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NBA AM: Small Market Teams Winning Big

Although 2015 free agency is still in its infancy, small-market teams are making big moves.

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Small Market Teams Winning Big

In the not so distant past, the lure of a bigger market carried the day when it came to elite level talent and their free agent destinations of choice. But slowly, the tide has been turning. One of the early signs of this came in 2013 when center Dwight Howard left the Los Angeles Lakers to sign with the Houston Rockets. A superstar athlete leaving Los Angeles to take less money was a mind boggling concept.

Back in the day, the lure of the bigger market came with more exposure for the player, access to more endorsement money, recognition from always being on television, fame and all of the other trappings of success.

However, with the advance in social media, lucrative television deals pushing the sport to new heights and audiences, and worldwide league pass access, all athletes are benefiting from the very things once reserved strictly for the larger market crowd.

The 2015 free agency period in particular has scored some major wins for the “smaller” market franchise. Let’s look at a few examples.

Greg Monroe agrees to terms with the Milwaukee Bucks

Monroe reportedly agreed to a three-year, $50 million to join the Milwaukee Bucks spurning overtures from the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers in the process. But here’s the kicker, both Los Angeles and New York offered the same contract.

Monroe’s reasoning was Milwaukee was in a better position to win right now. On the surface, this is true. Monroe hasn’t been to the playoffs since being drafted in 2010 and the Bucks made an appearance this past season. But Milwaukee doesn’t have a superstar level talent (yet), while New York has Carmelo Anthony and Los Angeles still boasts Kobe Bryant.

Plus the Knicks and Lakers are currently overflowing with cap space and each franchise has a distinguished history and the selling point of being in a major market. It didn’t matter for Monroe, who opted to take the same money with the Bucks than to put up with the additional stresses a Los Angeles or New York brings.

San Antonio Spurs still frontrunners for All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge

Free agent All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge has emerged as the most sought after top-level free agent in this year’s class with Dallas, Los Angeles (Lakers) Miami, New York, Phoenix and San Antonio all throwing their best sales pitch his way.

But it is the San Antonio Spurs, according to multiple outlets, who have emerged as the frontrunners to land the veteran. Not Los Angeles, New York or even Miami (who entered the fray later in process).

The Spurs’ success over the past 20 years has been primarily driven by their prowess in the draft with David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker serving as integral pieces of their unit. You also must add Kawhi Leonard to the list, as the Spurs used a draft day trade to snag him from the Indiana Pacers.

While Aldridge remains undecided, the fact San Antonio is a frontrunner for a marquee free agent comes as a bit of a surprise. But if the team can secure Aldridge’s autograph on a new deal, this would be the biggest get for smaller market franchises.

Marc Gasol reportedly nearing agreement to return to Memphis

There’s no doubt representatives from Los Angeles and New York wanted to get Gasol on the line and present, in detail, their respective plans for the future. But early reports indicate the All-Star center hasn’t opened up his calendar at the moment to anyone but the Grizzlies organization.

Gasol’s decision to shun bigger markets early on is huge because in years past, the narrative for smaller market superstars has always led with the assumption that guys wanted to play in major cities.

DeMarre Carroll agrees to $60 million deal in Toronto

Alright, Toronto isn’t a “small” market like, say, somewhere like Indiana is, but it hasn’t been a free agency destination of choice since becoming a part of the league. The franchise has had its share of mega talent over the years such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh, all of whom bolted the city early in their career.

During the early stages of free agency, the Raptors offered Carroll a four-year, $60 million deal and the emerging forward quickly accepted – in the process leaving a 60-win team, in Atlanta, coming off an Eastern Conference appearance.

Latest free agency updates

The Basketball Insiders 2015 NBA free agency diary is up and running. The diary provides all of the latest free agency news consolidated in one place.

Here are some of the latest developments:

Wesley Matthews headed to the Dallas Mavericks

Matthews, coming off a torn Achilles, has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal to join the Mavericks. It was a move the Mavericks sorely needed and the influx of talent has likely kept the team in the hunt for defensive minded center DeAndre Jordan.

Lakers reportedly call representatives of former All-Star Rajon Rondo

Looks like the Lakers are just conducting due diligence in working the market and that reaching out to Rondo was only exploratory in nature. However, it is still a situation to keep an eye on as Rondo is known for his fierce competitiveness and would immediately have the respect of future Hall of Fame guard Kobe Bryant.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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