What does Lebron’s return to Cleveland mean for small markets?

Published: July 14, 2014

For the past five years a growing sentiment around the professional basketball world has been the neglect of small market basketball franchises. This has been pushed mostly through the superstar movements around the league. When Lebron decided to leave Cleveland many fretted that it was only a matter of time that others followed. To some extent it was true.

Deron Williams left Utah, Carmelo wanted the bright lights of New York, Dwight Howard was sick of Orlando and Chris Paul wanted to raise his profile on a bigger stage. Years before, Kevin Garnett left Minnesota and Ray Allen from Seattle. Shaquille O’Neal forced his way to Los Angeles and don’t forget Pau Gasol too.

Yet here we are now with the best player in the world – the most marketable – heading back to Cleveland. Many thought it would not be possible what with an owner who completely vilified the superstar for leaving just four years ago. I guess that’s fair considering how much money James had made him.

Though the move is not easily straightforward to understand when applying to the issue of parity in the NBA. Cleveland was James’ home and its unique storyline means little when using it as a case study for more small markets to gather superstar players.

The alternative to the James move is to analyse the San Antonio Spurs. Many talking heads around the league love referencing their culture and citing it as the model for small market organisations.

But in the 10 years that the Spurs have been dominate, why has there been no replication on their way to success? It’s likely because each situation is unique on its own – even if common themes perpetuate across successful organisations a like.

The relevancy to the Pelicans is whether Lebron’s move has any bearing towards their situation and Anthony Davis.

The formation of superteams has been a well-documented media narrative. Yet there are few examples to cite it as a trend. It’s the irrational accusations of player collusion that spark untoward hostility in the direction of those who play the game of basketball so well.

Anthony Davis still has much to achieve before he becomes a free-agent. But should he get to that position and leave is there not a large amount of blame to be thrown at the organisation that had him for 5-8 years?

The Pelicans cannot harbor any self-pity because they’re a small market team. They must plan like they are one of thirty, trying to build towards a championship. If the players, coaches and staff don’t treat it as such then it’s only fair that superstars like Davis look at ways to make themselves happy.

Fans too must embrace the players and Pelican supporters need to continue to turn out for games. Bandwagoners will surely help if success increases, but the support starts today.

Davis’ hometown is in Chicago and the “threat” of big markets will only remain ingrained in New Orleans’ fans psyche so long as the organisation they support remains incompetent of putting a winner together.

The good news is they appear to be doing everything to improve and that is comforting. They now have several players all capable pros with an aura of upside.

Lebron’s move back to Cleveland is exciting for small-market fans. It gives optimism where pessimism was before even though each situation is so unique to each individual player. Some want the lime light others want championships, but all do what makes them feel happy.

The underlying takeout from Lebron’s move is that players will do what they want when given the chance. It’s up to small markets to stop feeling sorry for themselves and do everything they can to make their players feel happy, wanted and have the chance to fulfil their goals and aspirations.


  1. lwfrank

    July 14, 2014 at 9:22 am

    There was nothing fair about Gilbert vilifying and disrespecting LeBron four years ago, no matter how much money James helped him to make.

  2. RobertWelch

    July 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

    I applauded LeBron’s decision to go home. Also, Carmello’s decision to stay in NY was interesting, in that he went with the known factor of his previous team over the unknown of a potentially more competitive team in Chicago or perhaps Houston. To some degree, that may have been true of Howard’s decision to go to Houston last year (Howard cited that he felt he had more support from the team in Houston, and for him LA may have been a bit overwhelming in their criticism of his play and general scrutiny).
    It seems players are inclined to go for what is comfortable, over what may be the promise of putting them in the best situation to win it all. If Davis continues to feel supported here by the city and the team, hopefully he will continue to want to be here. If he continues to develop to his potential, he may well do as much for this city as Drew Brees has, and that is a great deal indeed.

  3. Bobbs3k

    July 14, 2014 at 9:52 am

    I don’t think Lebron’s going back to Cleveland really gives that much hope to small markets.  In this situation he went back to his home state.  If AD had been born and raised in New Orleans it could mean something down the line, but right now let’s hope we can develop a winning culture and get him surrounded by a good team so when the time comes he doesn’t want to leave.

