Tag:contraction
Posted on: February 8, 2012 12:09 pm
Edited on: February 8, 2012 1:42 pm
 

Ten likely candidates for contraction

Let's see how many kids' dreams we can crush with contraction just to make the Knicks and Lakers better, shall we? (Getty Images)

By Matt Moore 

Oh, no, there's (insert problem in the NBA)! Quick, let's contract some teams!

That's pretty much the standard fare from a lot of mainstream basketball scribes. Their proximity to large cities, usually coastal, is something you should try and not look at too closely. It's like one of those 3-D images. Yes, it's a schooner, which is a sailboat, and you still have a headache.

The answer always seems to pop up. "Oh, we don't have enough stars!" Contract! "There's a lockout and the owners want more money!" Contract! "We're out of sandwiches in the media room!" Contract!

There's about a billion reasons why contraction won't be happening. David Stern won't allow it on his watch. Losing games, twice in 12 years? Sure. Losing teams? No way. One thing hurts your fans. The other hurts your business.

But let's say it did, because there are more fans of big market teams than small market teams, and big market teams love the idea, because they get a talent influx. Who goes on the chopping block? Here are teams that would be up for contraction, if we're going to go ahead and kill off sections of fans.
(Franchise valuation data courtesy of Forbes, attendance via ESPN.)

1. New Orleans Hornets: Trying to avoid this conclusion is something I spent a solid hour on. Surely there's a way around this. But there just isn't. The Hornets staged a massive ticket sales promotion in order to try and boost their attendance profile for a potential buyer as well as to satisfy various city and state requirements regarding their lease. The result? They're 26th this season. With Chris Paul having gone to the Clippers, things are going to get worse before they get better. If we absolutely have to chop off a team, you have to start with the Hornets, as much as it pains me.

There are a lot of factors here, but George Shinn's horrific ownership should not be overlooked, nor should two natural disasters in the span of five years. But it's never been a strong market, and if we have to make cuts with our minds and not hearts, the Hornets have to be silenced.

Biggest argument against: Have you no soul? Honestly?

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Such a great playoffs run. But here are the facts. It's one of the newest franchises, with little in the way of successful history (as in, none outside of last season). It's been evaluated as 29th in overall worth by Forbes. Despite making the playoffs last season and being expected to contend for the West this year, they are 21st in attendance, Z-Bo or no Z-Bo.

The Grizzlies are trying to build a new culture of passion and success in Memphis. But if we have to make the cut today, they have to be on the block. If you need me I'll be in the corner gurgling arsenic.

Biggest argument against: Memphis' playoff run shows what can happen if that fanbase is engaged.

3. Charlotte Bobcats: Terrible team. The newest in the league. No success to speak of. Poor ownership. A fanbase damaged by George Shinn's tenure in Charlotte (hey, look, a theme!). The overriding influence of college basketball and its permeating stench throughout any sports discussion. The reasons go on and on. I mean, just look at their attendance.

They're... 14th this season?

That's up from 21st, which really isn't that horrible. And that's why they manage to slide to three. If you took the way the Bobcats have been run and put them in Memphis, New Orleans, or Sacramento, they're toast, first out the door. But Carolina gets basketball. So they slide to third. So... uh... good for them?

Biggest argument against: Decent attendance, run by the sport's biggest icon, awesome mascot.

4. Milwaukee Bucks: We're going to kill off the first team Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then Lew Alcindor, ever played for? The 1971 champs?

Yeah. We are. Milwaukee is rated last in the league by Forbes in overall value. Despite some promising drafts, they have yet to put together a contending core. Their arena situation is not dire, but it's going to get there in the next five years, and Milwaukee voters are unlikely to come streaming to the polls to help the team out. Killing off a franchise with this much history is pretty horrific, but at some point the dollars and cents have to matter.

Biggest argument against: Championship team, history, good ownership, active fanbase.

5. Sacramento Kings: No one has fought harder to keep their team than Kings fans have. They have staved off their owners feeding vultures from Anaheim. They have scrapped up enough support for a new arena plan coming to vote this month during a recession. They have chanted and made documentaries and brought signs and banners and petitions.

And it still might not be enough.

This may be the best example of why contraction is flawed. Ten years ago, even six years ago, this would be incomprehensible. The Kings were on the verge, the doorstep, had their foot jammed into the entryway of the Finals. The biggest problem with contraction is that we look at it through the lens of the present. "Oh, the Bobcats/Kings/Bucks are terrible." But in five years, those teams could be San Antonio. Or OKC. Or Orlando. Winning will change your bottom line, and losing will change it just the same. But considering the arena situation at present time, the financial situation of the club, and their ongoing attendance issues, it's impossible to leave them out.

Biggest argument against: Here we stay.

Five more.

6. Atlanta Hawks: You want to talk about history, this one's like chopping off a limb. But the Hawks are 28th in value, have been unable to put together legitimate success, and feature one of the most lackluster fanbases in the league. Atlanta may simply be oversaturated for the NBA.

Biggest argument against: It's called the Highlight Factory, for crying out loud.

7. Philadelphia 76ers: You can already hear the sounds of those coastal writers crying out in agony. Start talking about an East Coast team that won a title within the past 30 years and it's a whole different story. But the 76ers come in at 22nd in value, just had the team sold, no real success even if you count the Iverson years that victimized a terrible, terrible Eastern conference, and continually have horrible attendance. They're bottom ten this season, and their team is a handful of games out of first in the conference.

