The NBA: From a league, player AND a positive fan’s perspective

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Published: October 7, 2011

I’m going to take this time to take a little break from the lockout. Even though I’m not Jewish, I do realize that lots of owners and agents are and that as a result, there won’t be any negotiations in the next couple days as they want to observe Yom Kippur. Therefore I’ll do the same and take a look back at some history before getting back to following the slow pace of negotiations.

What I want to do is take a look at how we got to this point and why certain elements of the current cba exist. On the surface, the common perception among the public, a public that is by nature a negative one, is that the majority of elements that exist in the league are bad and therefore, the NBA is a “bad” league. This is unfortunately more prevalent in small markets where fans and the general public think that their team has no chance at competing. I disagree to a certain extent and will go in depth in the upcoming paragraphs about why. But the fact remains that New Orleans IS a small market so it’s only natural that the fans have those negative perceptions and while 24/7 may be the best place to talk Hornets bball, there are other sites like hornetsreport.com, espn, realgm and swarm & sting among others where posters get frustrated at the mass of negativity that exists and no longer want to take part. I feel that the discussions and general feel on the board would be much better if the posters and fans were more educated on why things exist and what the future can hold so I’m here to set the record straight to a certain extent.

This is only my 3rd journal entry and I plan on doing lots more but this could very well be one of my most important entries. A lot is just my opinion and you know what they say about opinions. Regardless, I’ll take a stab.

1. DESPITE PERCEPTIONS, THERE ARE MANY ASPECTS OF THE CURRENT CBA THAT ARE VERY PRO OWNER AND GOOD FOR THE FAN.

Yes, I said it. Despite claims of losing $300 million, a claim that I dispute, there are things that are great for the league. The 4 that stand out to me are the max salary, the rookie salary cap, restricted free agency and limits on length of contracts.

Before I get started, I’ll note that no other major sports league limits players to a max salary. The NFL is the only other league with a rookie salary cap and that wasn’t implemented until just a months ago.

No other league has restricted free agency nor does any other league have limits on length of contracts.

The lockout of ’95 was a mini lockout that saw no games missed as the two sides came to an agreement in September after the players voted to not decertify the union. In essence, by doing that, they would be agreeing to the labor deal that the players and owners agreed on.

While there weren’t nearly as many changes from the previous cba to the agreement of ’95 as there were from ’95 to the new agreement of ’99, there were 2 very important additions that have helped shape the league for the better. They were the rookie salary cap and a 7 year limit to the length of contracts.

The rookie salary cap was a great idea as players like Glenn Robinson were signing 10 year, $68 million contracts before ever having stepped on the floor. Not only that but players would often hold out in hopes of getting a better deal than what was offered. Since the rookie salary cap’s inception 16 years ago, we have seen only one player, Steve Francis, hold out and not agree to terms before getting his much wished trade to Houston. The other 470 some odd first round draft picks went on to agree to terms and would have to prove their worth before landing a big deal.

In retrospect, this was a GREAT idea and even the NFL borrowed elements of it in their recent cba agreement.

Length of contract limits was also a great idea. Too many players had contracts that exceeded 10 years with no protection against injury for the owners. By limiting deals to 7 years, it helped justify the concept of “guaranteed” contracts, another thing that I’ll talk about later.

Since that, contracts have been limited to 6 years for free agents switching teams and in 2005, we saw it shortened to 6 years for resigning with your own team and 5 for switching or signing an extension. The current cba negotiations are trying to get it down to as little as 4 years.

The lockout of ’98 would provide some compromises like the concept of a BRI split and some give backs to the players in the form of the MLE and an increase in minimum salary amount. OTOH, the owners did get 2 huge breaks in the max salary and a return of restricted free agency.

Kevin Garnett had signed a massive 6 year, $126 million extension in the summer previous to the lockout and the owners needed a change. Max salaries came about and combined with the MLE and higher minimum salaries, we saw a gap closed between the haves and have nots. It was also the league’s attempt at marketing teams over superstar players, a concept that wouldn’t gain traction but despite claims from the negative nannies, the will was there despite it’s failure, something I’ll again get into later.

More importantly, it reigned in salaries. A recent article has talked about how stars like Kobe, Lebron and Wade could command as much as $50 per season on the open market and they’re probably right. That’s not a good thing IMO and thankfully, we have max deals to even things out a bit.

