There’s an old story I remember hearing when Jalen Rose was a Raptor and his astronomical contract sat on the Raptors’ cap, much to the dismay of most fans. Rose had signed a massive deal from back in his Indiana days and at the time was sliding in his productivity while still on that contract. Rose wasn’t going to fool anyone by saying his performance justified his pay—it didn’t. But when pressure from fans began to rise, Rose asked them whether they would turn down the contract that was offered to him. Would anybody realistically say ‘Hey, I’m not going to be worth that in 5 years so I would like you to give me less money’ and walk away from millions of guaranteed dollars? So, why would we heckle Rose? He’s just trying to earn as much money as possible, just like everybody else.
This is where our eyes open from the narrow perspective of a fan to a new vision. A vision that says that the NBA is a business. It’s almost become a clichéd phrase in this lockout world. But unlike the NFL, the NBA is a business that is losing money and according to David Stern that number hovers around 300 million. That includes 22 of 30 teams that are no longer profitable. As much as you love NBA basketball, if the owners aren’t making money it’s a dead business. And that means a dead game.
So the solution seems pretty simple—the owners need to start cutting costs and the first place they’ll look is player salaries. And the owners have a point. When Eddy Curry is eating up (literally) 13 million dollars every year of someone’s cap space while contributing actually nothing to the franchise, you have a problem. When Elton Brand is making more than Lebron James, you know you have a problem. When Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas were two of your top 5 earners last season, you know you have a problem.
But going back to the Jalen Rose story, is this problem the players’ fault? I mean, how can we fault Rashard Lewis for accepting a deal that would be nearly impossible to live up to? And here is where the big divide between players and owners exist. Owners think the rules in place force them to hand out big contracts and the players are insisting that if the owners offer the big contracts then its their problem. Yikes. Who’s to blame?
Here’s the three things that I think must exist in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (there are more things I’d want changed, but for sake of brevity I’ll stick to three):
1. More revenue sharing. The 22 teams losing money statistic is quite misleading because six teams that are making money could support the other 22 teams. Now, it seems unfair to ask the six teams who are extremely profitable to be forced to keep 22 teams afloat but it’s more fair than asking the players to help out. The owners have to be able to figure out their own system first before asking the players for salary cutbacks. Whether that means a more aggressive luxury tax, free agent signing tax or whatever the NBA’s lawyers can devise, the NBA owners need to share the wealth with this disparity before meeting the players.
It simply isn’t fair that the owners of those 6 teams, who do not wish to share with their fellow owners (and for good reason), will turn to the players to take pay cuts. Are those six teams obligated to keep the other 22 entirely afloat? Of course not. But when you have such a broken system, you have to at least even out the revenues to some degree before begging the players for money back.
2. Shorter contract lengths. Those five or six year deals that players are inking have to start becoming things of the past. I know it may seem unjust to the players, but it’s becoming incredibly frustrating to sign players to long-term contracts when they’re likely to become unreliable especially after just signing them. Teams (especially unattractive free agent destinations) have to give players longer deals in order to entice them to sign but those long term deals often lead to players showing up out of shape, unwilling to put an honest effort because of all the guaranteed money.
Think about signing a 5 year, 55 million dollar contract and still having the desire to play hard every night. There are countless examples of players who cannot perform to their contracts, especially towards the ends of the deals. Jalen Rose was a prime example of this. He had a few seasons of star basketball in Chicago but began to fade as his career went on—but was still getting paid like a star. It is too much to ask of owners to have to commit so much long term money on such risky players.
For the Phoenix Suns last off-season, they attempted to break the mould and told Amare Stoudemire that they would only give him partially guaranteed money towards the back end of his contract fearing that his previous knee problems may resurface and become a burden on the Suns’ payroll. They were being prudent. Stoudemire, rightfully so, wasn’t interested and took the fully guaranteed deal from the Knicks. The Knicks made the playoffs and the Suns sat out this spring. Now, if all owners were like the Suns’, then perhaps Amare would have stayed but not everyone was. The opportunity to seize Amare Stoudemire for a star-hungry market in New York blinded the Knicks from seeing any future danger. And it will be interesting to see if Amare can survive the length of his deal as rumors began to swirl during mid-season that medical experts were skeptical of the durability of his knees. Amare may end up getting paid like an uber-star to wear suits on a bench towards the end of his career if this trend continues. NBA owners are at too big of a risk. Shorter contracts are a must.
3. Salary tier system. OK. Here’s where it gets tricky. I really don’t think there is any issue with the money that Lebron, Kobe, Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant etc. all make. In fact, I think you could easily make a case that with all the revenue that these players generate for their teams that they are severely underpaid! The max contract levels are fine where they are. The main issue rests in the middling zone—or as I like to call it, the Danny Granger-Andre Igoudala zone.
Essentially teams are forced to give star money to guys that will just trap them further. Igoudala is a good player but was given his contract based on the fact that he was going to improve and become the face of the 76ers. Well, he’s didn’t and he’s not. Iggy’s a great defender with a solid-to-good offensive repertoire and high-flying ability. But the 76ers are paying him like a go-to, killer instinct, ‘I’m-going-to-win-this-game-no-matter-how-bad-my-teammates-are’ kind of guy.
Ditto for Granger who has the Pacers in this forever middling zone because as good as Granger is—if he’s your best player, you’re screwed. And right now he’s paid like the best player on a team and to no one’s surprised—the Pacers are screwed.
So, how do you solve this? By creating a money-earning tier system. I won’t go too much into detail (and probably couldn’t even if I tried) about this idea but here’s the gist:
For each team you are allowed to hand out a certain amount of contracts within a certain tier per year. For example: Team X is allowed to hand out two contracts every five years between 14 and 16 million dollars, four contracts every six years between 8 and 14 million dollars, four contracts every four years between 5 and 8 million dollars etc.
What does this accomplish? First off, it forces teams to be much smarter with how they hand out contracts. Is it really worth it to give up one of our Tier One (14-16 million) contracts to a guy who maybe isn’t worth it? What happens if a guy comes around that’s Tier One talent but you don’t have the ability to sign him? Secondly, it stops superteams. You can’t have Wade, Lebron and Bosh. This allows there to be a superstar in every market.
It also gives smaller market and less free-agent-friendly teams serious bargaining chips. If you’re Chris Paul and the Heat, Celtics and Lakers can only offer you Tier Two or Tier Three contracts and the Bobcats, Grizzlies and Bucks all have Tier One contracts available—maybe Paul chooses one of those teams. Not only that but maybe the Bucks, let’s say, also have another Tier One contract available along with a lot of Tier Two and Three’s available. They have something that very few other franchises have and even though they’re in Milwaukee they can actually spend the most! Nobody can hand out those many contracts except for them! You’ve just evened out a lot of the disparities between teams when recruiting free agency. Who cares that Miami has beaches or that Boston has the Celtics’ history when the only team that can offer you big bucks is the Hornets!
4. Make me commissioner. We’d have all of the coach Mic’d Up segments online and uncensored, Twitter feeds of sportswriters covering the games as tickers in every arena in game, fines for flopping and a play-in tournament when the 8th seed in one conference has a worse record than the 9th seed in the other.
Because then, even if we lost this season—2012-13 would be the greatest season ever.
My NBA posts are now being syndicated on Beating the Buzzer. You can check out Beating the Buzzer on Twitter @btbsports. Follow Two Guys Sports @2_GSB or my own Twitter @the_REAL_alexb. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet.