The Business of Sports

Which NBA Teams Spent the Most Offseason?


1. Come On, Get It: NBA Season Starts for Real

Thanks to his new collaboration with TNT, the theme music of the just-underway 2010 NBA regular season will be that of retro stylist Lenny Kravitz, whose new single Come On Get It is sure to blast from the Rose Garden in Portland to NYC's Madison Square Garden, down to the sparkling new Amway Center in Orlando.

The soundtrack of the off-season just past, however, is more like Take the Money and Run.

How wild was this NBA offseason? Teams dished out more than $1.7 billion to free agents over the summer, more than the gross domestic products of 20 countries. By comparison, only $500 million was handed out to NBA players in the summer of 2009. The year-over-year discrepancy results from the number of high-profile players eligible for free agency this summer. This year, 11 players signed contracts worth more than $50 million. In 2009, just three players signed contracts that lucrative.

The Miami Heat, of course, spent almost three times more money on players than any other team—though it didn't guarantee them an Opening Night win, as the much-vaunted Fab Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh lost Tuesday night to the Boston Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden. The Heat essentially let go of their entire roster after last season to make room for James, Wade, and Bosh.

Rather than signing new players, the Dallas Mavericks spent their money bringing back two top players. Both the Knicks and Bulls were part of the LeBron sweepstakes but used their cap space on other players when James landed in Miami.

Most Money Spent This Offseason

Miami Heat — $385 million

Dallas Mavericks — $135 million

New York Knicks — $125 million

Chicago Bulls — $107 million

Houston Rockets — $104 million

Boston Celtics — $93 million

It's no surprise that more superstars were on the free agent market this year compared with last year. With the NBA's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) set to expire next June, some of the league's top players structured their previous contracts to opt out this offseason. The goal was to secure one last, big deal before a new CBA could alter contract rules.

Commissioner David Stern said last week that he wants to cut player costs by $800 million. New CBA terms could limit both the length and maximum value of player contracts.

Of course, if the NBA locks out players next summer, and with a record 84 international players from 38 countries/territories on NBA rosters at the beginning of the season, such locales as Belize and Samoa will make more money than even the cheapest basketball free agents.

2. NBA Report Card: 1988-89

What if the Miami Heat, playing in TNT's most-watched season-opening game in 27 years and drawing 500 members of the media to an October road game, didn't exist?

The thought isn't that far-fetched.

When David Stern took over as NBA Commissioner in 1984, the NBA decided it would expand from 23 to 26 franchises by the end of the decade. Seven cities bid for those coveted three spots: Charlotte, Kansas City, Miami, Minneapolis, Orlando, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.

Bringing a team to Miami was an uphill battle. The NBA's expansion committee publicly supported bids from Charlotte and Minneapolis but couldn't decide between Miami and Orlando for the third and final spot. So instead of adding three new franchises, the league actually grew by four. Charlotte, Miami, Minnesota, and Orlando. The NBA's Class of 1988-89.

While all NBA teams are initially created equal, many factors lead to success and/or failure over time. Nothing illustrates this point better than the Class of '88-'89. Since their inceptions, the four teams have experienced their fair share of on-court (and business) wins and losses. Let's grade how each team has done over the past 20+ years:

Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets: Teams receiving community support don't relocate, but fans in Charlotte had a tough time backing the Hornets after founding owner George Shinn was charged with sexual assault. After more than a decade playing at Charlotte Coliseum, the Hornets wanted to build a new arena. Local officials refused to fund an arena unless Shinn sold the team, leading to the Hornets' move to New Orleans in 2002. As for Shinn, plans to sell the Hornets to a minority investor recently fell through. The team's long-term outlook is uncertain. Star Chris Paul lobbied hard for a trade this off-season and will be a free agent in 2012. Grade: C-

Miami Heat: The Heat is the only member of the Class of '88-'89 to have won an NBA title. Several more could be on the horizon after the team signed James and Bosh this offseason. Free agents love Miami for the weather, South Beach, and night life. American Airlines Arena is widely considered one of the league's best venues, and Micky Arison, who also happens to be chairman and chief executive of cruise giant Carnival (CCL), is one of the NBA's most popular owners. It also doesn't hurt having NBA legend Pat Riley as team president. If there's any knock on the Heat, it's the six seasons with a winning percentage below.400. Grade: A-

Minnesota Timberwolves: Since 1990, only the Los Angeles Clippers have a worse winning percentage and fewer playoff appearances than the Timberwolves (.407, 8 appearances). In fact, Minnesota hasn't made the postseason without Kevin Garnett on its roster. The team has no long-term vision, as evidenced by recent draft flops. Off the court, Minnesota has by far the lowest average attendance of any in the Class of '88-'89, trailing the MLB Twins and NFL Vikings for fan support and discretionary income in a crowded Minneapolis market. It doesn't help that Target Center is one of the oldest home arenas in the NBA. Grade: D

Orlando Magic: Like Miami, Orlando has had its share of on- and off-court success. Of the Class of '88-'89, no team has a better winning percentage (.515) or more NBA Finals appearances (two) than the Magic. Playing in Amway Arena since their inception, the Magic open the $480 million Amway Center this season. The franchise has also done a stellar job bringing high-profile free agents to a relatively small market. Grant Hill, Rashard Lewis, and Tracy McGrady have all signed contracts with Orlando over the years. Building around superstar Dwight Howard, the Magic have a bright future. Grade: B+

3. Sports Teams with a Halloween Twist*

5) Vermont Lake Monsters—Frighteningly enough, this Burlington (Vt.) minor league franchise is an affiliate of the Oakland As, all of 3,044 miles away. Talk about home alone.

4) University of Richmond Spiders—This basketball team not only terrifies arachnophobes, in 1991 it gave coach Jim Boeheim the scare of his life when the Spiders knocked the No. 2 Syracuse Orangemen out of the NCAA men's basketball tournament in the first round.

3) Baltimore Ravens—Namesakes of the famous, spooky poem written more than 165 years ago by Edgar Allen Poe (who died in Baltimore in 1849).

2) Casper Ghosts—Playing in Casper, Wyo., the Ghosts are a minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies and are the only baseball team to wear glow-in-the-dark caps.

1) Oakland Raiders—Guess all sports things scary begin and end in Oakland. The classic dressup Fright Night fan base. For the Raiders, every Sunday is Halloween.

* Note to all Pirates and Devils—there's simply too many of you to count

Rick_horrow
Rick Horrow is a leading expert in the business of sports. As chief executive officer of Horrow Sports Ventures, he has been the architect of 103 deals worth more than $13 billion in sports and urban infrastructure projects. He is also the sports business analyst for CNN, Fox Sports, and the Fox Business Channel. Karla Swatek is vice-president of Horrow Sports Ventures and co-author of Beyond the Box Score: An Insider's Guide to the $750 Billion Business of Sports (2010). Horrow is also the host of Sportfolio, a new program on Bloomberg TV that airs Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET.

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