Restricted free agency is also big. Combined with the rookie scale contracts, restricted free agency is pretty much why Cleveland held on to Lebron for 7 years and why Chris Paul will be entering his 7th year in New Orleans. The idea is that even if these guys want to leave when their rookie deal is up, any new contract from an outside bidder can be matched and therefore, the player realizes that he doesn’t have much choice and gives it a go in his current market. It is then up to the owner to keep said player happy.

2. GUARANTEED CONTRACTS

As noted before, the NBA does have a select few players who have contracts there are guaranteed for the maximum of 6 years. What fans forget to realize is that the owners don’t have to give them these deals. The market dictates the player’s worth and it’s then up to the owner if he wants to give in to market demands. A great example is that of the Hornets and James Posey. Most fans will say that Posey shouldn’t be guaranteed more than 1 year at a time. What they forget is that the Celtics were offering Posey a 3 year deal. Therefore, in order to guarantee that he sign with the Hornets, George Shinn would have to offer a 4th year. It was then up to Shinn and management to decide if Posey was worth the risk and then went for it. It backfired but again, most of us saw it coming. Management felt that it was worth signing him because they thought he was the missing link so they took what they considered was a necessary risk but nowhere did anyone hold a gun to Shinn’s head. The Celtics established his market value and it was up to the competition to decide his value and if they wanted to outbid.

Also, it should be noted that there are only 12 to 15 players on a roster. You can all the more justify guaranteed deals when there are only a handful of other guys you have to pay. Despite having rosters of 25 or more players, MLB and NHL also have guaranteed deals but for whatever reason, it’s not nearly as criticized as it is in the NBA. Even the NFL, the supposed torch bearer for sticking it to the players, has a large chunk of guaranteed money going to it’s players. For example, you have a guy on a 10 year deal with 6 years guaranteed. People will pump their fist at the fact that 4 years have no guarantee but completely ignore the fact the first 6 years are guaranteed and those 6 years are longer than over 90% of the contracts in the NBA due to the maximum length on deals that I discussed earlier.

3. GUARANTEED DEALS OR NOT IN THE FUTURE CBA. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!!

We hear it all the time, especially among Hornet fans. “We need to get rid of guaranteed contracts and we need a hard cap!!” to which I reply “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!!!”. If you thought that the creation of the Miami Heat superteam was a bad thing and don’t like the concept of superteams in general, then I agree wholeheartedly with you. Because of that, I want the guarantees in place for good.

You see, if you give everyone the right to waive a player at any time, the glamour markets will eat this league alive. If the Heat can find a way to get all of their contracts to expire at once, imagine what the Lakers or Knicks could do if they didn’t have to do that but could instead just waive players whenever they wanted. That would be a disaster. Superstar players and their agents would make sure that they became free agents in the same year and then just make sure that the glamour team of choice just waives every player under contract so that they could form a new superteam.

The more I think about it, the more I’m not only glad that contracts will be guaranteed for up to 5 years but am very happy that the owners didn’t get their way on this, assuming they even wanted it in the first place and weren’t just using it as leverage for other concessions.

4. PARITY

This is a huge issue for the NBA and one where they fall short but when taking a closer look, it’s not as bad as many perceive it to be.

First off, it should be noted that the NBA has seen 5 different champions in the last 6 years that comprised the most recently expired cba. They are Miami (2006), San Antonio (2007), Boston (2008), the Lakers (2009 & 2010) and Dallas (2011) and 6 in the last 8. For comparisons sake, MLB has seen 6 champions in 7 years so the gap isn’t really that big and it could be 6 in 8 years like the NBA if Philadelphia, St. Louis or New York win it this year as all 3 are in the postseason.

Also, we assume that championship status is what decides the concept of parity. But let’s not forget that small markets are very competitive in the NBA. The draft helps teams get better in a one year. Lebron to Cleveland and Duncan in San Antonio are the best examples. Duncan won titles while Lebron never won in Cleveland but the thinking is the same. The Cavs had a CHANCE to win it all, something that is rare in MLB. While we’ve seen a bunch of champions make their way through baseball in recent years, we’ve also seen the same teams in last place, year after year and because of the lack of financial limits on large market owners, these teams will never get anywhere but wil instead just serve as feeders for the large markets.

Think about it. Is the season a complete waste if a team doesn’t win it all? Think back to the Hornets in ’08. The won the division and played 2 very competitive playoff series before bowing out. It was a triumphant year for the city and team and should never be forgotten but to hear the critics talk, it was all worthless since they didn’t wind up with a title. Let’s not forget that in the Lakers championship of 2009, the other 3 teams in the final four were all teams that had never won a title before (Denver, Orlando and Cleveland).

Despite recent rhetoric, there is a good chance that we can see an end to the current lockout and with it will come more limits on how dominant the big revenue teams can be.

5. EXPANSION AND RELOCATION ISSUES: STERN IS A COWARD AND IS AFRAID TO COMPETE AGAINST OTHER SPORTS?????

Before I get started, let’s take a look at a history of relocation since David Stern has taken over as commissioner of the NBA.

In 1984, the San Diego Clippers moved to Los Angeles. First of all, this was a move to a more competitive market so it’s far from a cowardly move. It should also be noted that the league didn’t want this relocation and it was originally blocked. Donald Sterling sued the block and won in court as he settled with the league by giving a $10 million relocation fee.

1985: The Kansas City Kings become the Sacramento Kings. Rewinding a bit, the Kings were actually sold to Sacramento business people in 1980. The NBA was struggling at the time so the move made a lot of sense but not after ownership gave it a legitimate go. For a long time, it was considered a no brainer as Sacramento would sell out game after game. Only recently has the team fell on hard times but Sacramento was the largest market without a major pro sports team so it only made sense to go there. Staying in Kansas City just made no sense and the Royals haven’t exactly set the world on fire either.

2001: It would be 16 years before we saw another relocation but this year we would see the Vancouver Grizzlies become the Memphis Grizzlies. Looking back, this one backfired. The NBA actually took 2 steps back on this one. They not only moved to a smaller market but moved to a market with no sports competition, further lighting a fire under the critics who say the NBA only competes in markets with no competition. In short, despite the NHL competition in Vancouver and horrible records of 15-67, 14-68, 19-63 and 8-42, the team averaged over 17,000 per game. It wasn’t until the following season, when it was assumed that the new ownership was taking the team to St. Louis, that attendance dropped and then finally year 6 when they were en route to Memphis.

Looking back on it, this WAS a mistake for the league. Had they waited it out, the Canadian dollar would be on par with the American and the entrance of Yao Ming would’ve given the large Asian population in Vancouver a foothold. But even then, there was no local buyer so the NBA’s hands were tied. With Memphis, you had the corporate sponsorship that didn’t exist at the time in Vancouver so at the end of the day, there wasn’t much that the league could do.

Most importantly, the Grizz had a stronger fan base in a pro sports competitive market than it does in a one horse town. The NBA shot itself big time on this one. I concede that.

2002: Hornets come to New Orleans. No point in going over this one but in summation, Charlotte didn’t build a new arena and the Hornets moved on. But it was a lateral move. The league moved from one market with NFL competition to another one with NFL competition. Not much of a cowardly move.

2008: Seattle to Oklahoma City. Obviously the most criticized relocation and something that David Stern will never live down but at the end of the day, what options were there? In Stern’s eyes, Oklahoma City needed to be rewarded for taking care of the Hornets for 2 years. Just saying “thanks a lot for your sacrifice, see you later” didn’t sit well with Stern. The rest of the league was on alert and Seattle failed at every turn. They didn’t find a local buyer, didn’t want to build a new arena, didn’t want to renegotiate the horrible lease on the current building and when it was all said and done, chose to sellout as opposed to wait on a verdict in the trial to see if the Sonics had to stay 2 more years. One market did everything necessary to get a team while the other did everything necessary to lose it.

As far as expansion is concerned, the 3 most recent expansion projects were all into markets with pro sports competition. Vancouver had NHL competition, Toronto had MLB and NHL while Charlotte was an NFL city. This fact is regularly ignored.

6. SMALL MARKETS CAN’T KEEP THEIR STAR PLAYERS

Yes they can actually. As I mentioned before, the rookie cap makes it almost a slam dunk that you play for the team that drafted you unless your name is Steve Francis and restricted free agency almost always sees to it that you play another 3 or 4 with that team. More often than not, the lack of cap space around the league makes it so that the stars stay on even longer. Stockton, Malone, Robinson, Duncan and Reggie Miller are examples of stars who have stayed with their small market team for their entire career.

Even in the recent cases of Lebron and Melo, their respective teams still had those players for 7 and 7 plus years. Management failed to put a supporting cast around them and they moved on.

