Big talent, small markets

In just a matter of days, the big-name free agents of this NBA offseason have been snatched off the market.

While LeBron James opted out of his contract to become a free agent and has not yet re-signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, there is not much concern about James signing anywhere else. As everyone is aware, the four-time MVP is waiting for management to hand out contracts to his teammates on the market before he re-signs—basically, adding additional pressure on Cleveland’s front office to speed up a process that could otherwise be drawn out. James’ teammate Kevin Love has already been re-signed to a max contract, but Tristan Thompson is yet to receive his. As soon as Thompson signs, James will likely sign as well.

With that being said, the marquee free agents that did decide to leave the cities they called home last season for new opportunities this offseason was LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe.

Aldridge signed with the San Antonio Spurs (and that’s pretty scary considering the rest of the talent on that roster), Jordan signed with the Dallas Mavericks and Monroe with the Milwaukee Bucks.

While Jordan has developed into an outstanding pick and roll finisher, offensive rebounder and rim protector, his inability to create his own offense makes him less valuable when compared to fellow big men Aldridge and Monroe.

If you ask me, San Antonio and Milwaukee landed the two biggest free agents this offseason. When you consider both are smaller-market franchises, landing the most sought-after free agents of the summer is a pretty big deal.

While the Spurs are one of the most well respected and structured franchises of all time, you never see free agents rushing to move to San Antonio. It just doesn’t happen. The Spurs have traditionally built its success through near-genius draft selections and player development. Sure, picking future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan with the first overall pick in 1997 was a no-brainer. However, since then, the Spurs have not had another lottery pick in the draft, but have managed to win five NBA championships.

The traditional Spurs formula never consisted of a four-time all-star free agent in the prime of his career signing with the team until Aldridge decided to go against the norm and signed a four-year contract with San Antonio worth more than $80 million.

On the other side of the country, the Milwaukee Bucks— yes, the Bucks, who unlike the Spurs, have not experienced real success in literally decades— signed Monroe to a three-year deal worth roughly $50 million.

In case you weren’t away, Milwaukee is a franchise that never gets big-name free agents.

Maybe it’s due to the team’s lack of success throughout the years or maybe it’s due to the team being located in Milwaukee or maybe it’s both. Either way, while Monroe is no Aldridge, the 25-year-old who seems to be finding his own in the NBA is the biggest free agent the team has signed in recent memory.

With two small-market teams winning big in free agency this summer, one question immediately comes to mind: why in the hell can’t the Los Angeles Lakers land a free agent worth mentioning lately?

(I should mention I am a huge Kobe Bryant fan who does not want to see his childhood idol end his career as a member of a 20-win team.)

Once upon a time, everyone wanted to play at the Staples Center in front of Jack Nicholson and the rest of Hollywood’s brightest while sporting the purple and gold. And everyone—well most— wanted to play alongside Bryant, one of the all-time greats.

Aside from the Lakers being arguably the most successful franchise in league history, the city of Los Angeles itself has always been a prime destination for big-name free agents until recently.

I mean, where else would a young man with unlimited spending ability rather live than LA?

However, it is a new day in the NBA and for some reason the Lakers are having trouble adapting.

The Lakers once again placed all its free agency hopes this offseason on Aldridge much like they did last year in its pursuit of Carmelo Anthony. Neither was an ideal fit for the team given the rest of the roster, but both were stars and the Laker organization respects star-power.

Location and market size no longer seem to matter as much in the NBA anymore, but it is as if the Lakers are still counting on those things to reel in players. Today, it’s about analytics, but most importantly it’s about winning, something the Lakers aren’t doing much of anymore.

And, besides, even though there’s not much to do in Milwaukee and San Antonio, those huge paychecks still clear in those cities.

Malcolm Walton can be contacted at [email protected].