Biggest argument against: Erasing what Moses Malone and Julius Erving did should be a federal crime.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves: 27th in value, 24th in attendance despite all the excitement. The only reason this team gets put so high is out of practical considerations. Basically, despite killing Kevin Garnett's prime and bobbling the next All-Star they landed in Kevin Love, their owner is close friends with David Stern and one of the heads of the Board of Governors. You see that guy getting his team lopped off any time soon?

Biggest argument against: Rubio? Rubio.

9. New Jersey Nets: Is there enough room in New York for two teams? Of course. Is there room for two fairly terrible teams? Additionally, if they can't get Dwight Howard, they should just pack up and go home, anyway.

Biggest argument against: They will always make money because they will play in New York now, and Prokhorov may come after you.

10. Indiana Pacers: No NBA championships (3 ABA). They are 25th in value and dead last in attendance, despite being a top five team in the East. The Pacers have simply been unable to capture the city's attention since The Brawl. Maybe that just did too much damage, combined with the emergence of the Colts. Yes, it's a historic team, but without any championships since the ABA. And with the Fieldhouse eventually needing a new home and all the money the city has spent on sports and event facilities, hard to see it coming through.

Biggest argument against: 8 points. 9 seconds.

--------------------------------

In the end, any of these teams could become the Spurs in the next ten years. Or the Blazers. Or the Jazz. Or the Magic. It takes ownership, a little luck, and the subsequent success. Get that, and you're good to go. But we never see that when we talk about contraction. We only see the benefits for the Bulls, the Lakers, the Knicks. And we forget that while there are more fans in cities than towns, having an NBA nation makes the game that much stronger. But if we have to do the deed, those are the teams that should get the axe.
Posted on: July 22, 2011 4:43 pm
Edited on: July 22, 2011 5:45 pm
 

Should the NBA contract? A CBSSports.com debate



By Matt Moore and Ken Berger

As part of his thorough and systemic plan for a CBA resolution to end this lockout madness, Ken Berger topped things off with a piece saying that the most logical solution to the NBA's remaining problems was contraction. Berger singled out two franchises to be chopped off the NBA forever in contraction,  New Orleans and Sacramento (Memphis, Indiana, and Minnesota were all only saved due to their relative leases in their buildings). Being a champion of small market teams and not wanting the good fans in those cities to have their souls ripped out just to make sure the bigger markets sleep easier at night (which I also believe harms the league by shrinking its nationwide fanbase), I took umbrage. We decided to debate just some of the many issues surrounding contraction. What follows is our conversation. 

Matt Moore: From your contraction piece:
And the question is: If the NBA is losing so much money -- $300 million last season and $1.845 billion during the six-year collective bargaining agreement that just expired -- then why continue to pour good money after bad into markets that have proved beyond any doubt they cannot support an NBA team without massive transfers of wealth that have failed to make them viable?
Let's start here. We're still talking about relatively young frames of reference, aren't we? Yeah, New Orleans is a hole right now. It was owned by one of the worst owners in the history of the league. It's still recovering from one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. Itn't it slightly possible that the right ownership could turn this thing around? And if we say that's possible, isn't the opposite true as well? What about the other small market franchises that are considered so connected to the league they could never be moved?

Let's say Popovich retires after 2013, same time Duncan retires. Buford is unable to recapture the Magic, especially with Ginobili gone. The team goes into a slump. A 10-year slump. We've seen it happen. Do we contract them, if that was now? How about Oklahoma City? If the core falls apart, if Kevin Durant (God forbid) went down with a career-ending injury, and Presti can't recover, do we just ditch those fans who have shown that with any semblance of a contender, they can be profitable and supportive? Are we really torching Sacramento just because the Maloofs' money has vanished in the recession and the team took what is pretty much the normal amount of time recovering from 2002... when they were one terribly officiated game away from the NBA Finals?

Basically, aren't all your candidates simply based on who is having a rough time... right now? And if that's the case, isn't it impossible to really give a fair estimation of who should be contracted? And what happens if another team can't make money in the new, better NBA? Isn't there always a loser, for long stretches in sports? If that's the case, are we just going to contract again in 10 years when San Antonio, or Orlando, or Utah is trapped in the cellar?

One more question.

If we're looking at truly terrible teams that haven't performed well or made good decisions, like Minnesota, why aren't we punishing Philadelphia, with that prime market and one of the worst attendance rates in the league? Sure, the Knicks make a world of money because of their market. But isn't that the real problem? A terribly run team can still make money? Bad teams that don't get enough support from the NBA's system isn't the problem, the fact that James Dolan and Donald Sterling turn a profit no matter what they do, that's a problem.

Ken Berger, CBSSports.com: 
To your first point, this isn't about blindly eliminating teams that aren't competing at the moment, or in a short-term frame of reference. In fact, we wouldn't even be talking about contraction if the owners hadn't put it out there that they can no longer survive with the NBA in its current state and thus locked the players out to get a better deal.

If player salaries are on the table, as well as guaranteed contracts, rookie scale, contract length, hard vs. soft vs. flex cap, the split of BRI, and literally everything else that has an impact on the NBA business model, then it is not only fair and appropriate, but prudent to evaluate whether the NBA has A) teams in the right markets, B) too many teams, or C) both.

If it's fair to ask the players to take a 33 percent pay cut, and to ask the owners in markets that are doing exceedingly well to fork over tens of millions more to support struggling franchises, then it's absolutely fair game to discuss whether some of those teams in some of those markets will never be able to thrive regardless of what salary structure and revenue-sharing system is in place. Apple wouldn't continue to fund an under-performing store or produce a failing product, and neither should the NBA.

