A market is what you make of it

What exactly is a "small-market" team?

There was a lot of lip service about competitive balance during the NBA lockout this offseason.

LeBron James fleeing Cleveland for the sun and sand of South Beach and Carmelo Anthony wrangling his way to New York upset more than a few "small-market" owners around the league last season, so much so that they almost shut down the sport for the year.

So, it was no surprise that antennas were raised when the NBA-owned Hornets agreed to send All-Star Chris Paul to the mighty Lakers in a three-way blockbuster that would have brought Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first round pick to the Big Easy.

In the end, however, the league declined to approve the trade after a number of owners complained with Dallas' Mark Cuban and Cleveland's Dan Gilbert among the most vocal, according to YAHOO! Sports.

Cuban is at the helm of the large-market Mavs, the defending NBA champs, so his objections seem like nothing more than jealously.

Gilbert, on the other hand, is still hurting from the King's self-imposed exile, and no doubt spoke for a number of the have-nots when he fired off an e-mail to commissioner David Stern that YAHOO! obtained.

Gilbert called the proposed deal a "travesty" and urged Stern to let the "29 owners of the Hornets" vote on it before closing out the quick e-mail by asking Stern "When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?"

But, here's the thing -- in you look at this trade from a pure basketball perspective, it's hard to criticize the Hornets. In fact you could make a strong argument that the deal makes New Orleans better and L.A. worse, at least for the short team.

Sure, Paul is the best individual player in the deal but the Hornets were getting three borderline All-Stars in Odom, Scola and Martin as well as a point guard with upside in Dragic. The Lakers, meanwhile, were losing two- thirds of their vaunted length in the trade.

Despite that, league spokesman Mike Bass absurdly claimed that Stern killed things for basketball reasons.

"It's not true that the owners killed the deal, the deal was never discussed at the Board of Governors meeting and the league office declined to make the trade for basketball reasons," Bass said.

Of course if the Lakers turned around and were able to build on this by acquiring Orlando's Dwight Howard -- the fear of LA building yet another "super team" may have been warranted but that still doesn't explain why this deal was a "travesty."

In fact, letting Paul walk for nothing after playing out the 2011-12 campaign would be the very definition of a travesty.

Beneath the surface, this whole ordeal got me thinking about "large-market" vs. "small-market" teams.

Here in Philadelphia, my home base which happens to be the fourth largest television market in the country, the Phillies once actually called themselves a "small-market" team.

Then a funny thing happened -- the team hit on a number of homegrown prospects, started to win a lot of games and began to sell out Citizens Bank Park on a nightly basis.

These days those "small-market" Phillies will often go the extra mile and compete with all the big boys in baseball, including the 800-pound gorillas that are the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, who have always considered themselves "large-market" even though Beantown is only No. 7, three spots south of Philly.

The NFL's Eagles and the NHL's Flyers have always operated with the swagger of "large-market" clubs but the Sixers often act like they're in a city one step above Knoxville.

The Bay Area, meanwhile, is the fifth largest television market in the country but the Warriors, along with the NFL's Raiders and MLB's Athletics, all act small time.

Did you know Phoenix, Seattle and Minneapolis are all larger markets than mighty Miami and Gilbert's Cavs play in a city just two steps behind?

Here's the simple fact in all of professional sports.

Bad teams, no matter the size of their market, don't lose because of money restraints -- they have money problems because they lose.

In the NBA, San Antonio has won four titles because they convinced the laid- back Tim Duncan that South Texas was a pretty good place to play. The best two young teams in basketball right now are Oklahoma City and Memphis, two "small- market" teams that were both able to lock up stars for the long-term recently.

More often than not, "small-market" is nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy.