People from the sun-drenched Philippines find it hard to fathom that superstar players would leave their teams just to get year-round sunshine. While geography is a factor, there are also market dynamics in play.
Players who chose to play in the Southern, coastal cities of California and Florida also have underlying reasons for their choice, and it’s not just the weather. Take the Orlando Magic, which, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, is one of the farm teams in the NBA.
The Magic was gifted with two generational big men drafted 12 years apart. Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard brought the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals only to lose to superior teams. Since they had some degree of success, why did they eventually leave the sunny Florida with no state taxes to head west to California?
Inability to build
Howard and O’Neal both left Orlando because they knew their teams had peaked, and the organization did not have the ability to build again.
In O’Neal’s case, he chose the Lakers because the Orlando Magic, who had all the advantages in the world in 1996 (no luxury tax yet, full Bird rights — they could’ve offered Shaq a blank check and no one could match), they actually low-balled him, offering a contract lower than those of Shaq’s batchmate and rival Alonzo Mourning and the ridiculously overrated Juwan Howard.
Side note: the Orlando Magic learned their lesson and started throwing money at Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. But just like the OKC Thunder, they learned that lesson too late.
Instead of using the Lakers’ grand, unprecedented offer to leverage a deal with Orlando, he decided to leave. When teams don’t value their players, they leave. That’s lesson No. 1. This is why you have Mark Cuban choosing Luka Doncic over his wife.
If players and their agents see you skimping over a few million dollars, there are numerous teams that won’t bat an eyelash. Teams like the Lakers and Heat who have loose purse strings, with front offices like vultures ready to prey on the dying chemistry of other teams. It reflects on their records, and both teams made the Finals last season.
The winning culture
Some teams simply know how to win — and some don’t. Since 1980, 41 years of basketball, only 12 teams have won the NBA title. Lakers, Celtics, Sixers, Rockets, Pistons, Bulls, Spurs, Heat, Mavericks, Warriors, Cavaliers and Raptors. Consider that the Raptors, Mavericks and Cavaliers have only won the title once and you have nine teams repeatedly winning 38 championships.
More than half of the teams in the league have never tasted the title. Even with the NBA draft designed to help these teams get primary talent, and the salary cap making it difficult to assemble a dynasty, they could never get it together, while some teams have done it over and over.
Many players and even the architects of these dynasties have come and past, but they somehow stay relevant. Jerry West built two dynasties with the Lakers, he left the organization and built the Warriors. But somehow, the Lakers are defending champions again.
The Spurs have seen Tim Duncan and his cohorts retire, the Heat built a Big Three and lost all of them, but they clawed their way back to the Finals as well.
When there’s a prime free agent available, teams like the Lakers, Heat and Celtics always use their winning culture as a selling point — and the numbers cannot deny this. Celtics fans have high expectations because even if they’re not championship caliber, their arena has always been busy in April.
The Spurs had only one lottery pick in their championship runs. ONE — and that’s Tim Duncan. Compare that to the insane lottery luck of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who couldn’t win if LeBron didn’t return, and the New Orleans Pelicans who drafted both Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson. Draft luck does not translate into titles. Ask any OKC fan.
Giannis Antetokounmpo tried to spare the Milwaukee Bucks from farm team status. Today, they don’t look like a championship contender, and Giannis is not an MVP frontrunner. The Lakers and LeBron are. More on the winning culture next.