Seth Dunlap,

David Griffin is right: small market no excuse for Pelicans lack of success

Proving you can be an NBA winner in a small market

Seth Dunlap
April 18, 2019 - 1:44 pm

There's long been an aura of inescapable irrelevance around the Pelicans franchise.  Fleeting on court success has always quickly faded into memory as the franchise slipped back into Lottery Pick Mode.  Fans have been conditioned to blame that futility on one thing: market size.

Sure, there's been bad personnel decisions, wasted draft picks, terrible trades, and a lack of serious investment from ownership groups but there has always been the built-in excuse that New Orleans is just too small of a market to contend in an NBA dominated by large market franchises.  New Orleanians have bought into that fable, so has much of the national media.  Thankfully, the Pelicans finally have a leader who is ready to dispense with that nonsense.

"That's bullshit," new Pelicans' President of Basketball Operations David Griffin bluntly stated yesterday at his introductory press conference.  "Tell that to all the small markets who've already done it."

He's right.  The fallacy that NBA success is determined by market size has never been true.  Sure, it's easier in a soft-capped league to find the resources to spend big in a larger market, but that hasn't precluded franchises in smaller markets from competing for, and winning, titles, especially in the modern NBA era of the past 25 years.

Here is a list of cities outside the top-20 most populated metropolitan areas in the country who have had their teams make conference finals, and beyond, in that span.

  • Orlando (market #23): 4 conference finals, 2 NBA Finals
  • San Antonio (market #24):  10 conference finals, 5 NBA Finals , 4 titles
  • Oklahoma City (market #31): 4 conference finals, 1 NBA Finals
  • Cleveland (market #33):  6 conference finals, 5 NBA Finals, 1 title
  • Indianapolis (market #34): 8 conference finals, 1 NBA Finals
  • Milwaukee (market #39):  1 conference final (current #1 seed in the East)
  • Salt Lake City (market #48): 5 conference Finals, 2 NBA Final

That's a whopping 38 conference finals appearances, 16 NBA Finals appearances, and five championships combined for non-major market franchises.  It's not just "San Antonio and LeBron" like so many small-market naysayers would have you believe. 


New Orleans checks in at #47 in market size, just in front of Salt Lake City.  The Jazz have been to a handful of Western Conference Finals and a pair of NBA Finals.  The Pelicans, in their relatively brief history, have yet to reach those heights.  But it's time to lay to rest the easy (and wrong) excuses that market size is the reason for the Pelicans on-court futility.

"It's not easy to just flip the switch and win a championship tomorrow," Griffin said yesterday.  "But if you start building sort of to the ethos of the city, you can build something that attracts the right people, and we want to build something that attracts the right people.  And we want to build something that lasts and means something, and this city gives us a chance to do it."

Griffin's vision is clear.  There are very few roadblocks now in the way of the Pelicans becoming a consistent winner.  They have an owner, Gayle Benson, who is feverishly committed to giving this franchise the resources to be successful, a departure from her late husband.  They've also hired Griffin, one of the brightest and most well-respected basketball minds in the country.  He could have decided to go essentially anywhere he wanted to, but he chose the Pelicans as much as the Pelicans chose him.

It won't be easy to build a serious contender in New Orleans.  It never is, regardless of the city.  Just ask the Knicks or Bulls, who have been essentially irrelevant since the turn of the decade.  Even the Lakers have suddenly morphed into a Western Conference afterthought.  But if it happens here, it will be special.

"It's not just that you can win a championship in a small market, you should want to win championships in a market like this because it means more."

Once again, Griffin is right.

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