Keeping Score

NBA Playoffs: Why Are The Small Markets Winning?

The NBA's business model -- and some injuries to key players -- have helped small markets thrive in the playoffs. But would an Indiana-Memphis finals slow the league's momentum?

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George Hill of the Indiana Pacers celebrates in the game against the New York Knicks during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 18, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Are you psyched about a Pacers-Grizzlies NBA Finals?

Unless you’re from Indianapolis of Memphis, probably not. In truth, this matchup probably won’t happen, given that Indiana is trying to knock off LeBron James and the Miami Heat, who have looked unbeatable all season, and San Antonio has the Tim Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili triumvirate, along with younger legs (Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard) that it has lacked in recent years. San Antonio also crushed Memphis, 105-83, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals; Game 2 is Tuesday. The Eastern conference finals start Wednesday, in Miami.

We could care less that these towns are “small-markets.” Memphis has the fewest TV homes in the NBA, and Indianapolis ranks 21st out of 28 in NBA market size. Rather, a lack of marquee names hurts them. More than any other sport, basketball is a star-driven enterprise. A great player can take over a game in all kinds of wild, wonderful ways that, say, a baseball player who hits once every nine at-bats cannot. Basketball players are visible, larger than life, and not covered by helmets or pants. As viewers, we get a courtside seat to their exploits.

Indiana is a nice young team, with the Georges — Paul George, George Hill — mercurial guard Lance Stephenson, who had a breakout game — 25 points, 10 rebounds — in Saturday night’s Game 6 clincher against the New York Knicks, and the 7’2″ Roy Hibbert coming into this own. But Indiana is the first conference finals team since 1994 not to feature a player who was a Top 5 draft pick.

(MORE: Will Jason Collins Get An NBA Shot Next Year?)

Memphis has one such player — speedy point guard Mike Conley, taken with the fourth pick of the 2007 draft. Forward Zach Randolph and Center Marc Gasol are a skilled one-two punch in the frontcourt. The Grizzlies are a fun team to watch.

But the Spurs deserve at least shot at Miami. Tim Duncan has won four titles; Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, three each. San Antonio is getting older; you get the sense that time is running out on the Spurs. A Miami-San Antonio series would be loaded with future Hall of Famers. The LeBron-Kevin Durant rematch would have been epic, but Russell Westbrook’s knee injury spoiled that one. Miami-San Antonio is a pretty nice backup.

The NBA is probably praying for it. An Indiana-Memphis finals would slow the league’s ratings momentum. This year’s conference finals lineup may look like vindication for the NBA’s business model. In the last collective bargaining agreement, the owners’ share of league revenues jumped, from 43% to around 50%, and more of that pie goes to smaller market teams. The penalties for exceeding the salary cap got more severe. The largest market in this year’s NBA final four is Miami, and it only ranks 16th.

The little guys, however, got a little lucky (except for Miami, which benefits from having the best player on the planet). As Jason McIntyre points over at The Big Lead, injuries impacted many of the big market teams (in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol missed time; Derrick Rose missed the season for Chicago, Andrew Bynum didn’t play a minute in Philly, Rajon Rondo tore an ACL, etc.).

If the NBA — and most of its fan base — is lucky, Indiana and Memphis are competitive in the conference finals. But then Miami, San Antonio, and the Hall of Famers wind up fighting for the big prize.

MORE: Is Not Voting For LeBron James As NBA MVP Defensible?

8 comments
s20383469
s20383469

You're a Senior Writer and you write nonsense such as 'could care less' when it should clearly be 'couldn't care less', I can forgive the typos but you should probably learn English if you're going to write in it. What an embarassment.

trhood85
trhood85

Pacers and Memphis will perhaps be the lowest ratings finals ever, but the San Anotonio Sperms and Nets in 2003 hold that record. The Sperms got very low ratings in their last three finals appearance due to the fact that they were a boring low scoring team like Memphis is now. So if the Heat do not make it, no body will care outside those home teams. Love or Hate Prince Lebron, people tune in to watch because they're interested to see him. So the big 3 has been good ratings for NBA, now new CPA screwed the NBA.

acampbell23
acampbell23

Speaking of injuries, you do realize the Pacers have played this entire season without our best player Danny Granger?

hivemaster
hivemaster

The severe penalties for tax paying are kicking in this summer.  Big Money teams like the Lakers and Knicks are in big trouble, unable to refresh their rosters with their bread and butter tactic:  sign and trades.  Because they are both over the tax, neither can receive players via that route this year.


Meanwhile, small market teams have ALWAYS had to keep a clean cap sheet, so this isn't an adjustment for them.  It might also help the ratings if the TV talking heads weren't constantly running down the small market teams as "boring".  Do your jobs, and promote basketball and not drama or personalities.

ozette11
ozette11

The NBA concentration on small Markets is Stern’s Model. It hurts the league in prestige and especially internationally. You talk about who cared about Indiana or Memphis in the USA. These cities are completely unknown outside the USA. The NBA would rather see a team in Sacramento than Seattle. Most cannot wait until Stern retires. He has done nothing to benefit the NBA. Yes who want to see Memphis play Indiana. What about Oklahoma City. What a choice that was over Seattle a truly international city.

rzmedina
rzmedina

Is this really a sports story? Why can't it just be about basketball and whoever is best plays in the Finals? Maybe a little analysis on how these smaller markets are putting together really great teams that can compete with larger markets? Don't worry about the NBA. Trust me they are making a ton of money.

cmg2447
cmg2447

@mhungerman This comment is a better representation of the article's title than the senior writer's drivel.  


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