It’s become an article of faith following the end of the 149-day NBA lockout to give David Stern yet another notch in his negotiation belt. The owners got this. The players gave that. Stern beat the beleaguered and overmatched Billy Hunter like a drum.
But to offer a contrarian viewpoint, it sure looks to me after reading almost a week’s full of stories breathlessly anticipating the next moves of those three Springfield-bound centers – Tyson Chandler, Nenê and Samuel Dalembert – that the players did just fine. Just wait and see what teams shell out for the salaries for those three guys – none of whom has so much as graced the floor of an All-Star Game - and you can go to Vegas and book another lockout for 2017.
And they’re not the only ones who are going to benefit. All the players will. Every single one of them. Even Kwame Brown, another Springfield-bound free agent big man.
In my view, the owners really lost this one when they didn’t hold firm on two huge areas: guaranteed contracts and a hard salary cap. Those are two hard and fast truisms in the much-envied NFL and if the NBA really wanted parity and a mechanism to protect its owners from themselves, that was where they should have drawn the proverbial line in the sand. They didn’t. Instead, they caved - big time - almost from the start.
The problem facing teams that had made bad contract decisions – and no one is immune here – is that there was no mechanism to get rid of such a contract other than to peddle it to another team (see: Banks, Marcus.) If the contract is not guaranteed, the team simply lets the player go. The team takes no cap hit. The player is free to shake down another well-intentioned GM. No harm, no foul, as they say.
The performing players (and, yes, some under-performing players) would still be paid. The amnesty clause is only going to mean cap relief for a team and it’s a one-time thing for players already under contract. My favorite amnesty rumor: Travis Outlaw, who played one year for the Nets. Wasn’t there anyone on the Nets in the summer of 2010 who said, ‘hold on, why exactly are we giving $35 million guaranteed to this guy?’ You want the definition of a nanosecond? The amount of time it took Outlaw to say ‘you’re kidding, right? Oh, okay, sure’ to the Nets’ offer.
Don’t get me started on rookie contracts. Why on earth should any rookie have a guaranteed contract? It makes absolutely no business sense. Nowhere else does this occur except in the alternative reality world of the NBA. Yet by all accounts, the rookie deals will remain guaranteed for two years. Kyrie Irving, whose Duke career lasted about as long as Kris Humphries’ incarnation as Mr. Kim Kardashian, will start his NBA career guaranteed more than $10 million. Unbelievable.
The lack of a hard cap is a killer for small market teams. Sure, there are some new penalties for big spenders. You think those are going to stop Jerry Buss or Mark Cuban? If there was one, single, hard cap, then everyone plays by the same rules. The teams that win aren’t necessarily the biggest spenders, but the smartest judges of talent.
So score two big wins for the players on those issues and everything, really, flows from there. To wit:
Teams now have to spend at least 85 percent of the salary cap figure on player salaries. It used to be 75 percent. It will go up to 90 percent in a couple years.
The bidding provision in the amnesty clause sounds plausible, but it isn’t going to stop guys from going where they want to go. Take Baron Davis (please, say the Cavs.) He gets amnestied. You think he and his agent are going to let prospective bidders know that he has absolutely no intention of playing for them? Duh. And if you’re a team that can make a bid, why bother if the guy doesn’t want to come play for you?
The newer, stringent, luxury tax rules don’t kick in until 2013. Yes, the mid-level exception is smaller, but for non-tax teams (read: the majority of teams) the MLE is $5 million with 4.5 percent raises. That’s still a pretty good chunk of change. Even if you are a taxpayer, you can still pay $3 million. Oh, and for teams under the cap, there is a new MLE starting at $2.5 million. Previously, teams under the cap lost their exceptions.
Teams have three days to match and offer sheet for their restricted free agent.
If you are a Larry Bird-type free agent, you can still receive a five-year contract from your team with annual raises of 7.5 percent. I ask you, what business is growing at 7.5 percent a year these days other than Apple or Google? If you want to sign a player from another team, you can go out four years with 4.5 percent raises. But here’s the thing. If you are a player and do the latter, that fifth year you don’t get only matters if you don’t re-sign.
The maximum level contracts are supposedly staying the same, with a new twist that will allow Derrick Rose to sign for the same maximum that Kobe Bryant can sign for. That’s 30 percent of the cap.
There are a couple of new provisions which make it easier for non-tax teams to make trades. That could benefit both sides.
Meanwhile, the players will continue to enjoy all the fringe benefits of working in the NBA, ranging from travel on private jets to rooms at five-star hotels to generous per-diem to annual five-month vacations for almost half the league.
I think it’s fair to say you can start the countdown to Lockout, 2017, right now and have no worries. If you’re still not sure, just wait and see what Messrs. Chandler, Nenê and Dalembert receive.
Those deals will again prove that the owners’ and general managers’ biggest enemy is the mirror – and that the inability by the owners to get absolute cost certainty in the form of the elimination of guaranteed contracts and the institution of a hard cap is going to be the death knell for the latest CBA.
Take a bow, Billy. Don’t listen to all those naysayers. You did just fine.