During the lockout and Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, NBA Commissioner-in-waiting Adam Silver was the league’s attack dog. He was the bad cop to David Stern’s good cop in their routines for the press.
What came out of those negotiations was a much more punitive luxury tax system that was supposed to tamp down spending by the bigger market, richer NBA teams. The new taxes — which kick in for this season — were going to be so onerous as to force owners to rein in spending.
Then came the Brooklyn Nets. They have put together a payroll in excess of $100 million that will lead to about $87 million in additional taxes. And owner Mikhail Prokhorov doesn’t care.
Speaking with the New York Post, Silver talked about the owners wanting a hard (or at least harder) cap in what sounded a lot like a 2017 preview.
“I would say it’s no secret that we went into collective bargaining seeking a hard cap,” NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver… told The Post Wednesday after speaking at the league’s Rookie Transition Program in Florham Park. “So, for the long-term health of the league, we would rather do more to level the playing field among our teams, so the teams that have disparate resources are all competing with roughly the same number of chips so to speak.”
“What I’ll add is that what we’ve seen with the Nets, ultimately there’s no prohibition if you’re willing to pay a very substantial tax — there’s no prohibition on signing the players they did, but the new rules also dramatically limit those players that are available to sign, especially once you move into the tax. So we’ll see [what happens].”
Both sides have the choice to opt out of the current CBA in 2017, and one if not both will do so. And we will again be headed for a lockout and very possibly games missed. And you can bet some owners will again push for a hard cap.
I don’t think a hard cap is the answer in the NBA because the league both hasn’t and really can’t sell NFL-style parity. You can try to flatten out the talent pool but the NBA will never have the level playing field of football just because of the nature of the sport.
The reality of the NBA is that there are about 10 players (we can argue if it’s nine or 12, but in the 10 range) who are just on another level and if you have one of them you will win a lot more than you lose. Because a LeBron James or Kevin Durant can touch the ball much more in the NBA than Tom Brady can in the NFL — and because elite players can impact both ends of the floor in basketball — the NBA will always have teams with stars as the ones left on the biggest stages. Look at the last NBA finals — LeBron and Dwyane Wade vs. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Yes it was the Heat vs. Spurs, but they were there because of those star players.
In reality, the NBA gets its best ratings from star teams — the Bird/Magic showdowns in the 1980s, Michael Jordan in the 1990s, Kobe/Shaq and now LeBron/Wade. Having stars pair up is good for business.
The NBA has to provide the opportunity for any well run small market team to win (see Oklahoma City or San Antonio) but they need to be careful about flattening out the talent pool to the point the average fan tunes out.