Your San Antonio point is a non-starter. First of all, San Antonio is the 37th TV market in the United States, according to Nielsen, compared to No. 52 New Orleans -- the smallest in the NBA. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the San Antonio metropolitan area (2.1 million) was nearly twice the size of the New Orleans metropolitan area (1.2 million) in 2009. Further, there is a long, established history of success in San Antonio -- both on and off the court. There is a history of success in Philadelphia, as well, by the way. There is no history of the NBA succeeding in New Orleans.

Granted, the city endured a catastrophic natural disaster that was nobody's fault. But the team relocated from Charlotte, a failed expansion market, and now the NBA has teams in two hopeless markets. Given the arena lease in Charlotte, there is no way to contract the Bobcats. But the Hornets, given that they are owned by the league and have only a $10 million penalty to break the lease, simply have to be examined for contraction if the owners are serious about addressing their money-losing problems.

If the owners simply want to use the losses as an excuse to put the players in their place, well, that's another story.

Your point about San Antonio or Oklahoma City someday winding up on the grim end of the cycle is valid. That can happen almost anywhere in the league; it's happened in Sacramento, where the Kings were thriving for years and then got obliterated by an unforgiving system that makes it difficult to recover from bad decisions or poor performance -- or both. That's why I'm in favor of a comprehensive plan to fix the league's problems. It's not an either-or game with pay cuts, a more flexible cap system, more robust revenue sharing, or eliminating a couple of teams. It should be all of the above. Teams like the Kings, Sixers, Timberwolves, etc., who've been successful in the past would be able to regain that success more quickly with a more flexible cap system, shorter contracts, and enhanced player movement. It's not about which teams are at the top of the cycle and which teams are at the bottom right now. It's about much more advanced metrics capable of measuring whether NBA franchises in all 30 markets have a chance to be successful and make a profit -- given some reasonable sacrifices on the part of the players, enhanced revenue sharing and a more flexible system that allows teams to get out of a bad situation faster.

I find it illustrative that those in the industry like yourself who are so adept at unemotionally evaluating on-court performance with advanced metrics that often betray what the naked eye sees suddenly allow emotion to infect your opinions about contraction. If you applied the same clear-eyed, sobering, numbers-driven approach to the viability of certain markets as you did to pick-and-roll defense, you would see the reality that emotion and gut-reaction thinking currently are obscuring for you.

Lastly: Part of the contraction argument is specific to certain markets -- New Orleans, Charlotte, Memphis -- and whether they are viable. But there are two other components: 1) the broader discussion of whether fewer teams would result in a better and more profitable product; and 2) the narrow, practical debate over which teams are feasible candidates to contract. The lease and arena situations in New Orleans, Sacramento and Milwaukee simply make those teams candidates to satisfy the broader goal of creating a better, more profitable product because there are fewer barriers to contraction. Contracting a team isn't an emotional decision. It's about dollars, practicality and a path to achieving the NBA's stated goals of competitive balance and profitability.

To your last point about Sterling and Dolan: It is difficult to imagine a system that would justify having Sterling as one of 28 people in the world lucky enough to own an NBA team. If a new CBA could contract Sterling, that would be a victory for all concerned. As for Dolan, he clearly deserves much if not all of the venom he has received. But Madison Square Garden is paying every penny of an approximately $800 million renovation to the arena. The same cannot be said in smaller cities where politicians gave up the farm due to the threat of losing their team or never getting one in the first place. The system has to be changed to narrow the gap between the haves (like the Knicks) and the have-nots (like the Thunder). It's the have-no-chance teams that are the problem.

Matt Moore: Well for starters, we're basically saying, "Well the owners have a problem (losing money). So naturally, let's punish the players (salaries) and the fans (losing teams). That should make for a better NBA!" All this despite the dubious nature of many of ownership's claims, and the fact that if they are in fact losing money, at least part of it is due to their own decision making regarding revenue sharing and their decisions to give those insane contracts. Before we start lopping off markets which at some point in the future could be just as viable as any other given a good string of luck, narrowing the NBA's fanbase and making it even more of an elitist sport, maybe we should look at some other options and make sure ownership's done everything it can to take care of itself. Finally, if we're going to go down the row of "we need to do what's best for the owners' profitability (in the context of their being "the league" despite their ownership only lasting at most a few decades versus the overall legacy of the sport), isn't the best thing for them to hold a four-year lockout so they can get every little desire they want, including $100,000 max non-guaranteed contracts?

I'm just not in the business of looking out for ownership. I'm in the business of looking out for the well-being of the entire league and the fans. Especially when, as you've pointed out brilliantly in this contraction argument, they're the ones who end up paying the most for these arenas.

I'm not so sure the San Antonio argument is a non-starter. To begin with, if we're going to go with market size? How about Charlotte at 24, Sacramento at 20, Indianapolis at 25, or Utah at 30? You talk about a "history of winning" which is entirely contingent on the luck of the lottery and a good owner (which changes constantly in the NBA). Those teams have a combined zero championships. Why not just lop them all off, in favor of a lower market, San Antonio, which is reportedly also losing money (as reported by David Aldridge)? I mean, if the Spurs aren't profiting despite the Duncan era, isn't San Antonio a viable market to cut? There are already two markets in Texas, after all. But no one would suggest that idea, because it fits in with the older idea of the league. Getting rid of the Spurs is incomprehensible, mostly because they've been around and won championships recently. If Indiana manages to squeak one out, when they were title contenders as recently as five years ago, by the way, are they in the same group?

