Why Top Tier NBA Free Agents Ignore the Queen City
Let me throw a few names at you:
Johnny Newman. David Wesley. Bobby Phills. Derrick Coleman. Ramon Sessions.
Many hardcore hoops fans will recognize these guys as quality NBA players in their respective eras. Not quite All-Stars but solid starters and legit role players on very good teams. Together they represent the biggest name free agent signings in the 25 year history of Charlotte pro basketball.
I’ll repeat, these are the biggest name free agent signings in a quarter century of Charlotte pro basketball history.
Why is this exactly? Has it been the troubled ownership? James Dolan, Donald Serling and even Robert Sarver seem to have proven wacky owners can be overcome. Is it the ineptitude of the team? The Hornets knocking out ten consecutive .500 or better seasons defies this logic. Is it the Queen City itself? Hmm…
Let’s put ourselves in an NBA All-Star Free Agent’s situation: young, probably single, a multi-millionaire; the dream of becoming a household name still to come, maybe even winning a championship. What city/franchise would you choose?
TIER 1: The Easy Choices
Los Angeles, Miami, New York. Lakers, Heat, Knicks and Nets. Next.
SPECIAL CATEGORY: The Obvious Adjunct
The Clippers. For thirty years this franchise was a joke until Donald Sterling woke up and realized his team was located in Los Angeles.
San Francisco, Chicago, Boston. Even though Celts fans whine about their FA prospects, that hasn’t stopped the legendary franchise from adding great secondary pieces over the years. Chicago and SF are hoops mad metropolises and cultural epicenters.
Warm Weather + No State Income Tax
Orlando, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio wield the deadly Free Agent combination of more money kept in the pocket (for both the agent and player) and copious amounts of warm weather. We don’t think of the Spurs in this context because of the organizational philosophy to build through the draft and internationally but San Antonio has NEVER had a problem re-signing their own. Also, Orlando has golf. We know NBA guys love golf. Speaking of golf…
TIER 2: I’m Intrigued…
Sunshine All the Time
Phoenix. Dry and warm almost year round. Just a puddle jump away from LA and Vegas. The Best Training Staff on the planet. Also an underrated “smoking hot chick” destination thanks to the local universities. And lots of golf.
Under the Radar Tax Breaks Destinations
Seattle, Memphis. Aside from being charming NBA cities, both Tennessee and Washington are State Income Tax free, taxing only capital gains. Add new ownership, quality rosters and rabid local fan support…
Small Market Love Affair
OKC, Indianapolis, Utah, Denver, Portland. Speaking of rabid fan support, these cities/franchises may not have the allure of a New York or LA but between the excellent ownership and organizations, quality basketball product on the court and the fanatical support of the community, these teams offer the professional baller a very special career experience.
African-American Cultural Centers
DC, Atlanta, New Orleans. Though recently marred by bungling management and ownership instability, these markets will almost certainly rebound thanks in part to their historical and contemporary roles as black America’s cultural centers. From Howard University to Storyville to Freaknik; from Louis Armstrong to Thurgood Marshall to Outkast, there is no denying these markets hold a certain appeal to many NBA players.
Toronto, Minnesota. As Chris Rock once said, “the only black people in Minnesota are Prince and Kirby Puckett.” At some point during David Kahn’s recent tenure as Timberwolves GM he took this observation to heart, targeting near exclusively European or white American players in free agency. This hasn’t always been the case of course, there was once a time in which Kevin Garnett, Latrell Spreewell and Sam Cassell packed the Target Center full. Racial issues aside, this seems to be the strategy currently employeed in Minny, one that Toronto has leveraged for two decades. Put simply, if you are an International Free Agent, these two franchises are high on your list.
TIER 3: Last Resorts
Philly, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee. Philly certainly tops this list. Proximity to NYC and DC and rich basketball/cultural heritage don’t hurt. Cold weather and an indifferent fanbase do. The Rust Belt franchises have had difficult enough time retaining their own citizens from the milder climate Southern states. Milwaukee routinely makes the news when any sort of relocation is discussed. Cleveland is still rebounding from the Lebron Decision while Detroit’s hopes are higher following a recent ownership change.
The Odd Man Out
Charlotte. Warm weather? Compared to Rochester, sure. Night Life? Certainly more options than, say, Charleston, WV. Important African-American Cultural Center? I think Petey Pablo is from Statesville. Rabid fan support? Er, um… Let’s just skip that one.
By no means is Charlotte a terrible place to live. Just look at the population explosion over the past few decades. If you’re seeking a pleasant, quiet, clean city to raise children, go to church and get a job in, then the Queen City is an absolutely outstanding pick. But if you’re a young, uber-athletic mulit-millionaire itching to put his stamp on the world, Charlotte isn’t going to hold the same level of intrigue, especially when there are twenty or more attractive options available.
There is hope. During the Hornets Playoff run in the mid-90s, Charlotte was unquestionably a “Small Market Love Affair” team. Consistent quality on the court fueled by crafty management (Bob Bass) combined with a lovable mascot and a great brand consistently packed the house, elevating the team into the second tier. While the Hornets never made headlines with an All-Star signing, the organization rarely struggled finding great secondary players to fill in the gaps leftover from smart trades and sound drafts. This sort of strategy can and will work again once the franchise has fully risen out of the hole dug first by George Shinn and deeper by Bob Johnson.