It's important to remember that this is just pre-negotiation bluster -- remember when the NBA floated ideas about introducing a hard salary cap prior to labor negotiations in 1998? -- but it doesn't make the proclamation any less surprising.
NBA commissioner David Stern said Thursday there was no quantifiable progress in collective bargaining talks over the summer, and the league revealed it is seeking a reduction in player salary costs by about one-third.
Stern said the league wants player costs to drop $750-800 million. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA spends about $2.1 billion annually in player salaries and benefits.
"We would like to get profitable, have a return on investment," Stern said. "There's a swing of somewhere in the neighborhood of $750 to $800 million that we would like to change. That's our story and we're sticking with it."
Cutting player salaries by a third. Sounds over the top and completely reasonable all at once, which is exactly how David Stern wants it.
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And, honestly (as Ken Berger reports), contraction? Come on.
In another staggering development, CBSSports.com learned that salaries may not be the only area cut as the NBA tries to gets its financial books up to speed with the explosion in popularity the league will experience this season. A person with knowledge of the owners' discussions said the league "will continue to be open to contraction" as a possible mechanism for restoring the league to profitability.
Think of the worst teams in the NBA. Or, at least, the least profitable. Then think of the owners.
David Stern is honestly going to tell Michael Heisley, Michael Jordan and Glen Taylor to take a hike? The guy waits a half season to get rid of a ball that is cutting his own players' fingers just to save face, and he's going to move ahead of baseball and hockey to be the first sport that says "our bad" about having too many teams?
The players, who are currently making 57 percent of all basketball-related income under the current agreement, would make less than half of what the owners take in if Stern gets his way. And before you go off on the millionaires playing a child's game that you'd like to think you'd play for free, there are some things to understand here.
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For one, regardless of how many ridiculous contracts the owners throw out there after bidding against themselves, the percentages under the current agreement are set in stone. So, no matter how many stupid deals the owners cut, if the players make too much money, they have part of their paychecks (across the board) lopped off and given back to the owners. It's written into the collective bargaining agreement they signed off on.
So for the league to be handing out massive contracts, overall, and not have to cut player salaries (as the players agreed to, if the percentages swung to their favor), tells you that the league is making enough money in its various interests to afford these salaries, and keep the status quo they signed off on back in 2005.
Secondly, even though this is pre-negotiation bluster, you as a fan do not want what the owners want. You don't.
You don't want your favorite team to have a hard cap or unguaranteed contracts (as the owners have fought for), because you would see massive cuts and player movement every offseason as teams struggled to find ways to get under the cap. You think players jump teams too often right now? With a hard cap, and non-guaranteed deals, players would be jumping from team to team every summer after being cut. This is what happens in hockey and football, and that's regrettable enough as it is. Now try to imagine it in basketball, with rosters a quarter of the size, and just five players on the court at a time.
Would non-guaranteed deals prevent players from dogging it? Sure, but tell me, how many of these guys are really dogging it? Who hasn't been singled out for taking it easy? Eddy Curry(notes) is a laughingstock. Hedo Turkoglu(notes) and Vince Carter(notes) need police escorts every time they fly into Toronto. The bums get called out every time. By and large, these players are working their tails off.
Third? This is the owners' mess. Stern's constituency created this landscape, ignoring the rules set in place by Stern and the players union to try and curb the rise of ridiculous contracts.
Teams consistently bid against themselves to sign or retain players. Consistently. Teams consistently overvalue players despite repeated warnings from armchair GMs, which is why types like Curry and Turkoglu are making eight figures a year. Show me 25 terrible contracts over the last decade, and I can guarantee you that at least 20 of those deals came without any actual competition between teams to sign the players in question. Which is why players like Allan Houston(notes) or Richard Hamilton(notes) make twice as much as they would have earned on the open market. Teams bid against themselves to extend players, just because they can.
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And now, as is the case every half-decade or so, the owners want protection against themselves.
Stern knows what he's doing. Telling the media that cutting player salaries by a third makes sense, because (once again) these are millionaires playing a child's game, while your kid's third-grade teacher is cutting coupons and driving a Kia. And expecting someone like Joe Johnson(notes) to make $80 million over the course of his latest deal instead of $120 million doesn't sound too terrible.
The problem beyond this, though, is that the league is making money. If it's still able to hand out these terrible deals, and keep it within the percentages as outlined by the last two collective bargaining agreements, then something is working. This doesn't mean that the percentages don't need to be messed with. They do, just not to this extent.
It's the owners that need to be messed with. To be told to use restricted free agency to their advantage. To be told not to extend players for no reason. To be told not to spend their midlevel salary exception every summer, just because it's there. To be told not to make a hasty mid-season trade, just to shoot for 45 wins with a $90 million payroll. To be told that it's not just signing a $7 million player to an $11 million contract that is the problem, but that it's also signing a $1 million player to a $5 million deal.
It's their mess, and they want you to cry for them over it. Because you probably can't recognize half of this league's owners out of a lineup, but you can recognize that overpaid bum Eddy Curry from a mile away.
Don't fall for it.
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