Last season, Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets went 46-36 and took the two-time defending champion L.A. Lakers to a thrilling six games. This season, with CP3 still in place as the NBA schedule was created over the past couple weeks, the Hornets will be on ABC, TNT and ESPN a combined two times.
The New York Knicks went 42-40 last year and were swept out of the first round of the playoffs. They will be on ABC, TNT and ESPN a combined 22 times this season.
And you wonder why NBA stars would rather play in New York than New Orleans?
This is only part of the issue, of course, and we can't ignore that the networks themselves have a huge say in what teams land on TV. The league is trying to make money after all, and delivering a solid share of New York's population to ABC is much more lucrative in the long-term than delivering a big share of New Orleans' population.
But the league's small-market teams struggle to convince stars that they have a big enough stage with their clubs, that their opportunity for fame and off-court fortune is equal. When you look at the TV schedule, it's easy to see why.
The Memphis Grizzlies went to the second round of the playoffs, and were one game away from the conference finals. They went 46-36. They will be on national TV five times this season.
The Golden State Warriors went 36-46 and have one playoff berth in the last 16 seasons. But they play in a massive market with a largely affluent population. So guess what? They have 10 national TV games.
Other mediocre teams in less lucrative markets aren't so lucky. John Wall won't be on national TV once this season. (The Washington Wizards do have one NBA TV game, but that network is still locked out of some major carriers.) Deron Williams won't be national TV once with the New Jersey Nets. Kyrie Irving? Nope. (He missed practically all of his only season at Duke, and he was still on national TV more as a collegian than he will be as an NBA rookie.) Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette and DeMarcus Cousins? Just once.
In addition to the Hornets, other good teams outside of the glamour markets get short shrift. The Rockets went 43-39 last season, and have zero national TV games. (That's 10 less than the Warriors and 22 fewer than a Knicks team that Houston was better than.) The Oklahoma City Thunder -- widely considered the best young team in a generation, a veritable juggernaut in the making with the two-time scoring champ in Kevin Durant and a stud supporting cast that includes All-Star Russell Westbrook -- are on national TV eight fewer times than a Lakers team that OKC is almost certainly better than. Only two of OKC's national games come on the biggest stage -- Sunday on ABC -- while the Knicks have four and the Lakers five.
The national TV money is split evenly among teams, so the Sacramento Kings and Lakers will pull the same $30 million or so. That's not the issue. The issue is that a player like Tyreke is going to think like a player like Carmelo Anthony in a few years, and he's going to make decisions based on where he can have the spotlight in addition to the money. And the NBA is not going to be able to credibly convince him that he can have the spotlight in Sacramento, because the NBA is not willing to fight for a share of spotlight to visit Sacramento. Chris Bosh, a perennial All-Star, used this exact reasoning when he explained why he left Toronto for Miami. (The Raptors, by the way, have no national games and just one NBA TV game. The networks including NBA TV picked up 209 games, and Toronto plays in one. Same for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the other team that lost a major free agent to the Heat. Miami is on the networks 29 times.)
The first step to stop being a completely plutocratic league is to stop acting like a completely plutocratic league. In the immediate aftermath of the lockout, it's not looking good for the NBA.