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Bob Ryan

In terms of NBA disparities, it’s no big deal

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / February 24, 2011

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The small-market/have-not/non-glam owners in the NBA have been keeping a close watch on L’Affaire Melo, and they wonder, “Which one of us is next?’’

But are things really as dire as they seem in David Stern’s league?

What happened in Denver is something that happens every year in baseball and basketball. Star X will become a free agent at the conclusion of the season and has made it known to current management that he wants to move on.

It almost goes without saying that the team in question is not a true contender. Afraid of losing him with no compensation, the team is forced into a trade posture. If it is fortunate, there are multiple suitors who can be played off against each other to obtain the best possible trade package.

In this case, Carmelo Anthony was the player, the Nuggets were the team, and the Knicks and Nets were the ardent suitors. There’s nothing remotely new about this aspect of the story.

But this one was more complicated. Whichever team obtained Anthony would want him to sign the three-year, $65 million contract offer the Nuggets have had on the table for months.

Carmelo wanted to be a Knick, not a Net. The Nets situation might improve if they ever actually get to Brooklyn, but the Knicks, not the Nets, are the team Greater New York is dying to love. And Amar’e Stoudemire plays for the Knicks, not the Nets. So there was no chance Carmelo would ever commit himself to three years with the Nets. In the end, it had to be the Knicks.

After what happened last summer in Miami, it is not possible for NBA folk to view the Anthony deal in isolation. They choose to view it in the context of the team-building orchestrated by Messrs. James, Wade, and Bosh, who in 2006 made a pact to play together on some faraway date in the future and have been able to see their vision spring to life. New Orleans point guard Chris Paul joined Stoudemire and Anthony in a similar declaration last summer, and Paul will become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season (if there is a 2011-12 season, which is another dreary matter).

There is no guarantee that Superteam Triumvirate II will ever become assembled, but owners are nervous regardless. There is even talk of worried owners seeking the institution of a franchise tag, a la the NFL, in the next collective bargaining agreement. That would enable them to hold onto a valuable player for two years, max. Is that really a solution?

Don’t panic, I say. It is far more likely we have already seen the one and only power alliance we will ever know than it is we will see three, four, five or 10 more. That’s not the threat.

Will small-market/have-not/non-glam owners continue to worry about losing a primary personnel asset to a hungry predator? Of course. But that’s been the case since free agency has been the norm.

There is one huge fish out there, and what he does when the appropriate time comes will tell us a lot about how the NBA will shape up over the next half-dozen years.

Dwight Howard is just 25. He gets better all the time. Like Shaq before him, he does not have an Orlando persona. He has a New York/Los Angeles persona. Projecting him as a Magic lifer simply does not make sense.

The key Lakers are all 30-plus. If Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has not already begun plotting his way toward adding Howard to the list of legendary Laker centers that includes the names of George Mikan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal, he should be fired and/or arrested.

Fine. We have Dwight Howard. Someday he will be on the move, and it will matter. But how many other young stars are so good that we have to worry they’ll attempt to go the LeBron-Dwyane-Chris route? The answer, frankly, is not very many.

I looked at the NBA rosters and found a maximum of 12 highly talented young players not named Kevin Durant, none over 26, who currently play for a small-market/have-not/non-glam team.

No, I’m not talking about Derrick Rose. Chicago will always be a big-market destination franchise. I’m talking about players on franchises most fans don’t care about. I’m talking about young players whose absence would hurt their teams. I’m talking about talents whose individual presence could enhance another team, but who are still not the level of player whose union would terrify anyone.

Howard and Paul top the list. The others I see are Brandon Jennings of Milwaukee, Deron Williams of New Jersey, John Wall of Washington, Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City, LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland, Monta Ellis of Golden State, Kevin Love of Minnesota, Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins of Sacramento, and, of course, Blake Griffin of the Clippers.

A lot of these young’uns will one day wish to escape the farm in order to sample the delights of Gay Paree. That’s inevitable. A couple of them might even wish to join forces. Let them try. See if we care.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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