Despite the NBA returning to a full 82-game slate this season, the San Antonio Spurs were given exactly one national television game, which will be occurring against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
Then, with little attention, the league decided to take even that one crumb away from the national NBA audience, instead opting to air the 23-25 New York Knicks visiting the Miami Heat.
ESPN undoubtedly could've focused on the star power of Ja Morant and Dejounte Murray to boost ratings as much as possible. While I wouldn't have expected it to draw as many viewers as, say, any of the dozens of Lakers games on national TV, the game would've at least showcased an exciting matchup between two point guards making a bigger name for themselves this season.
Instead, the Knicks were given another ESPN game despite having 22 others already scheduled for national audiences (I'm not counting NBATV, since those are just airs of the home team's broadcast.)
For the Spurs, national TV opportunities began steadily declining since the departure of Kawhi Leonard and have shrunken to less than a couple per season in the last few years. As annoying as it is, being a small market is already a disadvantage. Not playing good basketball on top of being in a small market is even worse.
When the Grizzlies visit the Alamo City, the Spurs will still be well below .500, as many expected. Still, with a healthy roster, this team is capable of beating anyone at any time and has proven so many times this season. Unfortunately, they won't get a chance to showcase their rebuilding but talented squad even once this season to a national audience, and that's exactly the way the NBA likes it.
The NBA is hurting one of its most successful franchises ever
Even during their decades-long run with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, the narrative that the Spurs were "boring" became the go-to line for all opposing fanbases. It's still a buzz word that any casual NBA fan says any time they're talking about the Silver and Black, which doesn't really mean much in the grand scheme of things.
While the NBA had to give the Spurs plenty of national coverage due to their dominance back in the glory days, the opposite has been happening through their struggles. It's fair to say San Antonio isn't exactly putting out an appealing product on many nights. After all, they're having their worst season record-wise since before they drafted Duncan.
But let's take a look at some teams that are playing about the same or worse and their national TV coverage.
Indiana Pacers (17-30) - 1 game on TNT
Detroit Pistons (11-35) - 1 game on ESPN
New Orleans Pelicans (17-28) - 6 games on ESPN, 4 on TNT
Houston Rockets (14-33) - 1 game on ESPN
Clearly, poor level of play isn't the nail in the coffin of teams the league is unsure about showcasing throughout the season. Still, they're doing smaller market teams a disservice by not allowing them to be featured at least one time among hundreds of national games.
The League needs to meet the Spurs halfway
As I wrote a few weeks ago, there are multiple culprits when it comes to how the Spurs' young talents are being ignored. Focusing on a comment by a columnist from The Athletic saying how the team needed to find a way to get Dejounte Murray's name out there more often, all I could do was laugh.
It's the whole "tree falling in the forest" argument. If the Spurs defeat the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks and no one is around to see it, did it really happen?
Other than the Spurs' record, the lack of attention they get will likely cost Dejounte Murray an All-Star selection despite his stellar play. The NBA making moves like this shows they're more focused on recycling the same product night in and night out at the expense of some lesser-known teams -- which is disappointing but not surprising.
Maybe if they land a top pick and draft a big name, the Spurs will get some more exposure next season. Until then, we'll just have to deal with the hypocrisy of it all for at least the rest of the year.