It’s what keeps the whole world going round. Most relevantly, it is what keeps professional sports going. There is probably nothing more important in the business of professional athletics than the revenue created by it. These are nearly facts.
So, when it comes to the NBA, money is precious. Precious for teams, precious for players, precious for (most of all) the league.
But is it too precious?
With the way the NBA is headed, it may be just the opposite. It may be not precious enough in the eyes of of NBA GMs, who have been handing out completely ludicrous, top level contracts to midlevel talent over the last few offseasons.
The thing that fuels all these bad roster moves is the maximum contract. The maximum contract, which limits how much money a player can make in his salary per year, is the the end of the money balance spectrum. At the bottom, you have minimum contracts, given to low level benchwarmers or veterans on a ringchasing campaign. At the top, you have the max deals that vary in value (depending on the accolades of the player) that are handed to the big guns like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, etc.
But, hold on, you said that the big guys like LBJ and Kobe are making the max?
Then there cannot be that many qualified players that receive this deal, right?
Well, that is where you are wrong curious reader. And, in your curiosity, you have managed to unearth the biggest problem in today’s NBA. Guys that don’t deserve the max are fighting for and winning the max deal, thanks to godly leverage and cheeky agent antics.
Deron Williams – 14.3 PPG. MAX CONTRACT. Roy Hibbert – 10.8 PPG. 6.6 RPG. MAX CONTRACT. Eric Gordon – 15.3 PPG. MAX CONTRACT.
See the trend? These second, third, and even fourth options on teams are getting paid like firsts. It’s all because they feel that they have enough talent or potential to be the number one guy, and teams are too conservative to risk losing them. So, they do what any sane person would do, and pay them over $13 million a year to play a game.
Well, there may just be a solution to all this GM shenanigans.
Strip the league of max contracts.
Yep. You want to give LeBron James $40 million a year to bring all your season ticket holders back and likely be in the NBA finals? Go ahead.
You want to give Rudy Gay $25 million a year to play the small forward spot for your middle of the pack team that won’t escape the first round of the playoffs ever? Go for it.
And if you want to give $30 million a year to Gordon Hayward because the other guy is offering $26 mil and you want to blow the swingman away with an offer, yep, you can do that too.
Wow, sounds ridiculous Daniel, why would anyone want this in our league?
It is simple really. It forces players to learn their market value. Rudy Gay is making $19 million this upcoming season. Gay is a great player, but nobody is worth that much money to play basketball a year ( not even LeBron James [keyword “for basketball”, the marketing on James may be worth triple that] is worth it).
Suddenly, there is no “max” contract that these players think they should be earning because it is the most they can possibly earn. Players are quick to jump and try to grab everything they can, because they can. They want it all. Say goodbye to that. Reality snaps in, and they get two options.
Option 1: They take a lot ( I mean a lot) of money to stay on their current team who would do anything to have them back. That means being the highest paid player on a ridiculously cap strapped and likely untalented team. Sounds attractive right ?(There are two kinds of people in this world, the answer to this question determines which kind you are).
Option 2: You pack your sorry ass up and go to a team that is interested in doing what you have dreamed of since you were a small child. That is winning an NBA title, of course. You sit down with the logical GM who has built a solid talented roster where he both respects the talent by paying them money and also is realistic enough to know when to walk away when guys like Jodie Meeks is asking for $8 million a year (Hear me Stan?). You guys hash out some numbers, you take around $7 million a year (almost enough to shop for groceries from Whole Foods for 12 months a year) and join a squad that has a bunch of all star and near all star talent who took reasonable deals for the sole reason to win. The team is flushed with young players on small deals trying to prove themselves for bigger deals and veterans who understand how much they are worth NOW, and not how much they are worth 5 YEARS ago. The team is a title favorite going into the playoffs due to masterful GMing and loyal players.
Does one sound better than the other? (again, the answer to this question determines your personality.)
So, what is different about this than the current system?
Well, mostly mindset. But also logic. There will be some guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant who truly earn $30-$40 million a year because of the attention and media they draw to their squads, the marketing that comes with them, and the success they can bring their team. So, now you have a select few players making huge money. What’s new?
What is new is that teams who decide to toss over $30 mill at these guys have to find a way to build a championship contender around them and still maneuver around the salary cap, which is projected to be $63.2 million next season. What can a truly talented GM do with nearly 50% of his salary available already committed to one guy?
Signing Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is certainly not an option. But signing guys like Zach Randolph or DeMar DeRozan to $5-$8 mil a year deals suddenly becomes possible. Why?
Because players want to win. They come to the NBA to win. The money is a nice bonus, but these guys are competitors, not bankers. They live for the win. So, these talented basketball players realize that they have a better chance at 2-3 Finals victories when they take less money to play for a better team. How it should be. Humble business.