And while I'm very emotional about the possibility of losing these markets, I have a clear-eyed reason not to. This league for too long has depended on two to three teams leading the way. The league is constantly praying for Celtics-Lakers to save them, because it hasn't established itself in the other markets in the country the way the NFL, or even MLB has. The Knicks are allowed to remain the sacred cow because of the money they pull in from market and a championship four decades old. But instead of weakening the rest of the league and strengthening the top of it, the NBA should be looking for competitive balance, because that activates the whole of the country as a fanbase, and subsequently as a market base. For whatever reason, it's become insanely popular to essentially submit to our big market overlords, likely out of some emotional fondness for the halcyon days of Lakers-Celtics or Bulls-Knicks. But a more sustainable approach which will help the entire league, not just those select few owners blessed to operate in a big ol' market, is one that raises the league's profile to where every team is profitable. Build up. Don't tear down.

While we're at it, I find the disregard for the financial hit in these communities deplorable. Setting aside the job losses, which are actual people (and I don't find that the fact owners are currently laying off personnel to save themselves some dough to be a viably equal comparison), you've got the damage to local businesses. You've got local charities losing that source of revenue. You've got effects all over the place. You think if you lop off the Kings, they're all going to start buying Lakers jerseys, as seems to be the end goal of most of these big-market advocates? One, that'll never happen, and two, it's not a sustainable strategy for league growth.

Finally, let's talk about that whole public-financing issue, since you seem to think that's the real death knell. Isn't the better option in those cases to force the owners to take on more of the financing? Furthermore, cities that don't want an NBA team don't vote for arenas. They don't support efforts to keep them. Seattle's representatives failed the Sonics fans, but that's the cost of representation. Meanwhile, markets that do want the league vote to support it. Are we really to say that neither the people, nor the owners, should be held accountable for their decisions, but only the fans of those teams who live and die with them? That's who we want to punish, as they continue to pump money into the team which bolsters the local economy?

Ken Berger:
So, you don't take the owners' loss claims at face value. Neither do I; so at least we can agree to be circumspect when it comes to the owners' claims. We will find out over the next two months just how staunchly the owners will stand behind their loss figures. If they are willing to lose an entire season, and thus sacrifice nearly $4 billion of revenues, then they should be smart enough to examine ALL aspects of their business model that are failing ... including whether they are doing business in the right places with the optimal number of teams.

As has been made very clear from my coverage of the lockout, I am not in the business of looking out for the owners, either. I am not in the business of advocating for either side. I'm trying to find solutions.

Teams like the Spurs and Blazers, who compete and still allegedly lose money, clearly fall under the category of teams that are viable but need the system and revenue sharing system to change to make them more viable -- and to ease the transition from bottom of the standings back to the top, if they get hit with that cycle. I'm glad you brought up the Pacers, who have lost money nearly every year of their existence and continue to ask the city to take on more and more expense associated with their business. But you are ignoring the fact that teams like the Spurs, Blazers, Pacers and others would have their talent level enhanced by absorbing some of the best players from contracted teams. This would make the product better in those cities, and across the league, and would make for a more compelling, competitive product. This is the "good of the league and fans" aspect that you mentioned. Nobody is saying, "Contract the Hornets and Bucks and send all their good players to the Knicks and Lakers." The combination of more concentrated talent, system changes that would enhance the mid-level teams' ability to compete and revenue sharing that would mute the competitive advantages in the biggest markets would achieve much of what you are seeking to achieve.

Though I do like many aspects of the NFL cap system, the comparison between the two sports has serious limits. There are nearly four times as many players in the NFL. Role players and specialists are far more prevalent and important in football. Basketball is a game driven by singular talents and stars, and there is no way around that. You will never find as many people in the country who will sit and watch your average Wolves-Kings regular season game. But the fact that the Wolves and the Kings are so inept only magnifies this fact. And don't tell me that the Wolves and Kings could be championship contenders in five years. Then we fill in the blanks with whomever is at the bottom of the barrel then. But we don't simply contract the team with the worst record in any given year. We examine whether there are markets in the NBA that have never been, and will never be viable -- and whether reversing the dilution of talent caused by expanding or relocating to such markets would be good for the product. It unquestionably would be.

Stars and big-market teams have always driven interest and ratings for the NBA, and always will. We shouldn't be asking whether this is right or wrong; this is the DNA of the sport, and it can't be dramatically altered. But the gap between the haves and have-nots can and should be narrowed. Can the NBA have a business model that achieves all its goals with 30 teams, some of which are in markets that cannot keep up? And if you insist on doing that, what is the cost? And who pays it?

Nobody supports the idea of anyone losing his job. But if you're going to champion the cause of those who'd be left behind if the Hornets and another team were contracted, then you cannot ignore the public cost of forcing teams to stay in those markets. How much more money do Louisiana and New Orleans have to divert from legitimate needs to support a failing basketball team? In Memphis, the city can't find the money to open schools on time, yet it pays $13 million a year in debt service for FedEx Forum -- and an accompanying parking garage that was the subject of an FBI investigation for misuse of public funds. How can you say that the public cost associated with contracting the Kings would be greater than the cost the city and region would bear to build the team a new arena -- which will be financed with decades of public debt, lost tax revenues and misallocated resources?

It's a vicious cycle because the cities that are too small to support an NBA franchise on their own merits are those that must pay the most to get the teams there in the first place. And once the team is there, the initial cost is never enough. The Pacers go back to the city and get $33.5 million more to operate Conseco ... the Timberwolves get millions in public funds to duct-tape the Target Center back together, and then will want a new arena built for them in five years. A sales tax is passed in Wisconsin to fund a new ballpark for the Brewers, and now the politicians want to extend it to build a new arena for the Bucks.

