It’s kind of hard to get your head around this in the sense that the NBA minimum rookie salary is likely more than most of us will make in a year ever. Let alone saying a guy making $20 million or more is underpaid.
But the NBA’s true elite max players are underpaid.
Not your Gordon Hayward kind of max deals, I’m talking the games real draws — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and a handful of others. It’s not a question of what Kobe might bring the Lakers on the court anymore, it’s a question of what he brings the Lakers as a business — filled expensive seats and luxury boxes, sponsors flocking to the team, frankly that massive Lakers cable deal doesn’t exist without him in Lakers colors. Even has the highest paid player in the league, Kobe is likely brings in three times his salary to the Lakers.
LeBron James has hinted at some in the union wanting to do away with max contracts, and Kevin Durant chimed in on that Tuesday, as reported by Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman.
“Look at it like this,” Durant explained. “Kobe Bryant brings in a lot of money to Los Angeles, that downtown area. People go to watch the Lakers. Clippers are getting up there, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and those guys are bringing in a lot of money as well. Look at Cleveland, look at Miami when LeBron was there. These guys are worth more than what they are making because of the amount of money they bring to that area. That’s a conversation you can always have, but until it’s changed you never know what will happen to it.”
They’re right, the elite players in the NBA are underpaid, which allows for a real (but shrinking) “middle class” in the NBA.
If the max contract is removed what you will see is a handful of very highly paid guys and a lot of other guys on minimum or near that deals, there will be no middle class of the NBA, few guys getting $4 million to $8 million a year. But some NBA players want that max contract idea removed.
Some owners are okay with this. Why? Because if you really want to do away with “super teams” of players getting together (like with LeBron in Miami and now Cleveland) then you let LeBron get paid what the market will bear. In LeBron’s case that would be north of $40 million a year right now, and with a salary cap of $63 million this season you simply couldn’t put a good team around him anymore. Even with the cap going up under the new TV deal a GM would have one hand tied behind his back (and as that cap goes up the value of LeBron/Durant/etc. to a franchise goes up).
My guess is in the next deal you may see the percentages of the cap allowed to go to a max player go up, but I doubt the max salary number goes away. The NBA owners also don’t want to be handing out baseball-sized contracts.