years considering they have never missed the playoffs and are tied for the most titles currently, kind of hard to make the argument. It becomes even harder when the Knicks who are in THE biggest market can’t even get to the playoffs regularly.
Out of the 15 seasons with one still waiting to be etched in history, the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors are tied with 3 titles a piece. They are followed by the Los Angeles Lakers with 2. The remaining teams with at least one championship during that span are the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks.
Success of the Teams Outside of the Top 40 Markets in the US
In the NBA you have 3 teams outside of the Top 40, two of them have been fairly successful and the other is the Pelicans. The other two are the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Unlike the Pelicans who have appeared in the postseason just 5 times, the Grizzlies are middle of the pack with 8 appearances (also tied with both LA teams). They have 4 playoff series wins including a trip to the conference finals in 2013.
The other team who has been ultra successful since moving to a smaller market is the Oklahoma City Thunder. They have appeared in 9 of the 11 postseasons since moving to OKC. They have 10 playoff series victories including 4 trips to the conference finals and 1 trip to the Finals.
The Golden State Warriors
Even though the Warriors reside in a top 10 market, they still have to compete against not one, but two teams in the second biggest market. Competing against two teams in a market twice the size and they have still managed to be the most successful franchise in California for the last 15 years. They could be well on their way to their 4th title which would give them the most in that time span.
The Western Conference Holds 5 of 6 Small Market Franchises
It is incredibly ironic when Pels fans talk about how bad the East is and it is not fair that they could have more playoff appearances if they resided in the East. The reason I am saying it is ironic is because 1/3 of the conference is laced with teams outside of the Top 30 markets (Pelicans, Jazz, Spurs, Grizzlies and Thunder). So in one breath you’re talking about the competition of the West, but complain because the Pelicans are in a tiny market and they’re unsuccessfully competing agains other small market franchises.
The other four small market teams in the West have a combined 40 playoff appearances. If you take the top 10 market teams in the West (Lakers, Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets and Warriors), they have a combined 46 appearances. So when you include the Pelicans 5 appearances, there is 1 more postseason appearance by the bigger markets.
Looking at these two conference finals this season, you have 22nd ranked US market Portland Trailblazers against the Warriors. Then you have the Milwaukee Bucks, the 6th and final “small market” team in the NBA competing against the Toronto Raptors.
Draft Well, Develop Talent and Win Games To Lure Free Agents
Of course this is easier said than done, but free agents won’t come to your franchise if you suck, period. Who wants to go play for a dumpster fire? Just ask the Jeanie Buss in LA and James Dolan in New York. They haven’t been able to land many big FAs the last few off seasons minus LeBron. Even he couldn’t help that dumpster fire make the postseason.
The teams who are finding consistent success have a common denominator, draft well.
The Spurs drafted David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Although Kawhi Leonard was drafted by the Pacers, he was irrelevant until he put on a Spurs uniform. As a result of success, they can sign guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Michael Finley.
The Thunder drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams which allowed them to build a winning culture. Three of them have gone on to win MVP awards (Durant, Westbrook and Harden with Rockets). Thanks to the Thunder always being in the mix in the postseason, they’ve been able to sign guys like Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter and Victor Oladipo.
Look at the Bucks. They are 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals. They have obliterated everyone in their path thus far which includes markets such as Boston, Philly and now Toronto. Why? They hit the mother load with Giannis and have capitalized by surrounding him with Malcolm Brogdon (drafted), Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.
You would think the Warriors are an after thought since they are in the same state as LA. It is another example of them drafting well to build a winning culture. They didn’t do it through Free Agency. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all helped set the bar as the core. That allowed them to lure Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins.
If you want free agents to join, you need to win…bottom line. Every time I hear that small market teams can’t compete and it is not fair, all I can hear is the opening statement from Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny…
Everything that guy just said is bullshit…thank you.
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