The point of this new referendum would not be to deconstruct so called “superteams” (although they would be affected, more on that later). These teams are fun. Fun for fans, fun for coaches, teammates, owners, highlight reel compilers, journalists, and so on. But what it does do is spread out the talent across the league, making the entire league ultra competitive.There will be stars on every team who were chasing the money, and then there will be teams with several talented guys on modest contracts. Each qualified player will have to choose between option 1 and option 2, and there will be plenty of each choosers. Nearly every team will have a big contract guy (who may or may not deserve it), but some will have those option 2 guys that settled for less money to join forces with other talent.
Bringing back up the superteam issue, this new law does not stand to obliterate these teams, only scale them down. Now, a team of Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James would be impossible. James wouldn’t ask below $32-$35 a year. Love would shoot for $25 mil. Irving would be lucky for $20 on a completely cap open team. I guess you could bind together two of these guys, but even then, would a team of LBJ, K-Love, and garbage really win anything? I mean, that is debatable and depends on the other competition, but two guys usually can’t run the whole show with ZERO help from others. So, in this scenario, I would say no, they wouldn’t win anything.
But, hold on, because depending on how many option 2ers there are, it actually could work. If Kemba Walker wants to take $4 million a year to join forces with those two, it is possible. Walker is worth a whole lot more than that, but so is an NBA title.
So suddenly, talent becomes more scarce for GMs. As players look to determine their true market value and GMs find fits for their teams, the morals of loyalty and camaraderie come into play. Free agents will likely rather want to play for their former team on a normal, swallowable contract rather than taking more money on a less competitive team. LeBron may take $35 mil a year, but he can still be surrounded with solid talent like Eric Gordon, Darren Collison, and / or Andrea Bargnani. These guys could all be had (by a reasonable, non-pushover GM) for around $5-$8 mil a year, leaving room for solid players in bench slots.
You see, by increasing the maximum a player can make, it will lower the expectations of players looking to cash in on the flaws of the system and actually create a balanced, talented, competitive league. There is no way in hell that DeMar DeRozan or Jeff Teague would walk into free agency demanding $20 million just because they can, because they know they won’t get their phone calls returned. They are not number one options. They are not huge money guys.
But the new system has catches, though. If the Toronto Raptors absolutely need Kyle Lowry and, for the sake of losing leadership and experience, cannot let him walk to another squad in free agency, then throwing $17 million at him the first year may not be ridiculous. It is what the team needs, not what the player needs. Just because there is no max deal does not mean no negotiating could happen.
Still, this whole theory would work only if an adjustment was made by all parties of the league – GMs, players, etc. If the players adjusted to the fact that just because they have a special talent or are over seven feet tall (cough Roy Hibbert cough) that they do not deserve the maximum amount, it would work. If the general managers adjusted to not overpaying talent and truly planning around contracts, it would work. If fans adjusted to having a different star on each team, well, of course it would work, who doesn’t love competition!?
It would be a huge change for the players and GMs though, and that is noted when talking about the realism of this theory. But, it would be an exciting change. The fact that some players could walk away grossly overpaid in the $20-$30 million range would excite all the elites looking to cash in, and it would also excite the lower end players who would realize they have a shot at playing time and bigger deals down the road by signing onto talented rosters.
For GMs, having a completely flexible slate of $63.2 million bucks would have to be exciting. They would have an opportunity to truly get crafty and fit contracts like puzzle pieces in their empty bucket of a roster. They also would have the comfort of knowing they can throw as much at a player necessary to sign him. Suddenly bidding wars and standoffs would become part of the process, as routine as coffee in the morning. Deciding who to give the big bucks to and who to bet low on would also change the game in an exciting way for these officials. No longer will they be restricted by the confines of contractual limitations.
For fans, just wow. Imagine the competition. No longer will LBJ play alongside two to three other All NBA players, but now he will run with three or four great players and possible all stars as well as young guys and veterans as his role players.
*Now, Kevin Durant ($35 million) won’t be passing to Russell Westbrook, who will be captaining his own team (for a hefty $28 million a year), but he will be running down the floor with a reasonably priced Serge Ibaka ( $6 mil?), DeMar DeRozan ($9-$10 mil) and Ricky Rubio ($7 mil?) with Andray Blatche ($2.5 mil?) at center and guys like Richard Jefferson (minimum), Jason Maxiell (minimum), James Johnson ( $3 mil), and rookie deals Perry Jones, Mitch McGary, Steven Adams, Josh Huestis, and Jeremy Lamb. Super team? I think not. But title contender? Definitely.*(This is just a hypothetical draw up of what a well constructed team could look like with this new rule).
The logic behind this is complexly simple. Increase the possible amount of money that can be had, bring down the (flawed) market value of players who benefit from the system. This new system could truly fix this money ridden league, where every offseason you hear about the poison pill contracts that are regretfully given out by the GMs who lost on the big shots. No more will the max deal restrict the woes of free agency and roster creation. Imagine a league of hyper-competition and little to know ludicrous contracts? Sounds good to me.
Now, after seeing a possible skeleton of what one of these max contract-less teams would look like and hearing the entire concept, what do you think? Could this theory work? Would it make the NBA more entertaining or too money driven? What would the affects of this new rule be on the players? The GMs?
Tell me what you think in the comments section.