Ken Berger, in his most recent and very thoughtful piece, describes one of the key hold-ups in the CBA negotiations. To put it simply, he points out that a new, lower BRI percentage for players will result in certain teams being overextended in 2011-12, possibly so much so that they’d be forced to exceed a newly instituted hard/harder cap.
What is more, the current free agent class could bear an undue burden in shouldering salary cuts and/or teams with cap space would have an undue burden in paying/overpaying these free agents.
I see two, non-mutually exclusive ways that these issues could be addressed. First, let’s suppose there was a hard cap of $70 million per team, and all teams had to spend at least $60 million. Teams could be allowed to exceed the cap so long as their only additions were minimum salary players and rookies.
However, unlike in the previous CBA, these would not be permanent “exceptions.” Rather, teams exceeding the cap in the early years of the CBA would have greater limitations during later years in the CBA. A rule could be made that teams had to average a certain percentage of the hard cap over the course of the CBA, however it could be higher or lower than that percentage in any given year.
So, if a team did not like the free agent class in a particular year, it could carry a light payroll, so long as it carried a correspondingly heavier payroll down the road.
So, if the Miami Heat had a payroll of $80 million for 2011-12, and if the cap was set at $70 million, the Heat would be about 14 percent above the cap for this year. The Heat would need to be at least 14 percent below the cap across the remaining years of the CBA (e.g. 86 percent of cap one year and 100 percent of the cap in the others; e.g. 2-4 percent below the cap each year over the course of 4-5 years; etcetera).
On the flipside, if a team with prodigious cap space didn’t like its free agent options in any given year, then it could carry a payroll lower than the lowest range of the cap so long as the team made up for the light spending across future years. Under such a system, you could have a cap and floor that teams would have hit on average across the entire CBA (e.g. 85-100 percent of cap) as well as a cap and floor in any given season (e.g. 75-125 percent of the cap). So, for example, a team would not be able to field a $20 million roster one year and a $120 million the next just because the years averaged out to be $70 million.
However they might be able to spend $56, $63, $70, $77, and $84 across a five-year span. If actual salaries for any given year were above or below the players’ dedicated cut of BRI, then every player’s salary would be revised up or down accordingly in that year.
A second way around the problems articulated by Berger would be a solution that the NBPA would likely oppose but one that would actually be pretty fair. All pre-committed, “guaranteed” salaries would be scaled back the same percentage as the players’ BRI take was cut back. So, if BRI was reduced from 57 percent to 52 percent (a reduction of 8.8 percent), players’ salaries for the 2011-12 season would be scaled back by that same percentage. So, a player making $20 million would have his pay reduced $1.76 million, to $18.24 million.
However, to make sure that players felt that they were getting a fair shake, they would have the opportunity to opt out of their 8.8 percent reduced contract in exchange for restricted free agency, where other teams could make offers but the players’ prior teams maintained a right of first refusal so long as they’d be willing to match other teams’ offers.
Such a concept doesn’t seem outright sacrilegious. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it “fair”, especially given the NBPA’s message of “unity.” Without a rollback such as this, certain players would be (at least initially) insulated from the new CBA regime just because they happened to be under prior contracts while other of their comrades who happened to be free agents would pay a disproportionate price.
It should be noted that the two ideas mentioned above could be implemented in unison.
As a disclaimer, I have no agenda but to articulate creative and seemingly fair solutions that can bring back basketball as soon as possible. I seek not to offend the NBA, NBPA, or their members. Hopefully this article generates some more intelligent discussion.