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The New NBA Landscape: Great For The League, Bad For Minnesota

While the Timberwolves were (barely) involved in the biggest trade of the NBA season, it's becoming brutally obvious that top-tier players want to play with each other in big markets. Where does that leave the small-market teams like Minnesota in the NBA landscape?

If you would have told me before the season that the Minnesota Timberwolves were involved in the biggest trade of the year, which sent an NBA superstar to a new team, I would have been incredibly intrigued.

But it just happened, and I'm even less hopeful for my hometown team than their pitiful 13-44 record would suggest.

While the recent Carmelo Anthony blockbuster deal technically included the Wolves, nobody in the Twin Cities has any illusions that the deal greatly impacted their squad one way or another. Sure, it was nice to free up some cap space with the expiring contract of Eddy "Please Do Not Eat Anyone During Your Short Stay In Minnesota" Curry. And the Wolves picked up a long, athletic player they had loved for quite a while in Anthony Randolph. (By most accounts Minnesota was the only team that loved Randolph, but I digress.) But the Timberwolves still remain at least two or three major moves away from even entertaining the notion of being a contender.

With the way the NBA landscape has changed lately, that ain't gonna be easy.

I guess you could blame it on the 2008 Olympics. That's when the cream of the NBA crop spent a summer in Beijing conspiring to play together. I'm sure most of it started as theoretical, wouldn't-it-be-cool-if-we-played-together talk, but it evolved quickly. The hushed conversations in China eventually blossomed into the lamest exploitation of the Boys and Girls Club of all time--you might know it better as LeBron James' "Decision"--this past summer.

Now LeBron is playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in sunny Miami. Carmelo has joined forces with Amare Stoudemire in Gotham. Rumors are already flying about where Chris Paul will end up when his contract runs out. Basically, it comes down to which buddies he wants to play with the most.

And you know what? This is great for the NBA as a whole. The league hasn't been this popular since Michael Jordan was playing for the Bulls, and the formation of these new "super teams" is a big reason. Just look at the potential matchups for the playoffs this year. We have the Heat's Big Three, the Knicks' brand new dual threat, the Celtics' group of established veterans, and the young, dynamic Bulls. And that's just the Eastern Conference! Never mind the two-time defending champion Lakers, the eternally consistent Spurs, or the always-dangerous Mavericks in the West. You'd have to thumb a long way back into the NBA history books to find the kind of epic battles we might see in the second round this year.

I'm all for the NBA producing the best possible product, but where does this leave the small-market "have nots" like the Timberwolves? How can fans in Minnesota have any hope whatsoever of landing someone like Carmelo or LeBron or Paul in free agency when they all seem to be moving to big markets? How do teams like Cleveland, Milwaukee, Indiana, and Sacramento compete?

Here's your short answer: draft a superstar, shower him with money, and pray that he'll consider sticking around and inviting some friends to town after his rookie contract is up. Look what happened to the Clippers this year. They won the Blake Griffin lottery and suddenly they're viable again. Baron Davis gives a crap about basketball for the first time since 2007. LA's "other team" is actually stealing some headlines thanks to Blake Superior.

Then again, the Clips are conveniently located in Los Angeles. Juuuust slightly bigger and sunnier than Minneapolis.

Some fans think Ricky Rubio could be Minnesota's version of Blake Griffin. I am not one of those fans. Since the moment he was drafted, Rubio's camp has tried to wriggle its way out of the Land of 10,000 Lakes in search of a bigger market that's more promotion-friendly for the Spanish sensation. I personally doubt that Rubio will play even a single game in a Wolves uniform.

But hey, at least we have Kevin Love, right? No doubt--K-Love has been a sliver of sunshine piercing through the cloudy Minnesota winter. However, it's not as fun to watch him churn out double-doubles when you're paranoid the west coast native will bolt the first chance he gets.

Maybe the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that's due this offseason will include measures to prevent such a top-heavy distribution of talent. But like I said before, the league is enjoying such an upswing that it probably won't mess with where it's headed.

Ugh. Minnesota sports fans already have enough of an inferiority complex. We don't need to make it worse by turning our hoops franchise into a less endearing version of the Washington Generals.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.