When does it stop? When the Kings move to Anaheim and in five years say, "This arena sucks, build us a new one?" 
Go ask people in Minneapolis if the Timberwolves have bolstered the local economy. The team has been a drain on the public coffers there for years, and will be for years to come if they stay there. That's what I call deplorable.

Matt Moore:
I think it's difficult to argue that professional basketball, with $930 million in annual media buys alone, is simply unsustainable. This isn't about how the business is structured, it's about how it's run. The owners, as you've pointed out in the past, are asking not for a "Get out of jail free" card, but a "Don't ever be allowed to put in jail." And if we start chopping off franchises that we think are the drain, what's the next result if the owners continue to find ways to circumvent the intent of the cap structure (as they did with the current system using the luxury tax)? Are we just going to be back here in five years, looking to contract down further, to the point we're left with the big markets and some Midwestern Washington Generals for them to pound upon?

Right, but if we were having this conversation in 2005, we're calling the Pacers "viable." The Blazers are the mess of a franchise who haven't won a championship in 30 years and are mired in mediocrity in an ancient building. But we're not going to liquidate the Blazers now because they're a playoff team. This is the issue. We're not contracting teams here because they're unsustainable, it's because it's convenient right now. And that's not a good enough reason to hurt fans, local economies, and the strength of the league.

You talk about how those players would be allocated across the board to all those San Antonio's and Portlands. Has that been your experience? Or do the players nearly always drift towards those same teams time and time again. If you've forgotten, I can refer you to the seven months of hell you spent covering the Melo debacle. I'm severely dubious about the prospect of talent being equally distributed. It may look that way immediately following the dispersal draft, but in a few years, we'll be back to the same formula.

A better idea? Get great players in wounded market like Andrew Bogut, Tyreke Evans, and Chris Paul the ability to compete on par with the rest of the league. Then you've got more superstars, which as you said, drives the league. We have the talent. You can't tell me Chris Paul's not a star worth following. But the league continues to promote only following those five or six teams, to the detriment of the total strength of the league, which hurts their television packages, which hurts their bottom line, and here we are. There are obviously bigger problems in New Orleans than that, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a decent ownership group. That's what's really missing is this league. Not ripping the hearts out of loyal fanbases, but owners with vision and a will to win. Instead, as we've covered and both dislike, we get Donald Sterling.

As far as the DNA of the sport goes, if we're admitting in this exercise that the DNA is the exact thing that's causing the profit loss, which leads to the sickness that is this lockout, why are we not talking about trying to build a better animal, for lack of a clear analogy? The league isn't limited in how it's portrayed. You're absolutely right in the ways that the NFL and the NBA are dissimilar. But just because their comparisons are not perfect does not mean that there shouldn't be efforts to emulate the model. The model works, which is that at the start of every NBA season, 32 fanbases of rabid, loyal fans believe in their team, their players, their coaches can win the title and are willing to spend money to be a part of it. That's the successful model, not praying the Heat and Lakers wind up in the title game every year until the next big market juggernaut is born.

As far as Memphis goes, I direct you to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal and a report on the economic benefits the Grizzlies have directly held on the area.

Memphis, like the rest of the country, is mired in the ongoing effects of the recession. To insinuate that blowing up the major tenant of a building that's already built, that already exists will somehow fix or even improve things is flawed logic. Sacramento loses one of the few major public events it has going for it. New Orleans still has the building. And for every complainer in Minnesota or wherever about the drain on the Wolves? I've got another to talk about the Vikings, or the Mariners, or the Chiefs. If we're talking about eliminating all waste in a community, these franchises exist among a litany and don't serve as the way out.

Ken Berger: 
You seem to think I am taking a pro-owner position here. The owners don't WANT to contract. It would cost them MONEY to contract, because they would have to pay an owner to go away. Unless we are talking about the Hornets, in which case there is nobody to buy out because the rest of the league already OWNS the Hornets -- who are, bar none, the clearest-cut case for contraction in the history of contraction. You've seen the financial statements. They're hopeless. Shinn was a deplorable owner, but that's what happens when you put teams in cities where they don't belong. You get bad owners leaching off the public, because no sane, competent businessman would try to operate a team there. Oh, and by the way, the public has to PAY for all this incompetence. These public boondoggles to put teams in places that can't support them, in the name of "expanding the fan base" and "promoting the brand" is one of the saddest commentaries of sports in our society over the past quarter century.

These loyal fan bases you speak so wistfully of wouldn't have been part of the NBA -- and thus wouldn't be a burden to the NBA business -- if the league hadn't over-expanded in the first place. Don't tell me the NBA would wither away and die without teams in New Orleans, Charlotte or Memphis. It was doing fine without teams there for years. And in fact, in the case of New Orleans and Charlotte, each city is on its SECOND team and it still isn't working. What demigod or savior of American business are you hoping will come along and make these markets profitable? Anyone who had all those great ideas would've stepped up and put a team there. Instead, we got Shinn and Robert Johnson, and in Memphis, we got Heisley.

You're a little hysterical about turning the NBA into a league of five big cities and the Washington Generals. Nobody is saying that. I am saying that, if you're going to look at the entire business, then you need to look at the number of teams and the location of them. In the case of New Orleans, where the team is buried in debt, owned by the league as a charity case, with no track record or hope of ever being viable, and with the most reasonable cost imaginable to get rid of, contraction represents the easiest business decision for the NBA during David Stern's commissionership. A much saner and financially viable decision than expanding and then relocating there in the first place. Nobody is going to nuke the Rockets if they don't find a replacement for Yao Ming.

