Evanson Column: How's the NBA thing working out? Not well for places like Portland
If it ain't broken, don't fix it. I've heard that a time or two. But "broken" means different things to different people, and as long as the money continues to roll in, the Portland Trail Blazers and the bulk of the National Basketball Association franchises can only watch from afar as the rich continue to get richer in an NBA kicking itself to the curb.
Or so it would seem.
Portland has no chance in today's NBA, and it's not alone. Despite a first-team All-Star player, a second borderline All-Star and an owner willing to spend, the Blazers — like much of the league — are fodder for the select few franchises alluring to today's stars.
Golden State, Houston, and now the Los Angeles Lakers, as a result of LeBron James' most recent decision, are three teams rat-holing elite talent. The Warriors have five All-Star players with the addition of DeMarcus Cousins. The Rockets have the league MVP and one of the game's top-five all-time point guards. And now the Lakers have the world's best player, soon to be coupled with likely one or two more superstar talents willing to sacrifice in the interest of playing with the "King."
But while one-tenth of the league is capable of winning, that leaves 90 percent of it and its fanbase wasting their time and money chasing a carrot that is, sadly, getting further from their reach by the day.
Yes, Golden State built the core of its team through the draft, but the Warriors have regularly added talent the likes of Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and now Cousins through free agency. And sure, Philadelphia and Boston have built interesting teams, but they did so on the backs of years of excruciatingly bad seasons of play, in the former's case, and major trades involving washed-up superstars, in the latter's.
But if you're not in an alluring NBA locale or currently in possession of multiple top-10 players, I suggest finding an attractive National Hockey League team, buying its sweater, and purchasing an NHL cable or satellite package, because like it or not, you're rooting for a loser.
Sadly, however, there's only one way to buck this trend and it's dependent on a hit to the bottom line — and that's just not happening. Ratings have never been higher, and league attendance remains at a rate not dissimilar to the bulk of the last 10 years.
But while the NBA is maintaining a steady stream of revenue right now, it's hard to imagine interest will not wane in an era of impossibility. And that's where we are.
It's impossible for Portland, Milwaukie and Detroit to win.
Utah? Forget it.
How about Charlotte, Indiana or Memphis? Think again.
Now, what's even worse is that while I saw this coming and I recognize it for what it is, the players are seeing it too. And they're acting accordingly.
Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio and has made it clear that Los Angeles is his chosen destination. Kyrie Irving, despite already being on a budding title contender, is clamoring about his desire to team up with Jimmy Butler, likely in a mammoth media or warm-weather market.
And for the coup de gras, now they're coming for one of your own.
Damian Lillard is a target of the Los Angeles Lakers — yes, that hated conference rival that bounced our Blazers in five out of six postseasons from 1997 to 2002 at the height of their Kobe-and-Shaq power — and by many accounts, he's interested.
Despite a noted desire to remain a Blazer for life, it's become clear to Lillard that he's not winning in Portland. No matter how hard Lillard works, regardless of his growing resume and in spite of his laser focus on bringing a title to Portland, the Blazers can't attract a marquee free agent, and their front office can't manufacture the talent necessary to upgrade the team. So while the greats are getting greater, the Blazers and others like them are spinning their wheels, leaving stars like Lillard with few options: Get busy leaving, or get busy losing.
And that stinks.
People will tell you it's interesting to have stacked teams. They'll say people like dominance, and that rooting against superpowers is equal to or greater than rooting for anyone else. But while that may be true for an agnostic fan or frontrunner without a rooting interest, what does it do to a city's worth of fans who've rightfully lost hope in even the slightest possibility of winning, not due to what they've failed to do, but simply due to who they are or where they aren't geographically?
Is that good for business? It certainly isn't for Portland, with or without Damian Lillard.