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Berry Tramel: NBA's small-market owners need to win

by Berry Tramel Modified: June 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm •  Published: June 29, 2011

One day from the NBA lockout, and I'm like everyone else. Settle, settle, settle.

You've hooked us on the Thunder. We're in no mood to go into rehab. Not with this team.

But before we get too militant on demanding our basketball, let's put on the wide-angle lens.

An ownership victory in these labor negotiations would be good for Oklahoma City. A fundamental change in the NBA's economic model would help the Thunder's long-term viability.

The owners want a payroll cap, a hard cap, like the NFL's. That won't come easy. The NBA union appears entrenched against such a concession, though missed paychecks often make players rethink their position.

A payroll cap might actually hurt the Thunder in the short term. With this team of 22-year- (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) and 21-year-olds (James Harden, Serge Ibaka), Sam Presti would have to figure out all kinds of tricks to keep everyone on board with a hard payroll limit.

But long term, the Thunder is better off with a real cap, to keep franchises like the Lakers and owners like Mark Cuban from blank-check decision-making.

Payroll caps don't guarantee every franchise can compete. They do keep franchises from spending their way to victory.

The great constant in baseball is not that the Royals or Pirates will lose. Those teams lose because they are mismanaged. The great constant in baseball is that the Yankees and Red Sox will win. Foul up on personnel, and the Yanks and Red Sox just write a check.

You can't do that in the NFL. You can do it to a certain extent in the NBA, which has a flexible cap that some teams pay no mind to.

Now, we need to be careful about playing the little-guy card too much. Truth is, the Knickerbockers stink and have done so much of the last decade, despite playing in midtown Manhattan. The Warriors have wallowed for much longer than that, despite owning the Bay Area. The Celtics have had their low moments.

Meanwhile, the small-market teams have mostly competed well. San Antonio has four titles. Salt Lake City and Portland have been consistent NBA winners. Orlando went to two NBA Finals with completely different teams. Oklahoma City is off to a fine start.

Memphis and Sacramento have struggled, but still, that's not a bad track record for small markets. Just as good, in fact, as the NFL small markets.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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