The NBA lockout of 2011 was fueled by LeBron James teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami — small and medium market owners hated this (even though Miami is a mid-sized market itself, just better managed than others). They didn’t want talent clustering on one team, they wanted to see it spread out throughout the league in a misguided effort at parity.
On top of the winning a larger percentage of basketball revenue in the 2011 CBA, the owners also put a harsh, punitive luxury tax on top of the salary cap. Combine that with a draft, very favorable rookie-scale contracts, and Bird rights and smaller market teams were supposed to be able to keep their talent, and that talent would be more evenly distributed around the league. Commissioner Adam Silver has even said in recent years it seemed to be working.
How do owners and team executives feel about this? From Howard Beck of Bleacher Report.
“The system is f–ked up,” said a longtime team executive from a large market…
“The small markets can’t survive in this new [environment],” said another team executive in a top-five market.
Owners will almost certainly be clamoring for a harder cap, or a franchise tag, or perhaps the creation of a supermax contract to deter future superteams from being built.
By this December, either the players or owners can opt out of the CBA and force a renegotiation — both sides probably will, and both parties are already negotiating changes. Credit to them, the league and players’ union have done a good job of keeping a lid on those talks and not negotiating through the media (a positive sign for progress). There is a sense around the league that everyone is making so much money with the new television deal — not just players, remember half that money goes straight to the owners’ bottom lines, and their non-player salary costs are more fixed — that nobody wants to see games lost. Don’t risk killing the golden goose.
The Durant move could change the tone of those talks.
Some owners pushed for an NFL-style hard cap in 2011, but if you are looking for something where the players will draw a line in the sand and not cross it, the hard cap is it. It’s not about money — each year 50 percent (give or take) of league “basketball related income” goes to the players regardless — as much as freedom of player movement. The players want the ability to change teams — if Durant wants out of Oklahoma City and he’s honored his contract, why shouldn’t he be free to move on from his employer just like you or I could?
The same idea can be applied to the franchise tag — it restricts player movement. Again, if Durant has played nine seasons in one market and wants to move on, the players don’t want a system that tells him he can’t because he got tagged by a team that doesn’t want to lose him. It’s not about money, it’s about options. And they’re right. (Yes the NFL has franchise tags, but the NFL’s player’s union may not be the model to follow for doing right by its membership in negotiations.)
The one idea that could find agreement: Supermax contracts. Or, just do away with the concept of a max contract all together while keeping the same cap/tax system in place. How much is Durant worth on the open market? Not just on the court with points and wins, but to a franchise in terms of ticket sales, sponsorship money, local television ratings, money from streaming games, jersey sales, and the rest? Durant would likely pull down $45 million or more.
If a superstar takes up half the cap space a team has, there is no way to put four stars on the floor. Nobody could afford two at that price and round out the roster. By capping max salaries at 25-35 percent of the salary cap (how much depends on years of service), it makes it possible for these super teams to form.
It took a lot of other fluke things to happen to clear the path for Durant to bolt Oklahoma City, from the $24 million spike in the salary cap this season, to the Thunder blowing a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. There was a lot more in between. The circumstances that brought KD to Golden State are not going to be repeated anytime soon.
But that doesn’t mean the move isn’t going to make the 2017 negotiations more contentious.