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Brad Rock: Wrong NBA deal could send all the small market teams packing

Published: Friday, Nov. 11 2011 12:20 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz coach Ty Corbin talks with media at the Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011.

Jeffery D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY – If you're a Utah Jazz fan with no rooting interest in who wins between NBA owners and players, maybe this will tip the balance: Salt Lake could become a minor league town again.

Hello, Albuquerque, Honolulu and Austin. Can we join your club?

As the NBA lockout talks ground on into the night Thursday, pressure continued mounting for players and owners to reach an agreement. But for teams like the Jazz, reaching an accord isn't the only thing that counts; it's the type of agreement.

Cease fires are great, as long as everyone hasn't already been killed.

Several of the proposed scenarios may seem like fairly middle ground, but in this economy, that's not good enough for smaller market teams. A negative split in revenue, the lack of a hard salary cap or no revenue sharing could send the Jazz downstream. Things can't be much different in Charlotte, New Orleans, Memphis Milwaukee or San Antonio.

Ever wonder what the NBA would be like without the Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic or Oklahoma City Thunder? Without the Jazz?

We might find out.

On the bright side, it would free up 82 dates for Exchange Club Bingo Night.

As the National Basketball Players Association accuses the owners of lying, you wonder whether it's a gamble worth taking. Union reps believe the owners are actually profiting. The owners say that's untrue – and seem willing to torpedo the season to prove it. So it has become a stare-down, at times even a look-away, when the sides don't even make eye contact. Some reports said there has been progress in the labor talks; others were more skeptical.

"This is a watershed moment for the NBA," said former Knicks president and NBA executive Dave Checketts.

The Real Salt Lake owner continued, "That's not being dramatic. As someone who has spent 20 years in the league, the economic model is so broken and teams are losing so much money."

Late Jazz owner Larry H. Miller and current CEO Greg Miller always considered the Jazz a community gift. There were chances to move the franchise to cities like San Diego, Anaheim and Minneapolis. But the Millers said they would keep the team in Utah as long as it was financially viable. It isn't, unless the new collective bargaining agreement is vastly different. The Jazz and 21 other teams are losing millions.

Contraction isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Maybe the league will get back to the days of the Chicago Stags, when there were only eight teams — exactly the number of teams that made money last year — and nearly all of them in the eastern U.S.

"Even rich people hate losing money," Checketts said.

While the publicity the Jazz generate certainly helps the LHM empire's other businesses, there could be a point where it's not enough. You can imagine how many movie tickets they need to sell to pay Al Jefferson's salary (1.7 million a year, actually at $8.50 a ticket).

It isn't surprising the situation became dire so quickly. This was a contract year for the league. But the issue escalated in 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosch formed a super team in Miami. That's when it became clear that players would thenceforth broker their own gigantic contract deals, in the cities they preferred. The era when players stayed virtually their entire careers in smaller markets would retire along with Tim Duncan.

So if you're on the fence on this one, it's time to get off. The Jazz's future depends on it. It would be nice to think the Millers will always keep the Jazz around. Checketts said he's convinced that will happen. He even went so far as to say "I don't believe the Jazz are an endangered species."

Actually, all small market teams are.

There are daunting challenges for the Jazz, including an arena that will soon need updating. As for the big, rich teams like the Lakers?

Even they might be unhappy if their closest opponent is in Chicago.

Email: rock@desnews.com

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