Let’s not forget that the players aren’t taking everything into their own hands. The critics often say that the players are holding their teams hostage and are moving too easily. Not true. If the organizations don’t create cap space, those players will have limited options and will wind up resigning with their current team and will be more than happy to do so. It’s just that once in awhile, a better option comes about and the players either take advantage of the option or they don’t. In Melo’s case, he was a guy who had a lifelong passion for playing in his birthplace of New York. With the Knicks sitting on a ton of cap space for this coming offseason, can you really blame Melo for doing what he could to fulfill his childhood dream?

Let’s also not take management off the hook. Most Hornet fans feel like CP is gone and that it’s all about the big markets stealing him from New Orleans. But let’s be honest. Had management made the right moves and built off the success of ’08, would he even be asking to be traded? The Tyson Chandler trade to OKC that got rescinded was strike one and then dealing him for the inferior Emeka Okafor just to save a couple million doesn’t look good for a star player. If you’re trying to keep the star in place, shouldn’t you be doing everything possible to keep the championship contender in place as opposed to alienating the star with trades?

Also, fans complain about stars demanding more from management but isn’t that what we should want? We demand to see a winner so the player has just as much a right to do the same and when they do, and management makes move due to the pressure, we often get a winner. To me, the superstar is doing exactly what we fans should want.

7. UNIFORMS

I’m not going to go in depth on this. You can get better analysis on other Hornet boards. But I will say that the league has a better look then what we had in the 90′s. From the spilt paint on the Cleveland unis, to the dinosaur in Toronto and teams wearing black even though it wasn’t one of the team’s colors, the uniforms and overall look of the league wasn’t good. However, we’ve seen lots of retro looks come about. Philadelphia, Washington, Utah, Golden State and Charlotte are just a few examples of teams that have gone to a look that the organization or city had in it’s glory days. We should commend those respective organizations for making the right move. They have simple and classic looks and they’re for the better.

8. SCORING AND GAME IN GENERAL

The league and game just looks better and is more entertaining than what we had in the 90′s. The players are more talented and the game is funner to watch. In the late 90′s we saw scoring drop from just 7 teams scoring 100 ppg in ’97 to just 4 in ’98 to a low of just 1 in the lockout year. Conversely, we had 18 teams score 100 ppg or more in 2010 and although it dropped to 11 last year, there were 18 that had 99 ppg or more so it was more or less just the same.

9. MARKETING OF SUPERSTARS

This is one of the biggest misconceptions about the NBA. The league doesn’t market superstars. They market the GAME. “I love this game” and “where amazing happens” may be cheesey slogans but the point remains. The league markets the game in general.

Organizations market their teams. This is pretty common knowledge if you visit arenas around the league.

Superstars are marketed by CORPORATIONS. Soda, fast food restaurants, shoe companies;et al. ESPN plays a role as well. There isn’t much the league can do about it. These corporate sponsors pay the networks a large chunk of money and the networks in turn give the league a large sum of money that becomes the national tv contract. Stern is really in no position to tell them how to market his league as he would be biting the hand that feeds him.

I will go back to what I mentioned in the beginning. Stern’s entire theme of the end of the ’98 lockout was one that wanted a switch from the marketing of individuals to that of teams. Anyone who followed that lockout and the fallout that ensued will remember what I’m talking about. Max contracts for superstars and the addition of the MLE was a way to bring the superstar back down to earth and establish a middle class.

The sponsors said that they would try it but it didn’t work and again, Stern is in no position to tell them what to do. Therefore, we’re back to seeing superstars getting huge endorsements and commercial time.

10. PLAYER SALARIES IN GENERAL

Lastly, no matter what this new cba yields, people will complain that the players make too much dough. Fans complain about players not carrying their own weight but I’ll again point to rookie contracts. We complain about Eddy Curry making $11 million and sitting at the end of the bench. But what about Chris Paul being a 2 time all star and MVP candidate making less than the average salary as a result of the rookie cap? Couldn’t players come back and fight things such as the rookie cap and max salaries and every other limit? After all, if there is an owner out there that is willing to pay the going rate then the players think that they’re entitled to that amount.

I look at the second contract almost as back pay for the rookie cap. They are making up for what they lost out on during their first deal and this is assuming that the player doesn’t live up to his 2nd contract. More often than not, the players do live up to it but we only hear about the Posey’s and Curry’s of the world.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the players don’t fight the limitations. As I said earlier in this post, max salaries, contract length limits, rookie salaries and restricted free agency are all great for the league and small market, low revenue teams. But let’s remember that the players could fight those things but don’t. They’re locked out, not going on strike. And because of that, we should see a new cba sooner rather than later.

This post was submitted by Seattle Needle.

