NBA salary cap to increase next year. Which sadly means a lockout is more likely.

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Thumbnail image for stern_Hunter.jpgBusiness is good in the NBA. No. Seriously.

The NBA released the salary cap numbers for next season and after all the reports of doom and gloom the numbers are going up for next season.

The salary cap will be $58.044 million next season, making the luxury tax threshold $70.307 million (for every $1 in salary over the luxury tax line, teams pay $1 in tax). That is well above the $50 million cap figure some teams feared for about a year ago.

The mid-level exception will be $5.765 million. By my estimation, the max contract for a Bird-rights player in the league seven years or more (a team keeping a player, like Joe Johnson in Atlanta) will be $127 million for six years. Non Bird-rights players (like Amare Stoudemire in New York) will work out to about $99 million for five years. The max deal for younger players (like Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City) is $87.7 million for five years.

Those numbers are all up from last year — because basketball revenue was up slightly last year from the year before. The salary cap is based on the “basketball related income” for the teams and league.

So we are seeing teams come out of a recession, it’s all good, right? The teams are spending like that right now, it seems. So all those lockout fears are overblown, right?

Wrong. It’s worse.

The owners still want to change the economic structure of the game. They do not like the soft cap and its seemingly endless parade of exceptions.

Why? Well, I’d argue it’s because they can’t restrain themselves from overspending. They have no self-control, look at this off-season. Only a few owners show discipline. And when only a few do, they get outspent and their teams lose out on players, then they lose on the court. Right now Oklahoma City gets credit for doing it all right, but they are not a huge market, and they just gave a max deal to Durant. What happens when they need to pay Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the rest of the team bigger money, too. And everyone is telling them to get the one free agent that puts them over the top. Then are they disciplined?

But back to the point at hand, the owners are going to push hard for a new system. Maybe a hard salary cap, certainly more punitive measures for teams that keep spending well above the cap (sliding luxury tax scale?). And they will want to negotiate salaries down, shorten contract lengths and make deals non-guaranteed (again, to cover their own mistakes of bad deals).

The players now have ammunition to call them on this. The economic system must be just fine if the teams’ income rose last year despite the national recession. And by looking at the way they are spending. The players are not going to buy the economic hardship the owners are selling.

And that, my friends, means a lockout is more likely, not less.

And that is good for nobody.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: