This time last year, NBA fans were cursing at their computer screens as the prospects of a 2011-12 NBA season slowly faded away. The owners were painted as greedy and difficult, knowing full well that the players had no leverage whatsoever. In the end, the owners got nearly all the provisions they were pushing for and the season was cut short. At the time, it had seemed the NBA owners had won in a landslide.
Fast forward to now, in July, with free agency in full swing. In hindsight, the owners may have gotten all the provisions they’ve wanted, but have somehow managed to learn absolutely nothing.
Roy Hibbert? A big man averaging 13 points per game shooting at under a 50 percent clip, playing 30 minutes a game and grabbing nine rebounds? He’ll get a max contract — which was offered by the Portland Trailblazers — for four years and $58 million. Not only have the Blazers outbid everyone, likely by a mile, but they’ve managed to set the market price for a solid-at-best big man, meaning any center who is just “solid” (or serviceable) or better will automatically be worth the max, actual value be damned.
Eric Gordon? A player who has yet to start in more than 64 games in a season, played a whopping nine games in 2011-12 and whose last full season was his rookie year, over four years ago? A player who shoots at 45 percent clip for his career, and does little else? He’s a max player now, as evidenced by the Suns outbidding for his services. Though this deal is a bit more defensible than Hibbert’s soon-to-be contract, note that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love are also getting max contracts. Is Eric Gordon on that level? He very well could be, but the dude’s injury-prone, and giving him a four-year, $58 million contract is the definition of a risk.
Dwight Howard? He’s demanding a trade and trying to determine where he lands, something David Stern tried like hell to eliminate in last year’s CBA negotiations, and an intention cemented by Stern’s veto of the Lakers’ trade for Chris Paul last November.
Steve Nash? The possibility of a sign-and-trade — something the NBA owners whined about during the CBA negotiations — is likely, with the Los Angeles Lakers in the mix. In essence, this would tie the Phoenix Suns with salary instead of allowing them to shed Nash’s contract off the books while helping a “big market” team like the Lakers obtain a top-tier free agent despite being absolutely cash-strapped with $30 million over the salary cap.
The NBA teams’ front offices are throwing money at players that probably don’t deserve such money and owners are tempted to engage in sign-and-trades — which would lock them up for more salary to get something in return for their lost free agents. For the owners, there’s always multiple max contract players in every free agent class. To the common man with common sense, only a handful of players are worthy of a max contract.
And it’s obviously unfair to blame the players, for taking more money. Try turning down a raise you didn’t fully deserve, and then come talk to me about players being greedy.
No, this is on the owners, for again, giving in to their temptations to land the free agent class’s biggest name — which isn’t always a superstar and, more often than not, is a decent to really good player — to a contract that you would give to a superstar. The same issues that the owners complained about in the summer of 2011 are the same issues that have yet to be resolved.
Sure, teams that were way over the cap are now frantically shedding salary to avoid receiving a $2-for-every-$1-over-the-cap luxury tax, but they’re also saving money at the expense of the teams losing free agents because those teams give in to temptation for sign-and-trades, and those teams that spent less are getting stupid with their cap space and offering large, risky contracts to anyone and everyone. Players that demand trades still hold a crap-load of leverage over where they want to go, essentially making threats to become a free agent (instead of signing a max extension) if unwanted, prospective teams trade for them.
So here we are, just a year into a CBA meant to create more parity, while teams that haven’t had success in the past couple years have begun to show that adding rules will not deter poor management, impulsivity and irresponsibility.
Perhaps the owners — the same owners who claimed their poor decision-making was a result of a poorer system — just aren’t competent owners.
Perhaps, in the words of hardline owner Michael Jordan, the owners should just sell their teams.
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