You're also obsessed with the notion of, as you put it, right now. Well, Matt, this is right now. This is where we are: The NBA is shut down for the foreseeable future, the players are locked out, and the owners -- who take all the risk, make all the investments and write all the checks -- are saying that two-thirds of them are losing money every year. We can choose to believe them or not, but you can't ignore the fact that they are in control. And so right now, we have a team in New Orleans that is a burden to the league and to the residents of its city and state -- a team that never would've existed in the first place if not for the grandiose and overambitious expansion vision of David Stern. Now, due to the grandiose and naive visions of Matt Moore, we are supposed to compound the mistake of overexpansion by further burdening the NBA -- not to mention the good, tax-paying people of Louisiana -- and keeping the team there? For what? So we can save a few hundred jobs at the expense of tens of millions of dollars that could be better used?

I didn't wake up one day and say, "Let's get rid of the Hornets." But right now, the NBA is in crisis. Whether you're on the players' side or the owners' side, now is the time to evaluate everything. The sport is shut down. Some aspects of the business clearly aren't working. Why ignore such a sensible solution simply to be able to say you saved a team that is in no way a healthy or productive member of the NBA?

As for how the talent will be dispersed, I have no experience with this, because based on my rough recollection, I've never seen the NBA contract -- only expand, and expand too much, says the evidence. And you've twisted my argument about Memphis. I am not drawing a straight line from the city schools crisis to the Grizzlies' arena. I am merely highlighting what a shame it is that the taxpayers of Shelby County will continue to pay millions of dollars a year in interest on a basketball arena at a time when children could be held out of school because there is no money to pay the teachers to show up for work.

And since you brought up the Commercial-Appeal, you may want to check out the rebuttal to that homerized and pitiful piece of shameless boosterism. In this piece, someone who doesn't live in Memphis and may never have even visited actually bothered to contemplate how many jobs might have been created if the city had sold $250 million in bonds for some other, perhaps even useful purposes -- and also calculated that the 1,534 jobs allegedly created by the arena project came out to a cost of $150,000 per job. If the Commercial-Appeal had been doing its job, it would've analyzed the costs and benefits of that arena a tad more carefully instead of printing verbatim the schmaltz from the Chamber of Commerce. Instead, the city will pay millions in interest this year while it struggles to find money to pay teachers and open schools, but at least it will have a basketball arena that may not be used for its intended purpose this season -- because the NBA is shut down, in part, because it has too many teams in cities where they don't belong.

If that makes sense to you, then move to Sacramento and brace for tax increases and shoddy services so that a new arena can be built at no cost to the Maloofs or any other NBA owner, for that matter. Go Kings!
Posted on: February 15, 2011 2:11 pm
 

Stern: Owners would consider Hornets contraction

Commissioner David Stern says that some owners would consider contracting the New Orleans Hornets, but feels that league will be succesful in keeping the team in New Orleans long-term. 
Posted by Matt Moore

In a lengthy interview with ESPN.com on Bill Simmons' podcast, David Stern today stated that there are owners in the NBA who "might share the view" that they should contract the Hornets. 

"I know that there are some owners who might share that view (that the Hornets should be contracted). But anything that we do gets done by the majority of the owners. All you're stating is a potential third option. But right now we are steaming full-speed ahead with every single possible way to make that team succesful in New Orleans, and I think we're going to succeed. We're going to make it unattractive to move it or contract it."


Stern, as usual, cloaks his statement in laywer-speak of the highest craft. The phrase "some owners who might share that view." Is that not the most slippery structure possible?  

The revelation is nothing too surprising.  Contraction talk has been floating for months. And with the owners now invested in a team that has not shown the capacity to keep itself afloat financially in its current market, there are going to be rumblings, particularly from the larger markets who won't want to support a losing asset in the face of the current economy.

But Stern makes the point that the owners have already made the decision to invest roughly $10 million each in the team. Contraction would mean losing the vast majority of that investment. You're not going to be able to liquidate tangible assets for an NBA team and recoup any significant amount of money. Why would they elect to just lose out on that money? At the same time, Stern also says the primary reason the league elected to step in and purchase the team wasn't a lack of buyers, but a lack of buyers that would keep the team in New Orleans. If the league is secretly planning to move the Hornets, they're going deep, deep underground with the plot.

The question of New Orleans as a viable market will continue until the ownership situation stabilizes. The question is: when's that going to be?
Posted on: December 28, 2010 12:46 pm
 

Rudy Gay and Z-Bo talk contraction in Memphis

Stars in small-market Memphis, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, weigh in on the good and bad of the idea of contraction.
Posted by Matt Moore




While LeBron James is walking back his contraction talk as quickly as possible, other players are weighing in on the issues at play. In Memphis, the issue of contraction will likely involve the Grizzlies at every turn. A small market team with poor attendance and fewer than 30 wins in five of their nine seasons, the Grizzlies are at the top of every contraction advocate's list for elimination. 

James' main point was about the possibility of great teams, where you'd have stacked rosters like there were in the 80's. (Even though they weren't that stacked in the 80's.) On such teams, Rudy Gay may not be the leader and star he's becoming in Memphis (20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals), he'd be a role player. Gay's very clear in his support of Memphis,but says that it may be the best thing for the league to think about cutting the number of teams in order to create those teams. 

"Yes and no. If I was speaking like I was with the NBA, I'd say yes," Gay told CBSSports.com Monday night. Of course, with more guys, more power teams, there's more focus on those teams, rather than the Indiana Pacers or New Jersey Nets."

At the same time, Gay feels like the great players in this league who already go unnoticed next to the biggest names the league markets would suffer if they were all crammed on teams fighting for top billing. 

