First real tests of new labor deal will be Howard, Paul, Williams

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Chris Bosh is right. Part of what is fueling this hardline stance by owners is about Miami and New York. This is what I mean.

What LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony did last year shook small market owners to their core. Those guys pay the bills for owners, yet franchise cornerstones moved on because they didn’t like what Cleveland and Denver had built around them. Owners want to be able to keep their stars (but make it easier to move role players around them) and the last offer from David Stern and the owners was built to do that.

Which makes Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Chris Paul — next summer’s big free agents — the real test cases for owners.

If Williams decides to leave the Nets next summer, and the latest offer from the owners had been the approved, it would have cost him $25 million, according to Nets Daily.

Whether there’s a season or not, if the Nets re-sign Williams to a new contract this summer, he will be owed roughly $101 million over five years. But if he opts out of his $17.7 million final year and signs with a new team, he’ll get $76 million over four. That’s $25 million.

How so? The owners’ final proposal (much of which the players agreed to) permits teams who hold “Bird Rights” on their own players to re-sign them to five-year deals with 6.5% increase. That drops to four years with 3.5% increases for new teams.

He’s right. But a lot of that was in place for LeBron and Bosh and it didn’t matter.

Cleveland could offer one more year (a sixth, Miami could only offer five) and bigger raises to LeBron, which meant their offer in total was about $30 million more guaranteed than anyone else. And LeBron still left and actually took less than max money to get out of Cleveland (they did a shotgun sign-and-trade that let LeBron and Bosh get a sixth year, but both were gone either way). It may be harder for teams to create cap space under the new system, but teams will do it — how many teams contorted themselves to make room for LeBron? Miami stripped their roster down to two players to make their move.

It’s hard for any team to keep stars. Kobe Bryant almost left the Lakers in 2004, and that’s a destination team. Tim Duncan is an exception to the rule and there were still temptations for him to leave San Antonio, but they had built a team around him that could win rings. Elite players are going to be well compensated, so even if a team can offer more money it will be about the secondary factors — is this a team that can win a title? Do I want to live here?

That’s where New York and Miami and a handful of other cities will always have an advantage. And while the small market owners may have better financial footing under any new labor deal, they will still struggle to keep their stars if the organization is not well run. It’s always going to be that way. Sorry.

But we’ll see what the Nets, Magic and Hornets are able to do with the new rules. Whenever we get them.