The NBA didn’t foresee creating the Golden State Warriors super team when they signed the 2011 CBA, but a few small changes might have helped prevent it even with the new National TV contract causing such a massive increase in the Salary Cap. In the owners rush to parity, they changed how teams compete for their own players after the first contract past the rookie deal and combined with a rising Salary Cap, made unanticipated super teams possible.
“Part of the discussion today was how much of what happened this summer was an anomaly in terms of the system,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said at the Board of Governors press conference. “As I’ve made clear before, we did not model for such a large spike in the cap, which is what we saw this summer, and so it enabled teams to make moves that they would not otherwise have been able to make.
“And then the question becomes what corrections should we make in the system. As I’ve said before, from the very beginning, we had two priorities when we went into the last collective bargaining agreement. One was to correct the finances of the league and put every team in a position where if they were well-managed they had the opportunity to be profitable.
“The other issue was we wanted every team, regardless of market size, regardless of how deep the pockets were of the owner, to be in a position to compete for championships.”
Well the owners are certainly making out like bandits under this version of the CBA, competitive balance? Not so much.
The new CBA made extensions for players nearing the end of their first contract after their rookie deal a non-starter. The restrictions were just too tough and the benefits almost non-existent. So, not surprisingly, nearly every player about to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) declined extension discussions and played out their contract.
Under the old CBA, players in these circumstances could sign extensions that would be comparable to what their own team could offer them after their contract ended. Teams could sell their own players on eliminating the risk of injury entailed by waiting until their contract expired without the player having to give up future income, but not anymore.
The 2011 CBA has definitely made things more interesting in the off season. Free Agency is more exciting because more players are “forced” into becoming an UFA in order to get paid. More UFAs equals more excitement, but it has also become mind-numbingly difficult on general managers who really don’t know for sure what to do at the trade deadline with their star players that will become UFAs in the summer.
The new CBA has also nearly wiped out Sign-and-Trade scenarios as players can no longer get any more money in a sign-and-trade than they can as a free agent signing directly with another team. This has almost wiped out any chance at compensation like draft picks or the sometimes valuable traded player exceptions that were often acquired when another team signed your team’s UFA prior to 2011.
“Of course we discussed the activities from the last two weeks for free agency,” Silver said. “I would say we had a robust discussion in the room of various views of player movement that we’ve seen.
“I think we can make the system even better, and I think it is critically important that fans in every market have that belief that if their team is well-managed that they can compete.
“Certainly it’s important to me that markets in this league, those that are perceived as small, as those that are larger, all feel like they have an equal chance.
“My sense is that some of the player movement we just saw is not necessarily a function of market size. It’s clearly, in the case of one particular player, a desire to be in a situation with a group of players who have already proven that they can win. And by the way, I don’t mean to be so cryptic; in the case of Kevin Durant, I absolutely respect his decision, once he becomes a free agent, to make a choice that’s available to him. In this case he operated 100 percent within the way of the system, and same with Golden State.
“Having said that, I do think to maintain those principles that I discussed in terms of creating a league in which every team has the opportunity to compete, I think we do need to re-examine some of the elements of our system so that I’m not here next year or the year after again talking about anomalies. There are certain things, corrections we believe we can make in the system.”
Free agents changing teams is exciting. It keeps the NBA in the news cycle when their isn’t much basketball being played. However, not giving teams, especially small market teams, a chance to extend their own star free agents at maximum salaries prior to the start of free agency means general managers will often be forced into taking the risk of hanging onto players past the trade deadline and losing them for nothing in July.
If the NBA wants to give small market teams like Oklahoma City a chance to fairly negotiate with their own pending UFAs like Kevin Durant, they need to be able to offer an extension on similar terms and at similar dollars to what that free agent could sign for in the summer.
At least then when their pending free agent declines to discuss an extension, the general manager knows for sure prior to the trade deadline that he is facing a very real risk of losing his star player for nothing.
Also, by bringing back the ability for an UFA to obtain the same contract in a sign and trade as he would by re-signing with his old team, teams losing an UFA could at least obtain some compensation when the player forces his new team’s hand by asking for the better deal.
There are no perfect solutions to obtain competitive balance, not with unrestricted free agency a reality that’s here to stay. However, the new CBA took things a step too far when striving to limit players’ contract options and salaries, and the unintended consequences were the best regular season team in NBA history obtaining yet another superstar player and the small market team losing Kevin Durant getting the shaft.
As Silver says, “There are certain things, corrections we believe we can make in the system.” The union wouldn’t even fight you on these two.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.
Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
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