The proposal the NBA owners presented the NBA players union late last month would do away with fully-guaranteed contracts and adds a style of franchise tag, one that is different than the NFL’s but new to the NBA, reports Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated.
Both would be a radical shift from the current collective bargaining agreement. It’s a proposal the players have said they do not like.
Contract guarantees could be a real sticking point. Currently, most longer contracts in the NBA are fully guaranteed (they don’t have to be, non-guaranteed years or a buyout clause can be negotiated as part of the deal, which has happened in the case of Lamar Odom, Marcus Camby and others), so when you make a bad deal to sign Eddy Curry long term you or someone has to pay the man. All of it.
Sources also said the league’s proposal would ban fully guaranteed contracts. All contracts would have limits on the amount of money a player would be guaranteed to receive, and those guarantees would decline during the life of each contract. In other words, a player making, say, $5 million per season over four seasons would actually be guaranteed less than $5 million in each of those four seasons — and the amount guaranteed would drop each season. The idea is for teams to be able to get out of undesirable contacts more easily and avoid ugly Eddy Curry-style buyout talks.
That makes financial sense for the owners, and you can see why the players would oppose it. On one hand it would make it easier for franchises to erase mistakes and restructure their rosters — they could get out of salary cap hell faster — something fans would like. But if you do something stupid — say, offer Joe Johnson a six-year max deal — shouldn’t there be a price to pay as a franchise? Why should an owner/GM do something stupid and have a “get out of jail free” card to go with it?
Then there is the franchise tag.
The inability of Cleveland to retain LeBron James and Toronto to retain Chris Bosh scared a lot of mid-to-small market NBA owners, who wondered if they were every lucky enough to get a real star via the lottery would they be able to keep the player. That is why some owners have pushed for a form of the tag.
But what the NBA has proposed is different than the NFL version. The NFL franchise tag takes that player off the market, he is locked into his team with a top five salary at his position.
Instead, a team would be allowed to designate one player for preferential contractual treatment, including more overall money, more guaranteed money and at least one extra year on his contract. A player would have to agree to such a designation. It is designed to work as an incentive to get a player to remain with his team rather than as a roadblock to free agency, the sources said.
Take the situation between the Cavaliers and LeBron James one year ago. Under the league’s proposal, the Cavaliers would not have been able to unilaterally “tag” James a franchise player and bind him to the team for one more season. The Cavaliers would have been able to offer James various enticements he may not have been able to get from other teams, the sources said.
The NBA’s existing CBA already allows this to a degree, teams a player is with can offer more than other teams. In the case of James, the Cavaliers did offer larger raises and one more year on the deal, which would have totaled about $27 million more over the life of the deal. It wasn’t enough. That is why a shotgun sign-and-trade took place, so James could get those larger raises (although he took a smaller base salary and less overall money to leave).
But in a world with non-guaranteed contracts, the incentives that do guarantee more money could be a stronger lure to keep players with teams.
Which has always been a goal of the NBA. They realize the value of having Tim Duncan always being a Spur or Kobe Bryant always being a Laker. While those men should have the ability to test the market, the league benefits in marketing from having its stars be stable with a franchise.
The answers are not simple. And it’s going to take a long time for these two sides to get on the same page. But at least they are talking.