Top free-agent destinations (cont.)
15. Portland: Can't quibble with the talent assembled, the stability of management and coaching or the ego-goosing that comes when you're one of the big shots for the only game in town. A lot of NBA players, though, are urban guys and, until they truly experience it, the Pacific Northwest is way out there somewhere. The crowds at the Rose Garden sagged, too, when the team's fortunes did, in contrast to a place like Chicago.
16. Philadelphia: Biggest strength in Philly? It is a basketball town, with Gatorade pumping through pebble-grained veins. Great tradition here for the sport and the franchise. No fans are more rabid, both good and bad. Somehow, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson found enough nighttime entertainment, too. But the Sixers currently have a highly paid star, Elton Brand, who isn't helping enough.
17. Washington: Some Wizards see President Obama as he is -- a Bulls fan -- and say, "Why?" Others see what he could be -- showing up at games for them, not an occasional opponent -- and say, "Why not?" Basketball is "in" in D.C., so this market might be climbing. Interest in playing here might be, too, with offensive-minded Flip Saunders as coach and pieces in place for a playoff push.
18. New Orleans: Pre-Katrina and during the initial honeymoon of the Hornets' time in New Orleans, it would have ranked among the top 12. Now this franchise has financial and competitive issues that can counter the wonders of playing with Chris Paul.
19. Charlotte: This ought to be a great spot to recruit players -- the area is hoops mad, the weather is terrific, there's a small-town feel to the place. But Michael Jordan's absentee or air-drop management doesn't make him the asset he could be and, let's face it, there is a sense that the Bobcats are trying to do things on the cheap.
20. Golden State: What a marvelous place to live! What a predictable place to lose! The Warriors have had losing records in 14 of the past 15 seasons and way too much drama, relative to results, for a club that spends money and has had talent.
Not a Fodor's stop
21. Los Angeles (Clippers): They share Staples Center with the Lakers -- and that's about all they share. It's hard to imagine these teams having all the same off-court advantages in terms of culture, climate and so forth. It's like Dennis and Randy Quaid vying for a leading-man role. Same gene pool but ... not. Still, enough players have joined the Clippers for non-basketball reasons to keep it off the canvas.
22. Toronto: A great, great city and a Raptors organization that treats players well. But changing coaches, missing the playoffs (or failing in the first round) and nervously waiting for Chris Bosh to stay or go works against it. The monetary challenges -- exchange rate, tax issues -- can be surmounted by hiring a good accountant, but there is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind disadvantage to playing for Canada's lone NBA team. Besides, some players and their cronies aren't wild about navigating customs.
23. Indiana: Swell place to settle down and raise a family. Unfortunately, that's not No. 1 on a lot of active NBA players' lists, especially when their paychecks allow them to have multiple residences and help with the kids. Not sure the Pacers get much oomph from their resident legend with the current generation of players, other than, "Hey, that's Larry Bird, isn't it?" Winning matters a lot in markets like this and the next one.
24. Utah: The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday that power forward Paul Millsap, a restricted free agent, might be targeted by Oklahoma City. Which reminded me that there probably is an equation to be discovered for how many spots down this list a team can hope to lure a player. For instance, can Memphis lure away a Laker? Might be easier for the Thunder to entice a Jazz.
25. New Jersey: You can be 15 minutes away from all that Manhattan has to offer, yet make your residence a safe distance from the sirens and the dirty-bomb fears. You can draw a solid NBA paycheck without feeling any of the pressure or urgency to win that permeates Madison Square Garden. What's not to like about that? Well, it is pretty dreary, that Izod Center, and the potential Brooklyn move means some serious lame-duckedness.
The bottom five
26. Sacramento: The crowds here, and the one-horse-town centricity seemed bulletproof for years. Now not so much. The Kings are on the short list of NBA franchises experts think might re-locate. The arena is outdated. That first glimpse from the airport -- from terminal to open fields to Arco Arena to open fields -- isn't as stark as it used to be, but Chris Webber's concerns about proper soul food and other cultural attractions weren't completely unwarranted.
27. Milwaukee: Vastly underrated, and it seems to stay that way. Milwaukee gets points from some players for its proximity to Chicago. Others see it as a slushier Minneapolis. It would have helped if the Bucks got their No. 1 picks when they were Shaq and LeBron rather than Glenn Robinson and Andrew Bogut.
28. Oklahoma City: The talent on the roster, and the brainpower in the front office have lots of admirers, and the Ford Center fans can be among the league's most active and loud. But there's no cachet to being the first franchise in, at the big league level, and the Thunder will need to win soon to convince young players to stay or come aboard.
29. Memphis: Attendance is disappointing, and the Grizzlies have a ways to go before people forget the Pau Gasol trade. Now the team must wait for Hasheem Thabeet to develop, while worrying that Rubio could end up as a young star, sooner, somewhere else.
30. Minnesota: Rubio isn't the first NBA player to notice it's cold there. Stephon Marbury initially said the harsh winters left him no choice but to stay in the gym, working on his game. Then he bolted town barely two seasons later, his teeth chattering and thermal underwear beneath his jeans -- in March. Isaiah Rider at least turned the cold to his advantage, adding a dead battery and broken water pipes (from ice expanding) to his list of creative excuses for late arrivals and no-shows. Odds are, the NBA logo today would be a silhouette in galoshes, had the Lakers not moved to L.A. the summer they drafted Jerry West.
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