Carmelo Anthony drama has owners thinking franchise tag

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What do NBA owners want out of the collective bargaining agreement? More money. Remember, it is always about the money.

Who generates that money? Don’t say “the players” because it’s much more narrow than that. While there are 12 to 15 guys on an NBA roster, only a couple of those players directly generate more income than they take in. There are only a handful of players who can sell tickets, who people buy the jerseys of, who people turn on their televisions to watch and who sponsors line up to be next to be associated with. Balk at how much money Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire make if you want, they generate far more money for the franchise than they are paid.

What owners really want is to be able to keep those guys.

And they are worried about that moreso in the face of the trend we are seeing with Carmelo Anthony — a guy with a year left on his deal who has told the team he is not coming back and is forcing their hand to trade him (or risk the consequences).

This has owners thinking more about really pushing for a “franchise tag” in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, according to a tweet from ESPN’s Marc Stein. It makes a lot of sense. Owners see Anthony, hear rumblings about Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, and they wonder about keeping their own stars.

The franchise tag would allow them to keep their best player and take the negotiations out of it. In the NFL system a franchise tag allows a team to tie an unrestricted free agent to them for a one-year deal worth 120 percent of what he made the year before or the average of the top five players at that position in the league, whichever is higher.

In the NBA, it would have allowed Cleveland to keep LeBron James for one more year. Same with Chris Bosh in Toronto. How long the team can keep slapping the tag on a guy depends on how the CBA is written.

The franchise tag is flat out un-American and the antithesis of an open capitalism — if you fulfill the terms of your contract to a team why should they be able to force you to stay? The NBA’s current system already gave teams advantages to sign their own players — they can offer larger raises and one more year than other teams. If a player is willing to take less money for better working conditions (or whatever his reason for leaving) why shouldn’t he be able to do what he wants?

The players’ union would fight a franchise tag. But this is a negotiation, they give in on the franchise tag and they get a concession — in this case a major concession — on something else.

A year ago the idea of a franchise tag seemed impossible in the NBA. With what has transpired around Carmelo Anthony, it seems much more likely now. But it’s not coming without a serious fight. Which is why this lockout could be a real mess.