The Orlando Sentinel recently sat down with Stern at the NBA's midtown Manhattan headquarters for a one-on-one interview.
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Dwight Howard's situation
Orlando Sentinel: When I asked you on Christmas night in Oklahoma City how you wanted the Dwight Howard situation to play out, you said, basically, that players who had put in their time in the league have the right to play where they want. They've earned the right to become free agents. But let's say Howard does leave Orlando for a larger market. Are you concerned that there will be a perception in small- and medium-sized markets that the teams there will not be able to hold onto their stars?
David Stern: Only to the extent that they're fed by journalists like you. I don't remember Miami ever being referred to as a "large market." Do you?
Stern: Stop right there, then. But, now, because a couple of players decided to go where the sun shines, that's now a large market. Well, guess what: Orlando, to my mind, is a large market even though you refer to it as a "small market." It's up there in the top 10 in revenues. It has actually pretty much close to the same sunshine that Miami has, and it's a preferred place for so many people to live in the middle of their careers and after their careers are over. So I think there's a small-market sort of point of view sometimes that people have a defensiveness [about]. But, to me, Orlando's a great market, and it seems to be a great place to live.
OS: With Chris Paul going from New Orleans to Los Angeles, do you not see a trend? And Carmelo [Anthony] going from Denver to New York?
Stern: We'll see. But the one thing I can say to you is that the new collective bargaining agreement will speak to that with each passing year more forcefully, because what I also said to you when last we met was that as the new tax levels become effective, there will be a limitation on what any team can add. And those levels actually will hit small- and large-market teams alike, because the question is not the size of your market. It's going to be the size of your payroll.
OS: What do you think the effect would be on the Magic franchise if Dwight leaves?
Stern: We've had players depart franchises from time immemorial. I remember there was this other large person, now a television commentator, that once left. And I think that I saw Orlando blossom and thrive and build a new arena. So I think this is not a life-threatening event when players move. It depends upon who replaces them and how the community rallies around them.
OS: Some people would counter — perhaps even some from within the franchise — that it took the franchise a decade to recover and that even then it took the luck of a pingpong ball and some smart drafting to select Dwight.
Stern: Smart drafting is a wonderful thing. A smart free-agent signing is a wonderful thing. Smart trades are a wonderful thing, and that's a function of management. And when you have a 30-team league, you'll have to see how that works out. Everyone wrote off poor little old Memphis because Pau Gasol left, and the best they could talk about was the 48th pick in the draft that turned out to be this guy Marc Gasol, who is now a maximum-contract center. It depends. These things have a life of their own that have to be analyzed. Implicit in your question, I guess, is that we should tell players that whoever drafts them that's where they must play for their entire professional career. Is that your view?
OS: No, that's not my view.
Stern: But it would seem to be suggested by your question. I guess what I'm saying to you is that — having seen this league really grow and prosper over the last 40 years or so, the idea that a young man who at the age of 19 is literally allocated to a market and then plays there, whether it's six years or seven years or eight years, and then all of the hand-wringing that follows by saying, "Oh, my goodness gracious, you can't go someplace else, whether it's your family, your taste, your choice, your business, because you are going to stay at that team, in that market" — I don't believe it. Never have.
OS: I would counter that no one would deny someone his or her right to work where he or she wants.
Stern: [Interrupts] Unless they're an NBA player.
OS: No, including an NBA player. But I would also say that decisions have consequences.