Small market teams making waves this NBA postseason

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In a league where half of the championships ever handed out have been won by teams from Boston or Los Angeles, it’s hard to say the NBA’s small market teams have thrived over its history. This postseason however, teams hailing from Oklahoma City, Memphis and San Antonio have come just as far or farther than those from New York, Boston and Los Angeles.

The Spurs swept the Memphis Grizzlies to reach the NBA Finals and hope to win the team’s fifth NBA title. San Antonio holds the 37th ranked television market size according to the Television Bureau of Advertising. The team the Spurs defeated in Memphis holds the 48th. Both teams’ markets are not just behind New York and Boson, but also trail the likes of Cleveland, Detroit, Orlando and Charlotte.

San Antonio has been the staple small market franchise since emerging into the NBA elite after creating its Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili through the draft. Smaller market teams like the Grizzlies have tried to model the Spurs’ success through the years. Memphis CEO Jason Levien told Jeff Caplan of NBA.com: “We want a plan that is going to allow us to be competitive for years to come. Part of that is balancing the salary cap…we’re thinking about next year, the year after, being able to add more value and continue to grow as a team.”

Photo by Flickr user amarinarios70

The Indiana Pacers have been attempting that model in recent history as well, acquiring George Hill from San Antonio in 2011 and drafting the likes of Paul George and Danny Granger. Savvy moves and draft picks brought the No. 21 ranked market out of the NBA’s 30 teams to the Eastern Conference Finals this year against the Miami Heat.

“We don’t have any egos. We don’t have any ‘I’ guys. We have a bunch of ‘we’ guys,” said Pacers forward David West to The Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz.

Indiana’s “we” guys might not get to face San Antonio in the finals if the Miami Heat gets its way, however. But a Heat victory would not exactly be a mighty big market team dashing the hopes of the little guys from Indiana. Miami is the 16th ranked TV market in the U.S. which puts them behind the likes of the Atlanta and Minnesota.

The Heat does have LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the roster in a feat of salary cap mastery by owner Pat Riley in 2010. The former coach had to sign several veterans like Udonis Haslem to league salary minimums and has continued that mentality since 2010. The mindset brought the Heat an NBA title in 2012 and could easily do so again this year.

The Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs are the only franchises with more than three NBA championships in NBA history. It’s hard to say all markets have an equal opportunity to win the championship each year but that hasn’t stopped the smaller teams from making noise this postseason. Regardless of who wins the finals this year, the champion will be from a market outside of the top 17 biggest in the league. The Spurs started the blueprint for the smaller clubs rising into NBA elite and it seems there’s a good chance of more doing the same for years to come.

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