"But the small markets have to be pretty fortunate in other ways to make that happen, and both Oke City and San Antonio have had pretty good fortune in helping them get to this point."
True, the Spurs got lucky when they won the lottery in 1997 and landed Duncan, and Durant fell into the Thunder's lap during the franchise's final season in Seattle when Portland chose Greg Oden No. 1.
But both franchises have done a superb job of surrounding those superstars with top-flight talent. The Thunder nailed draft picks with Westbrook, Ibaka and James Harden, and GM Sam Presti's acquisition of Kendrick Perkins from Boston last year gave the young team the veteran toughness it needed.
The Spurs hit on low draft picks with Parker and Ginobili, acquired Kawhi Leonard in a draft-night deal and have gotten more out of Diaw and Stephen Jackson than most other teams could.
"I think we look at it as who we are," Spurs GM R.C. Buford said. "If somebody wants to be in front of the bright lights and the glitz, then that's probably not San Antonio. And so, those players probably aren't going to be looking to us, but I don't think that we'd be looking there, as well."
In the coming seasons, the new CBA will make it even tougher for the big-market teams to out-muscle the little guys. Greater revenue sharing and a more punitive luxury tax system are already influencing personnel decisions.
But the problems weren't all wiped away with a few signatures in December. The Lakers and Knicks have revenues that dwarf those of Minnesota and Milwaukee thanks to larger television contracts, bigger sponsorship deals and higher ticket sales. The big cities are also more attractive destinations for players.
"It's still tough," Pacers President Larry Bird said when he was named executive of the year. "We don't drive revenues like the big-market teams. We can't go after $17 million dollar players. We've got to go a different way, and we've got to do it a piece at a time."
Then again, most players, including the impending free agents, are watching from home right now. And no matter where they live — Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Houston — you can bet they all wish they were in San Antonio on Monday night.
"It's helping me grow and that's what my goal was coming into this league was to always be focused and locked in on what I want to do as a player," Durant said of his adopted hometown. "And being here provides me the best environment to do it — the players here, the coaches, the whole organization is first-class. It's perfect."
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke and freelance writer Murray Evans in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
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