NBA Power Players Return To League's Big Markets

It has been a busy week for the NBA. Thursday was the trading deadline for this season. A couple of the league's better players changed uniforms. And some teams positioned themselves for the coming playoffs. Host Michele Norris speaks with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we end this hour with basketball. First, the pros. It has been a busy week for the NBA. Yesterday was the trading deadline for this season. A couple of the league's better players changed uniforms, and some teams positioned themselves for the coming playoffs.

And it's Friday, so we're going to talk about all this with the sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Stefan, before we get to the trades, can we talk quickly about the game last night, the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls?

STEFAN FATSIS: Yeah, these two teams didn't make any trades at the deadline, but they are two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls won, and while single games don't mean much in grind of a long NBA season, this one did feel different.

Bulls, third-best record in East, Miami and Boston tied for the best record, and you've heard a lot about how great Miami has been, but consider this stat: They have just one win, seven losses against teams in the top five in the NBA right now: Chicago, Boston, Dallas and Los Angeles. They haven't even played the team with the best record, San Antonio. So let's not size LeBron James' ring finger just yet.

NORRIS: Stefan, a lot of folks are saying the Bulls are back. Do you have an opinion on this?

FATSIS: I think the Bulls certainly think that they're back, and that's one of the reasons they didn't make any moves at the deadline. They've got Derrick Rose, one of the best young players in the NBA, maybe the MVP this season of the league. They didn't want to break up that core.

Other teams, though, did make some moves. The Boston Celtics particularly traded away their center, Kendrick Perkins, to Oklahoma City, in exchange for a shooting forward, Jeff Green. The feeling there, they needed to have some better perimeter shooting in - when they take on Miami, particularly in the east. They weren't so worried about big size underneath.

NORRIS: It seems like the balance of power in the NBA is back in the league's really big markets.

FATSIS: Yeah, L.A., Miami, Boston, Dallas, Chicago, and we didn't even mention New York, who this week acquired the scoring machine Carmelo Anthony from Denver at the trade deadline.

Now, with Anthony and forward Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks aren't instant contenders, but they have that one-two superstar punch that these other top teams have, and they are relevant again after a pathetic decade.

The New Jersey Nets, who play across the river in Newark, they acquired one of best point guards in the league, Deron Williams, from Utah at the trade deadline. They're preparing to move to Brooklyn in 2012, and the NBA has got to like the prospect of two competitive teams in New York.

NORRIS: Is a top-heavy market good for the NBA?

FATSIS: Well, the good part is that having competitive teams in big cities drives up TV ratings, advertising, sponsorships. And you can't argue that this has shaped up as a fantastic season on the court for part of those reasons.

Miami, Darth Vader LeBron; New York and Chicago, relevant again; Boston and Los Angeles, still powerful. National TV ratings are up 15 percent on ESPN, 26 percent on TNT. Miami plays New York on Sunday night. This game's going to get a ton of hype. It's up against Oscars, but people will watch.

NORRIS: LeBron really seems to like that Darth Vader role, too. He's not trying to distance himself from that.

FATSIS: Right. No.

NORRIS: There are two dozen other teams in the NBA. And losing your main attraction, someone like LeBron James, has to be just devastating.

FATSIS: Yeah, the Cleveland Cavaliers after LeBron are terrible this season. Fans still coming out for now.

NORRIS: Terrible, just terrible?

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Sort of like historically terrible, epically terrible. But, you know, the fans still coming out, that might not continue. And this is one of biggest issues for the NBA, ensuring that small-market teams that have less income remain viable competitively and financially.

The NBA has some serious financial problems. The league already took over and is operating a smaller-market New Orleans Hornets. Commissioner David Stern hasn't backed off the position that teams are going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars this year, and the league needs new deal with players that'll reduce salaries while also increasing revenue-sharing among the teams. As in football, you've got the real risk of a work stoppage after this season.

NORRIS: Thank you, Stefan, have a great weekend.

FATSIS: You, too, Michele.

NORRIS: That's sportswriter Stefan Fatsis, and he's with us on Fridays.

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