We know what a lot of you think — the NBA is filled with a bunch of ball-hogs playing isolation hoops every time down. There is no team play.
Wrong. Certainly not true of your NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, where teamwork make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Or there is Phil Jackson, who has more than two handfuls of rings as a coach because he got players to buy into and follow his system (which involved a lot of passing and off-the-ball movement). Basically, if you think the NBA is all isolation, you are still stuck in the 1990s listening to Right Said Fred.
But a hard salary cap in the style that NBA owners want could change that.
Right now the owners are demanding a hard cap in addition to a larger part of the overall pie, which is why labor negotiations have stalled out. Owners — or at least some of the owners, it’s pretty clear there are divisions — want a system that looks a lot more like the NFL. There would be a hard salary cap and your biggest stars (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant) would get a large chunk of that along with guaranteed deals.
But the average or bottom rung players would have non-guaranteed deals. They could be cut on a whim, for play or for salary reasons. Much how NFL rosters work. The owners like that because they could get out of bad contracts faster and rebuild more quickly.
But this is the NBA — you get paid for scoring. Veteran center Jermaine O’Neal, talking with J.A. Adande of ESPN, said putting guys on non-guaranteed deals would lead to guys looking out for themselves and not the team on the court.
“So do we accept a deal that totally butchers our game? Because what they don’t understand, if you take out mid-tier deals and say, ‘Fend for bare minimum at the bottom,’ they’ll be individualizing our game so severely.”
That’s something I hadn’t thought about. Take away guarantees, turn most rosters into extremes of max guys and minimum guys, and you’ve got a squad full of guys trying to get their numbers to get paid. I saw that dynamic in play with the Clippers before, when Donald Sterling didn’t extend the contracts of any of his free-agents-to-be and it was every man for himself.
In baseball, a guy wanting to get paid is going to try and get more hits and field more balls, which helps the team. In football, a running back will bust it on every play to get his future payday and linebackers will be trying to get more tackles. All that is usually good for team play. But in the NBA, if everyone is out to score team play is crushed. And the team loses a lot more games.
It’s called unintended consequences — actions taken can have reactions nobody expects. A hard cap could have an impact on the NBA in a way a lot of owners looking at their bottom line don’t see.
And we’d all suffer for that. As if the lockout wasn’t enough.