Utah Jazz owner Greg Miller talked about it when he tried to explain to a shaken fan base why he felt he had to trade Deron Williams away.
His argument: it’s a new era of stars congregating in big markets. The players have taken control of the process in a way they have not before. We could not risk Williams leaving as a free agent and getting nothing for him, so we had to make this move.
But then Miller said something else that hints at just how difficult the collective bargaining agreement negotiations are going to be:
“I’m not interested in seeing a congregation of star players on a handful of teams throughout the league…” Miller said. “I would like to see as much parity as there can be in the league.”
What has happened in the last couple years is a monumental shift in how and where free agents will go, and how players are using the leverage of free agency to move around. Carmelo Anthony’s move to the Knicks was the latest, most publicized proof of that. But it is a trend, no doubt.
And some owners want to shut that down.
In the current CBA, players were given the freedom of movement, but the “home team” (the team the player was with) was given a huge advantage — they could offer more money and more years. Nobody was going to walk away from tens of millions on a max deal, right? For a long time that was enough of an advantage, players usually took the money.
But LeBron James and Chris Bosh took less money and planned a superteam. Carmelo Anthony used the leverage of taking less money to get to New York (with his money). Now smaller market owners like Miller are trading D-Will now rather than risk losing out.
The players have the power. Maybe they have always had the power, but they are flexing that muscle more now. And the owners want to shift that power balance — and the players are going to fight to keep it.
Maybe it’s through a franchise tag. Maybe it’s through changes in max contracts and a hard cap (or the severity of penalties for exceeding a soft cap). There are a lot of ways to do it. But you can bet the owners are pushing hard for a fundamental shift in the financial and player movement structures that exist now. There are a handful of big-market owners who are doves on this issue, but there are more and more smaller-market owners who are hawks.
Those hawks watched the Carmelo Anthony scenario play out, they watched LeBron and Bosh last summer and they said, “there but for the grace of God go I.” They know if they luck into drafting a true star, they could lose him. They could lose the meal ticket. It will be couched in terms of franchise viability, but what it really means is making sure they have ways to hold on to their elite players.
The National Basketball Players Association, the union, is going to fight to keep player movement. They will argue it is good for the league (television ratings are way up and league wide game attendance is up slightly). They will argue that it is only fair that a person who fulfills his contract can choose his place of employment.
This was going to be a nasty fight as it was. What happened with Carmelo will make it nastier. And longer. And that is worse for all of us.