"I say no, for us as players. It's kind of tough when the NBA is focused on one team (the Miami Heat) like it has been this year. This league has a lot of great players, like Joe Johnson, Derrick Rose, and even Kevin Durant's not even getting that much attention. Even Caron Butler, who plays next to Dirk Nowitzki. Even myself, O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph, it's hard when they have power teams that have so much focus, it's hard for us players. But we'll keep on proving it and eventually these guys will get noticed. "

Gay says he's unconcerned with where he plays, though. The market politics of the NBA don't interest him.

"To me it's basketball. I'd do this no matter where I was."

Zach Randolph has been around this league in big and small markets. He's played in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and now Memphis. So his viewpoint is a little different, and for one, he comes down firmly on the side of fans of teams like the Grizzlies.

"This is a good team, and this is a good city. Even though our fan attendance hasn't been where we want it to be, I think we can get it back up. It's a good basketball city. It's up and down. There are negatives and positives for guys teaming up like they did back then or even how they are now. But I think you need to keep cities like this."

So while James may think it's great for everyone to be in his position, with constant media attention on a team that's stacked with great players at all five spots like Joel Anthony and Carlos Arroyo, not everyone is sold that teams like Memphis need the ax just so there can be "stacked" teams.

Check back Thursday for our feature on Rudy Gay on CBSSports.com.
Posted on: December 28, 2010 11:05 am
Edited on: December 28, 2010 11:32 am
 

LeBron James backs off his contraction talk

King James steps away from contraction talk, claiming he didn't know what it meant, and that eliminating teams isn't what he meant when he said things which explicitly outline contraction. 
Posted by Matt Moore

When LeBron James stuck his foot in his mouth the other day about contraction, it wasn't just small market advocates like myself who wound up tweaked. NBA Union President Derek Fisher wasn't too happy about a player, the biggest player, breaking ranks on the Union's stance regarding contraction. That's enough to get the backtrack started. And oh, has it, with James immediately running full speed away from the subject under quite possibly the most idiotic of excuses. He didn't know what the word meant. From ESPN:  
"Thats crazy, because I had no idea what the word contraction meant before I saw it on the Internet," James said after the Miami Heats practice Monday. "I never even mentioned that. That word never even came out of my mouth. I was just saying how the league was back in the 80s and how it could be good again. I never said, Lets take some of the teams out. "
via LeBron James: I never said I advocated contraction - ESPN.
James had more words regarding the word he didn't know the meaning of. From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

“I’m with the players, and the players know that,” he said. “I’ve been with the players. It’s not about getting guys out of the league or knocking teams out. I didn’t mean to upset nobody. I didn’t tell Avery Johnson to leave either.

“I didn’t say, ‘Let’s abandon the Nets, and not let them move to Brooklyn,’ or, ‘Let’s tear down the Target Center in Minnesota.’ I never said that.”
 via The South Florida Sun-Sentinel-Ira Winderman.


So he was not talking about contraction, which he didn't know the meaning of, when he said that players should be taken from their teams and put on other teams and not great teams should go away. Got it. This is a guy who had a television special built around his free agency decision, who has his own brand, has a team of handlers, and is the face of the NBA. You'd think he'd be able to avoid the seemingly daily blunders he finds himself in. There will be some, like CBSSports.com's own Ken Berger, who thinks that James is on point about contraction being good for the league, and that is should hearken back to the vaunted 80's. 


Of course, it turns out that quite as stacked as we may remember them. In fact, during the vaunted 80's, you really only had two stacked teams (Lakers, Celtics naturally) and two pretty great teams (Detroit, Philadelphia for a single season). Houston could be considered if you want to start dipping into the bottom of the superstar barrel. So not only did LeBron not know the word of what he was talking about, but he was still wrong about the reason for implementing that concept that he didn't know the name of. 
 
For a guy who looked phenomenal taking down the Lakers this weekend, he's not exactly on his game in the PR world. 
Posted on: December 28, 2010 10:10 am
Edited on: December 28, 2010 10:10 am
 

Shootaround 12.28.10: Tweaked

Rose having a tough time in the mid-range, Dirk and Horford to get scans, Bynum still brimming, and Steve Francis bids ... whatever the Chinese word for goodbye is to China. All this and more in today's Shootaround. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Derrick Rose is having a hard time in the midrange game, mostly because he doesn't trust his jumper yet, even though it's improved. He's especially improved in 3-point shooting, but continues to try floaters from mid-range. 

Dirk Nowitzki will have an MRI this morning on his injured knee. So try not to scare your Maverick fan friends too much this morning.  They're going to be a little jumpy.

Al Horford will also have an MRI on his hand this morning. We'll keep you updated on both of their statuses. 

Andrew Bynum is still "brimming with potential" apparently. At this point I think it's better to say he's brimming with disappointment. Or, "brimming with doctor's appointments."

And just like that... Steve Francis was gone. From China.

Fan sensation Jeremy Lin will likely spend some time in the D-League. 

The sixth-man who was traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar now is a restaurant mogul

One thing of vital importance to the Celtics? Transition defense, because it's feast or famine for them.

The Rockets and Bobcats are both in talks with Houston about acquiring the Yao Ming salary dump. 

Nets blog Nets Are Scorching asks the question: "LeBron James: Evil or Stupid?"

Posted on: December 23, 2010 11:17 pm
Edited on: December 23, 2010 11:25 pm
 

LeBron James misguided in contraction yapping

King James wants to destroy multiple fanbases in the NBA in pursuit of a return to the 80's.  Posted by Matt Moore

Akron's favorite son apparently hadn't done enough damage to the small-market Cavaliers. After leaving them high and dry in free agency on national television without so much as a text for a heads up, and then returning to a rabid chorus of boos only to detonate them on their home floor, LeBron has pretty much buried Cleveland as a franchise in rubble over the past six months. 

Now he's kicking the dirt over the leftovers. 

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports that LeBron spoke to reporters prior to Thursday night's Heat game in Phoenix and managed to support contraction without saying contraction (always the delicate soundbyte for LeBron): 

“Hopefully the league can figure out one day how it can go back to the situation like it was in the ‘80s,” James said. “… The league was great. It wasn’t as watered down as it is. You had more [star] players on a team, which made almost every game anticipated -- not just a Christmas Day game, not just a Halloween game. I don’t ever think it’s bad for the league when guys decide that they want to do some greatness for the better of what we call a team sport. 

“I’m a player," James said, "but that’s why the league was so great. You can just imagine if you could take Kevin Love off Minnesota and add him to another team and you shrink the guys … I’m just looking at some of the teams that are not that great. You take Brook Lopez or you take Devin Harris off teams that are not that good right now and add them to a team that could be really good. I’m not saying let’s take New Jersey, let’s take Minnesota out of the league. But hey, you guys are not stupid. I’m not stupid, but I know what would be great for the league.”
via LeBron: Contraction would be 'great' for NBA - CBSSports.com.

So LeBron thinks that the teams which are "not that great" should be contracted. Getting past the question of whether or not he's flirting with tampering with Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, and Devin Harris, it's pretty easy to make the argument that Cleveland's going to be "not that great" for the foreseeable future... since LeBron left. With the 17th biggest media market, you'd think that Cleveland would be safe. But if we're eliminating the Nets in this scenario, we're killing off a team soon to inhabit Brooklyn. Cleveland's got to be on the eventual list of targets should the league begin to contract. 

And speaking of the Nets in this scenario, how is James' friend Jay-Z going to feel about his buddy not only turning him down in summer, but then suggesting his team should be contracted?  Jay-Z's invested in the Nets, has pitched players as an owner, and yet his one-time supposed protoge is discussing simply disintegrating his team and selling off the pieces for parts. That's got to make for a few awkward texts. 

Regardless, my colleague Ken Berger thinks that LeBron's right and that contraction is a great idea, that it would create more talent on the teams that exist, with multiple stars.  But in the 80's when we had that wonderful time, we didn't really. The Lakers did, as they do now. Back then they had Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Mychal Thompson, and Michael Cooper. Now they have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, and Derek Fisher. The Celtics did, as well. with Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, and Dennis Johnson. The Celtics now have Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Shaquille O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins, and Nate Robinson. And if we contracted? Those same teams would have even more All-Stars, leading to more Boston versus LA battles. But would it make the rest of the league better? 

You had the Sixers at that time, a fading dynasty with Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, and Moses Malone. You had the Houston Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson. But really, it was just LA and Boston who were great teams.  And the same would happen now. You might have New York or Chicago use their market influence to make a push, but in reality, you'd still have what you have now. Three teams with championship potential, and a bunch of Washington Generals wandering around. 

David Stern has been clear throughout the CBA process that changes must be made to revenue sharing in an effort to improve competitive balance. The problem isn't these teams dragging the league down, the problem is how difficult it is for small market teams to succeed. They can, they just have to be nearly flawless, as the Spurs have been. And big market teams can fail, but they have to be steeped with horrific decisions to not prosper, as in the case of the Knicks over the past decade and the Clippers over the past ... forever. 

When James says he wants to contract teams that are "not that great" he's basically playing on what's going on at this very moment. For example, if Glen Taylor were to either sell the Timberwolves, or move David Kahn for a GM with a more competent plan outside of "Boy, I hope Ricky Rubio is awesome" then Kevin Love may not be wasted at all in Minnesota in a year. When the Nets move to Brooklyn and can attract free agents with a new arena in the Burroughs, things are likely to turn around. What then? Do we then contract whoever's bad that point? If the Suns tank after Steve Nash retires, do we eliminate the Suns? What if the Blazers sink to the bottom as their injury history mounts to a breaking point? 

There are legitimate economic reasons to contract, including the viability of the league in markets which may not be big enough to support it. But simply in an attempt to create more great teams? We'll simply be making elite teams more elite, perpetuating the problem. 

Here's a better idea. With the most obnoxious free agency ever perpetrated by their three stars, followed by the most disappointing two months of basketball in NBA history and the team clearly a step behind the Celtics in pursuit of a championship, why don't we talk about sending those star players elsewhere? Why don't we talk about contracting the Heat. Maybe then James will give pause before he starts trying to advance his reign through the elimination of entire fanbases. 
Posted on: December 15, 2010 8:33 pm
Edited on: December 15, 2010 8:34 pm
 

Stern says he expects Euro teams within decade

Commissioner says he expects NBA teams in Europe by end of the decade. 
Posted by Matt Moore

David Stern is in Memphis tonight, speaking to Grizzlies fans (yes there are those people, har-dee-har-har). And during that conversation, Eli Savoie picked up this interesting comment




Um, wait, what?

This from the Commissioner who is considering contraction, who just had to purchase the Hornets in order to stabilize their ownership group. This in a league that is claiming massive losses across the board for its franchises in its current CBA battle. And he wants to move teams to Europe?

Setting aside the logistical issues of incorporating European teams into the NBA schedule and the problems with free agency, this really isn't the time to be mentioning it. and if you're going to mention it? Are you going to mention it in Memphis, which is a target for possible relocation and/or contraction in favor of said European teams? A curious situation, and that's before you look at the idea of trying to get it done in the next nine years. 

Stern's bold, you have to give him that much.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com