With the NBA headed for a lockout partly because of a labor and revenue sharing structure that overly favors big market teams, are the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder turning conventional wisdom on its head?

The 2011 NBA Playoffs weren't supposed to turn out this way.

The Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to win the 2011 NBA Championship, giving Phil Jackson a fourth pair of three-peats before retiring and Kobe Bryant his Michael Jordan-tying sixth championship ring. And the Lakers were supposed to do it against the Chicago Bulls, the team Jackson began his NBA coaching career with and the team with which MJ claimed those six rings. And if not the Bulls, the Lakers were supposed to do it against their historic rival Boston Celtics. Or, worst case, the Miami Heat and their superstar threesome. After all, the NBA season usually ends with a storybook ending of sorts for the league’s marketing machine and their television partners to get behind…while infuriating the conspiracy theorists among us.

Well, conspiracy theorists and the NBA’s marketing machine be damned, because we’re looking at the Lakers and Celtics exiting early and a likely rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals when the Heat took out the Mavericks in six games.

Unless, of course, the Grizzlies further spoil and an already spoiled party (by the NBA and their network partners standard, not mine). I'm sure ESPN is thrilled that they have "exclusive coverage" of the Western Conference Finals this year.

Should either the Grizzlies, representing the NBA’s fourth smallest market, or the Thunder, representing the third smallest, get to the NBA Finals, many will argue that the NBA’s current revenue sharing system works as-is. After all, if these two small flyover cities can make it to the league’s big dance, anyone can. Just as the San Antonio Spurs did four times in the last 12 years.

What they won't tell you is that the Grizzlies – with the NBA's ninth largest payroll – continue to hemorrhage money and as recently as 2009 were up for sale (and may still be) after a 2006 sale didn't materialize. There simply aren't enough dollars coming into the FedEx Forum coffers, nor does the Grizzlies' 1/30th of NBA national television and licensing revenue – after the players union takes their cut – enable the team to be in the black financially. 

I’m not trying to rain on the Grizzlies’ parade because I absolutely love what I’m seeing from this eclectic group of players. I’d be rooting for Oklahoma City, too, if they hadn’t just beaten our Nuggets. But what we’re witnessing here is a grand exception to the NBA’s rules. An aberration. There’s a reason why just eight NBA franchises have claimed a championship ring in the past 31 years: the league’s revenue sharing system, in which teams keep 100% of their local television, sponsorship and ticket dollars, overly favors the league’s glamor franchises located in its biggest markets. And of those eight franchises, six are located in the NBA’s 10 biggest metropolitan markets.

If anything, I hope that the Grizzlies or Thunder's 2011 playoff run shows the basketball-loving world that just because your jersey isn't sporting purple and gold or green and white, you can be just as fun to watch play. If not more so.

So rather than believe that the NBA's current revenue sharing system is, in fact, fair to all, we as fans should be advocating for a new system that will produce more Grizzlies or Thunder-type teams going deep into the playoffs annually.

And not just once every 30 or so years.


On to the links…

David Stern, Billy Hunter continue to hold NBA labor meetings – Sam Amick – SI.com
The likelihood of an NBA lockout — and a long one, at that — is already high, but at least Stern and Hunter are talking face-to-face.

Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol says relationship rumors caused ‘suffering’ – ESPN Los Angeles
Pau Gasol denied recent internet reports and speculation in several major media outlets that there has been any conflict between Kobe Bryant’s wife and Gasol’s girlfriend.

Dwight Howard is sick of you questioning his love for Orlando – Ball Don’t Lie – NBA Blog – Yahoo! Sports
Dwight Howard calls out the Orlando sports media and compares his pending free agency to the way Shaquille O’Neal was treated by the local press in central Florida.

Washington Wizards – Photo Gallery – Yahoo! Sports
The Wizards have gone old school with their new uniforms. The Nuggets should do the same immediately.

Lakers C Bynum suspended 5 games for Barea foul – NBA – Yahoo! Sports
Lakers center Andrew Bynum has been suspended for five games next season for his flagrant foul on Dallas guard J.J. Barea in Los Angeles’ final playoff game. The NBA announced the suspension Tuesday, two days after Bynum was ejected for the foul late in the two-time defending champions’ 36-point loss to the Mavericks in Game 4.