The move of Kevin Durant from small market Oklahoma City to form a superteam in Golden State — right in the middle of ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement talks between the NBA and players’ union — has put an old favorite of owners and GMs back in the spotlight:
A franchise tag in the NBA.
If owners want to ensure a work stoppage in 2017 that causes games to be missed, insist on a franchise tag (or a hard cap). But of course, GMs and team executives love the franchise tag idea. Including Pat Riley of the Miami Heat, via Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.
The NFL has a franchise tag, although the NFL players’ union has historically not been nearly as strong as the NBA’s. Actually, that’s far too kind — the NFL union has been steamrolled more than once. There’s a lot of things in the NFL CBA that would never fly in the NBA.
The NFL version gives a tagged player a one-year contract for at least the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position. What Riley seems to be proposing is somewhat different — one tagged player where a team can void the max contract numbers to offer more to keep a player in a market. In theory, the Thunder could have tagged Durant and offered him $40 million a year in this scenario.
There is zero chance the players’ union goes for this — it restricts player movement. What they want for their players isn’t only money, it’s options. If Durant spends nine years in OKC and fulfills his end of the contract, he should have the option of changing work locations just like you or I can. This is important to the union and a line in the sand it would not cross. It would lead to a lengthy lockout.
A better idea — why not just do away with max salaries all together while keeping the cap? No way Stephen Curry and Durant end up on the same team when both could make $45 million a season and there is even a soft cap. The biggest opponents of that are the NBA’s well-paid role players (of which there are far more than star/max players) — the cap on max salaries leaves more money for them. If Durant makes $20 million more, the role players on that team make less.
(One interesting tangent: What if teams could tag a player, but said player could still leave? For example, if the Thunder could tag Durant, ignore max salary restrictions and offer $40 million a season, but he could still choose to leave for less with Golden State. Is that acceptable to the players? I doubt it would be to the owners, but it’s an interesting hypothetical topic.)
I heard mixed things in Las Vegas about the possibility of a 2017 lockout. The Durant move seemed to galvanize hard-line owners — mostly from small and middle-sized markets — who want hard caps or franchise tags. Of course, what a lot of those owners want is another few percentage points of “basketball related income” (the money the league takes in from national television deals, ticket sales, jersey sales and much more) — the players used to get 57 percent, now it is 49-51 percent (depending on a number of factors each year), but greedy owners want more. It’s all about the money. There is zero chance the players union under Michelle Roberts goes for that after feeling they gave up too much last time. But there will be some push to restrict player movement.
On the other side , there is a lot of optimism a lockout (at least one that costs games) can be avoided, in part because there is simply so much money in the system with the new television deal there is faith cooler heads will prevail. The two sides are already talking, the dynamic is different with Adam Silver and Roberts, and they can find enough common ground to make this work. NBA owners are seeing profits, NBA players are making more than ever before, who wants to kill the golden goose?
My experience with the rich (players) and ridiculously wealthy (owners) is that they never think they are making enough money. Never underestimate human greed. I just hope I’m wrong in this case.