July 22, 2019
There has always been a constant struggle between the haves and the have nots, but it’s amusing when the “have somes” tangle with the “have too muches.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver lamented the trade demands and the explosion of the era of player empowerment, which was blatantly displayed this offseason.
Anthony Davis got his wish granted even before gaining free agency, Kawhi Leonard held three teams hostage in the pivotal free agency period and the Oklahoma City Thunder lost all the three superstars they drafted.
Silver had to speak up for fans of New Orleans, Oklahoma, Toronto and ironically, Los Angeles (the plundering Lakers got played, by their own admission). In reality, though, Silver was defending his employers—thirty billionaire owners who got annoyed that they actually had to bow down to their uber-talented employees.
Why Silver’s parity utopia will never happen
Adam Silver wants an NBA where all thirty teams, regardless of geography or climate can be placed in a position to compete. It’s best to remind the good Commissioner that parity does not even exist in the Chinese Basketball Association, so the idea of establishing that in Capitalist America is even more far-fetched.
Players are human beings, and they have different priorities. With their free agency decisions affecting their families, they have to consider all factors—factors that Silver wants them to set aside because the billionaires want a fair and equal shot.
It will take a combination of money, location, chance to win a title, home ties and climate to convince a player to sign with a team, and the league can only control the first factor—and the level of control they currently have is not working towards their objective.
What Silver can do
The current structure of the supermax contract was designed to give an advantage to the incumbent team. There are some flaws to that.
Whenever it is published that Player X will lose 50 million dollars by leaving his incumbent team, it does not take into consideration that it’s a 5-year contract vs. a 4-year contract. There’s an extra year, and if you only consider both contracts at 4 years each, the difference dwindles to about 8-15 million. It’s a big deal for us, but for the players with hundreds of millions in earnings and endorsement deals, that’s nothing to sweat—certainly not enough to sway a decision.
What’s more, players actually value shorter contracts. That will only strengthen after this offseason after Kevin Durant still got max offers from other teams despite his Achilles injury. Even if he will miss an entire season and also face the possibility that he might not be as explosive as he was before the incident, teams still made an offer.
More players will now bet on themselves and take a shot at free agency as soon as they can. Take Kawhi Leonard. After all his maneuvers, he could only commit to 3 years, with only 2 of them guaranteed.
The salary cap gets wild
It’s either Silver tightens the salary cap or let go of the max contract and let teams go sky’s the limit on paying for superstars. If the objective is to divide the 30 best players among the 30 teams, then those are the only ways to go.
The league can set up a strict salary tier system, with only one player per team receiving a superstar level salary that is significantly higher than the second level. Let’s say, you pay your best player up to $50 million per season while the next player on the payroll can only get a maximum of $30 million. Will a top 30 player refuse 20 million a season just to be with another superstar?
Another step is to go full capitalist and let teams have one player without a salary limit—that means, they can pay him $70 million if they want to. That will pry away any top 30 player on a current max deal. It might not be ideal for the penny-pinching owners, but this is the essence of Capitalism: excellence demands a huge price tag.
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