If there's one thing the Los Angeles Lakers can learn from LaMarcus Aldridge's almost inevitable decision to join the San Antonio Spurs, it's that this is not about the presentations, it's about the roster and the culture.
The Lakers got a second chance to make their pitch to Aldridge after their first attempt was widely ridiculed for its lack of basketball focus. I'd argue the Lakers got their encore appearance because the first was widely ridiculed, and Aldridge's representatives felt bad that the word got out and wanted to give the Lakers a chance to save face.
Even if the Lakers scaled down the presentation, made it less about Hollywood and more about the hardwood in the second go-round, they couldn't change the basic facts that they can only sell the glorious past and the possibilities of the future. They can't sell the present. They don't have the core components of a team that won a championship a year ago like the Spurs do, they don't have a culture where the star player takes discounted contracts and even a role player primed to cash out like Danny Green sticks around at a discounted rate.
The reality of the present is that not only are the Lakers less appealing than the San Antonio Spurs to LaMarcus Aldridge, they're less appealing than the Milwaukee Bucks to Greg Monroe. Losing out on Monroe is the more alarming free agency miss for the Lakers this summer. They need to get the Monroes to get the Aldridges. Then they need to get the Aldridges to reel in the biggest fish swimming in the deeper waters of the future: Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Teams need good players to get great players, and the Lakers are stuck trying to get to Step 1. Maybe D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle will both develop into All-Stars, but that doesn't help the Lakers' case right now. Players don't want to play with rookies, future draft picks or think about cap space. Free agents don't want to hear the right words, they want to see the right players under contract and see the right numbers on the offer sheet.
Monroe's agent, David Falk, has a saying that players in position to command big paydays typically desire three things: they want a maximum salary, they want to win a championship and they want to be The Man.
"Generally speaking, you can only have two of them," Falk said.
The Lakers face a steep hill just to get to the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference and they're still Kobe's kingdom, so all they can offer is the money. And that's the one thing the collective bargaining agreement has arranged to make even across the board.
Notice Falk didn't mention location. If players love Los Angeles that much, they can always join the squadron of NBA players who just rent places there in the off-season -- and aren't subject to California's nation-leading 13.3 percent state tax rate on the wealthy.
So the salaries are the same, the golden championship banners don't do anything for the current players, the legendary names on the wall can't help cover LeBron or Stephen Curry, the marketing possibilities have proven to be just as good in Oklahoma City as in L.A.
"Twenty years ago if Michael played in Portland instead of Chicago, maybe the Jordan thing wouldn't be so big," Falk said. "Today, it doesn't matter where LeBron plays."
For Monroe, playing for four coaches in five years and never winning more than 32 games in a season had him hungry to win. The Bucks won only nine more games than his Pistons last season, but 41 was enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and the Bucks gave the Chicago Bulls a better fight than many expected in the first round. And they won 20 games more than the Lakers.
"I just think for Greg, he could have picked the Lakers and fit in and been happy," Falk said. "But Milwaukee was a better fit. It had nothing to do with the presentation."
Forty years after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar forced a trade from Milwaukee to Los Angeles primarily because he wanted to go from Milwaukee to Los Angeles -- Monroe picked the Bucks over the Lakers because he wanted to win. The NBA has come full circle, even if the circle was about the size of Saturn's orbit around the sun.