National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts didn’t just reject cap smoothing. She has since called it a “disgraceful request” by the NBA and said it “offends our core.” If she felt that way in 2015, it wouldn’t have left much negotiating room. Hence, the league’s proposal falling flat.
But maybe the NBA could have convinced the union to accept smoothing.
The union expected the league to counter; the NBA never did. The league’s thinking was that smoothing made sense. If the union didn’t want to do it, so be it. With that, both sides agreed to let the money flow in as it arrived.
This is a good reminder not to blindly accept anything at face value – not Roberts’ statements, not this report.
It’s hard to square Roberts’ stated philosophical opposition to cap smoothing with the idea she would have accepted a different version of it.
The effects of no smoothing are becoming clear. The salary cap skyrocketed as the NBA’s new national-TV contracts kicked in in 2016. In that unique environment, the Warriors kept their stars while still clearing max cap space to sign Kevin Durant. Other teams splurged on far lesser players and have been stuck with the salary cap leveling off. Then, with so many other teams capped out, Golden State signed DeMarcus Cousins to just the mid-level exception this summer. The union rejecting cap smoothing torpedoed – at least the perception of – competitive balance and funneled money to 2016 free agents at the expense of other players.
In league of 29 owners outside Golden State and more players who weren’t 2016 free agents than were – and each owner and each player getting one vote on their side – cap smoothing looks quite appealing. Especially in hindsight.
So, the NBA could have made a counteroffer. The players could have made their own counteroffer rather than just waiting for the league to better its own original offer.
But nobody understood the gravity of the situation.
If failing to smooth the cap was a failure – and that’s another discussion – it was a failure by both sides.