  4. LaNative

    July 14, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I believe the he biggest factor in keeping players is the culture and the respect they are given.  DWade is from Chicago but his legacy is with Miami and he appears that he is remaining there to finish out his career. For young players, I think championships are most important and if NOLA presents AD with the better opportunity to win championships I think he will stay.  It’s obvious that the Pelicans want him to stay and are trying hard to build a winner so that he can stay.  Lebron didn’t see what he needed coming to Miami with him wanting max money and with Cleveland he got to return home with nice pieces and the opportunity to win more quickly than with Miami.

  5. Zed84

    July 14, 2014 at 11:05 am

    If the Pelicans get CP3 back here in a few years who knows. In reality small market teams have this weakness the current CBA claiming to be owner friendly but reality it’s big market owner friendly with the threat of contraction in 2016 again by guys like Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and anyone from ESPN that want that to happen is wishful thinking but if a team is not making money to pay the bills and have poor attendance you’ve to move the team or they can contract them. New Orleans is in better shape to support a NBA than the likes of Milwaukee, Memphis,  Minny, Detroit or Utah. Minus the economic issues each city have and even in NOLA. It’s about if you’ve ownership willing to pay for talent and the fear of overpaying for talent. New Jersey Nets had their moments in the early part of the 2000’s but things when downward from there causing them to move to Brooklyn. Remember  Vancouver the support was bad and even players didn’t want to play there. The bottom line is players concerns are so much like the fans in the following:
    Economics ie income tax none is fine but a certain percentage for that states top 1% should be reasonable to keep a big name player there.
    Ownership if you don’t have a owner that’s committed to winning or building around your franchise player you better get use to your star player wanting out
    Quality of life violence can happen anywhere but it’s also about the neighborhoods, the schools for your kids and possible business ventures if you want to invest in a city you could be playing for the next 10 years
    The local media under radar type like here or maximum exposure like in New York, L.A or Chicago. Being a blip on the screen have pro and cons the pros most the regional market don’t know you or just want to be as low key as you want.

  6. jsgrayson

    July 15, 2014 at 4:35 am

    lwfrank Completely agree. I think the most interesting aspect of that is that Lebron forgave him. So if Lebron forgives him then everyone else has too as well.

  7. jsgrayson

    July 15, 2014 at 4:38 am

    Bobbs3k Precisely it Bobbs. I’m glad your comment aligns with what I outlined in the article. There’s still much to do for the Pelicans to make Davis happy, but they’re on the right track. Ultimately if the team starts to win — and win big — then he’ll find it hard to leave. 
    In addition if fans support him and he becomes an icon for New Orleans then I think that will help too. But that won’t happen if the team doesn’t win big.

  8. jsgrayson

    July 15, 2014 at 7:57 am

    Zed84 Well I think your points are all fair. But I will say that any reason you list is going to mean something different to certain people. 
    Take a look at Carmelo Anthony. He said he wants to win, but in reality he loves New York and the limelight. There’s no way, outside of Phil Jackson, that he respect the Knicks as a successful basketball franchise (not in the last decade anyway). 
    Compare that with what Lebron did and you kind of see that every situation is unique. 
    My belief is that a strong organisation and a clear strategy to winning a championship is what attracts MOST players, but not all. 
    You have to look at each player uniquely and package your approach to attain them in a way that appeals to them without compromising your overall goal as a general manager/personal-director

  9. jsgrayson

    July 15, 2014 at 8:00 am

    xman20002000 I too love how this organisation has transformed. Though personally I’m a little more pessimistic that this team will attract big time free agents. 
    The only circumstance I see the Pelicans acquiring a big name free agent within the next few years is if a few things happen. 
    1. They get cap space (duh)
    2. They are winning heaps of basketball games (like some good playoff runs). 
    3. Anthony Davis is a legitimate star/top-3 or 5 player 
    4. The money offered to the free agent is sufficient to appease their financial situation. 
    I think all these things can happen. Whether they will is another issue entirely.

  10. Iffi

    June 28, 2015 at 11:31 pm

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