One of the prime sticking points in the negotiations for a new NBA collective-bargaining agreement is maximum contract length. Currently, players can be signed for up to six seasons. Management wants far shorter terms.
Based on the machinations at the buyout deadline, the players certainly are fueling management’s argument.
Even with time left on the contracts, teams have written off the likes of Mike Bibby, Troy Murphy, Corey Brewer, Jared Jeffries, Rasual Butler and several others this week, while also coming close to doing so with the likes of Jason Kapono and T.J. Ford.
All essentially outlasted the usefulness on their contracts, contracts that proved to be longer than any tangible benefit.
And yet, for players such as Bibby, Murphy, Butler and Jeffries, the newfound freedom just might allow them to extend their careers by showcasing their skills for the balance of this season with contenders.
For so many teams (and even players) empty seasons on the end of contracts have proven to be a bane. They limit maneuverability (for teams) and opportunity (for players).
While it might not be what the union wants to hear, and assuming that the union won’t relent on guaranteed contracts, there has to be some sort of built-in buyout system with all contracts, a process the doesn’t have to wait until there are only six weeks left in the regular season.
The compromise could be that the first two or three seasons of all contracts remain fully guaranteed, with preset buyout percentages for ensuing seasons. Like the current third and fourth year of the rookie scale, such decisions would have to be made a season in advance (or at some preset time in advance), for a player to know where he stands.
Beyond that, perhaps the NBA needs to move to some sort of waiver draft, like the NHL has, or something like Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 draft, where only a preset number of players can be protected on the eve of the season, a number below the roster limit.
Amid concern of an imbalance between the haves and have-nots, perhaps if teams were limited to protecting only nine or 10 players prior to the starts of seasons, then the likes of Murphy or Butler or Ford or Kapono (or even a Rip Hamilton) could have shaken free to help teams in need of such skill sets. One contender’s 10th man could be another team’s seventh man. (Salary-cap provisions could be made for such acquisitions.)
What the buyout deadline has shown is that there is a market for players who have spent the first four months lacking an opportunity.
Such less-restrictive redistribution of talent would figure to benefit both the union and the league.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.