The Small Market’s Last Hope
A small market team in a galaxy far, far away…
by DJ Dunson / @dunsonchecksin
A few days from now in a small market far, far away… hope will begin anew as the NBA season kicks off on Christmas Day. The new collective bargaining agreement may have brought an end to the lockout but the NBA remains in a state of civil war. The NBA is a house divided and David Stern’s interference in Chris Paul’s escape from New Orleans was just an example of the tension that’s boiling beneath the surface.
Most of the franchises banking on a Championship lie within the largest media markets in the nation (New York, Brooklyn, Dallas, Boston, Chicago). The rest reside within the hottest tropical locales (Miami, Los Angeles).
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the NBA’s other 99 percent. They are the NBA’s middle (Orlando, Denver, Phoenix, etc.) and lower class (New Orleans, Utah, Milwaukee). Most have resigned themselves to a fate determined by lottery balls and the next group of one-and-done college phenoms.
In the meantime, the Oklahoma City Thunder have risen from the ashes of their relocation from Seattle and emerged as the NBA’s last great hope for small market franchises. Despite calling the NBA’s worst media market their home, the Thunder have managed the impossible. As one of the United States’ top livestock markets in the world, free agents don’t exactly clamor for the dim lights of Oklahoma City. By building through the Draft and trades instead of free agency, general manager Obi-Wan Sam Presti has created an organic Championship contender from the ground up.
Unlike those superstars and their respective franchises however, the Thunder seem different. Kevin Durant is the antithesis of LeBron. Durant seems to shed the spotlight almost as much as he enjoys shredding opposing defenders. The Thunder are the Rebel Alliance to the large market’s Galactic Empire—Miami. LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh constitute a Death Star that took the League by storm before falling flat in the Finals but Durant he has his own Han Solo in combo guard Russell Westbrook, who barring the development of a Shaq and Penny type breakup should be around for a while. James Harden even has his own personal Chewbacca growing on his chin.
Much like Anakin, LeBron was prophesized at a young age to become the chosen one who would lead a suffering small market franchise out of decades of darkness and bring Championships. Instead the Force, led by the Sith Pat Riley and the luxury tax, compelled the favorite son of Cleveland to join the Miami Heat.
But in order for the Thunder’s small market experiment to succeed, they’ve got to take the final step and win an NBA Championship. Orlando came the closest with Dwight Howard in 2009 and Shaquille O’Neal in 1994. Melo’s Nuggets challenged Black Mamba’s Lakers in the conference championship. Even Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire brought Phoenix to the brink of an NBA Championship. If Darth LeBron had succeeded in clinching a ring with the Cavaliers, it’s very possible he would not have decided to become the Villain of South Beach.
An Oklahoma City Championship parade would be a victory for youth, cohesiveness and team chemistry over artificially assembled teams such as the Knicks, Clippers and Heat. If Oklahoma City’s development stalls, Durant could be requesting a trade to the Knicks, Nets or Lakers. The NBA is a copycat league. Once the Boston Celtics assembled their Big Three, New York and Miami set began plotting their own stockpile of superstars. If Oklahoma City can take down the powers that be, it may prove that growing talent is more important than buying it in the free-agent market. More importantly, it will prove to small market owners who gripe about inequality that with a little effort parity is possible in the NBA.
On Sunday, the Thunder will kick off the season against the Magic and their disgruntled superstar, Dwight Howard, who dreams of playing for another large market franchise far, far away. Oklahoma City fans can rest easy knowing that their franchise couldn’t be further from that debacle and that their superstars have their sights set on playing into June.