2 comments
nikkoewan
nikkoewan

it's been a long time since i've logged in this site to comment. I'm always reading every content the H247 team posts(including the journals), but most of them are redundant and irrelevant(except for 42's news). That said, this article is very refreshing to say the least. To be able to tackle that many topics about the labor dispute is praise worthy, so *slow clap*.. that said, i have some objections against some of your points. First, the idea of parity. To me, it seems like your cherry picking data. To me, parity means that teams are on a level playing field(or as close to it as possible). This means that all teams have equal resources (or close to that) in vying for a championship. That said to say that the league is closer than one may think is wrong. let's list the inherent facts (one's which are obvious) 1.) Big markets have an advantage. Why? Bigger population, wider base of operations, more possibilities for growth, etc. 2.) Basketball cities are at an advantage. Why? More of the population will watch, meaning wider base of operations, more possibility for growth, better arena, better support from the community (especially from the local government). 3.) Cities with amenable resources. Why? for those said "resources". example: - climate? Miami, Phoenix, Orlando come to mind. Players will choose those warm places more than say Portland, Denver or Minnesota. - demography? New York, LA, Chicago teams are more equipped financially because there are lots of rich ~ middle class people there than say New Orleans, Atlanta, San Antonio? Now, this list is obviously not complete. there are more facts about cities that we need to know like Crime rate(players with families consider this sometimes)? Food? Realty? etc.. Now, looking at the data, don't you think, the league(with how its currently dispersed) is imbalance? Miami(no tax, warm climate, good market) or LA(basketball culture, demography, inherent financial stability) are more advantageous than say Memphis(no rich basketball culture, demography, financial instability) or new orleans(financial instability, demography and competition)? If going by your method. Yes , 5 different champions in 6 years. but of those 5 champions, only 1 came from a "small market" (a term used to connote a team that's not considered profitable as a basketball city) - San Antonio. Extending the range to 10 years helps - 7 out of 10. But extending it 20 doesn't (16 of 20) and in total, of the possible 53 champions, 47 came from "big market" teams. *Just so we're clear which one's i consider "big market" teams (notice the quotes because this doesn't only mean big market, but those with good qualities as basketball cities as explained above): LAL, HOU, BOS, NY, CHI, PHI, MIA, DAL, and TOR. 2.) With the idea of the above article, small market teams CAN'T keep their star players. As i've always stated, for a "big market" team. All it takes to get a championship, is to buy one(figuratively). for "small market" teams, wise management is necessary. NOLA did everything in its power to retain CP3. The TC6 trade was necessary because if we didn't trade TC in the offseason of 2009, we'd be left with no capable big man C. The Posey trade demonstrated the idea of "big market vs. small market". If the Hornets hadn't offered an extra year, Boston would have won the bidding. Why? Because we're the small market team. The inability to buy picks (unlike Dallas and NY), the inability to sign FAs at a fair price( unlike all the other big market cities). If NOLA was a "big market" team (not necessarily huge population), then we wouldn't have traded TC. we wouldn't have traded the Darrell Arthur pick. We could have signed Posey to the same deal and still survive it. We wouldn't have to worry about cap space, We wouldn't have to worry about luxury tax. Alas, such is not the case. I agree with most of your assessments (especially 1,2,3) but to not fully grasp the idea of "parity" in competitive league is to be biased. I want a league where every year, the teams with the best chance of winning are those that are managed well, not the ones with the wealthiest owner, the wealthiest population, the best etc..

Seattle Needle
Seattle Needle

Thanks for the props and you do bring up some good points regarding parity. You have some deep thoughts and we could go on forever going back and forth on the issue to the point where there isn't enough room on this page. I will say that we're on the same page regarding. In no way did I want to give the perception that there is ENOUGH parity in the league but just that there is more than what the media and public would let you believe. We've seen Chicago and New York go practically a whole decade in the lottery while Golden State has been to the playoffs once in the past 16 years. OTOH, Utah, SA, OKC, Sacramento for awhile and even Memphis this past year were all threats. Of course we had the Hornets go well into the playoffs before that. You mention that management is the way to go and more often than not, when you see bad management in big markets, the team is unsuccesful and when you see good management in small markets, the team does well. While the soft cap is far from perfect, it keeps teams from buying titles. They have to make lopsided trades to get the player on the roster and then go well over the cap to take advantage of his bird rights. If there is revamped revenue sharing, there will be less incentive for small markets to make bad trades and therefore, the big market will have less opportunity to go buck wild on the payroll and essentially buy their way to a title.