The NBA began opened its Free Agency period yesterday and from the first contract signed, it was obvious that the increase in the salary cap was going to cause an explosion in the numbers we were going to hear teams and players agreed to. Thanks to a nine-year, $24-billion television deal signed by the NBA in 2014, the salary cap to rise higher than it ever has. That increase is in terms of the total cap, but also the growth from year-to-year. Last year's $70 million salary cap is expected to rise to at least $94 million; the $24 million increase is the largest we’ve ever seen and next year it’s expected to cross $100 million. Just in time for Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook to be unrestricted free agents. And LeBron James and Kevin Durant too.
The increase in total salary teams can pay naturally causes an increase in total salary a player can receive and due to the collective bargaining agreement signed after the last NBA lockout, players are getting a larger piece of the pie. This is showing itself in the tiered contract numbers we’ve seen over the past day or so. A role player like Matthew Dellavedova received an offer sheet from the Milwaukee Bucks amounting to $38.4 million over four years, an average of $9.6 million per year, for a slightly average player. The reason is, a player like Dellavedova has to count 8% against the salary cap, while starters will be 12% and elite-level players fall beneath 25%. Basically it’s all math. But, it’s the type of math that generally flusters people.
Ardent NBA fans are outraged as players like Timofey Mazgov stands to receive $64 million over the next four years from the Lakers, Solomon Hill $50 million from the New Orleans Pelicans and the aforementioned contract of Dellavedova, because those numbers haven’t been associated with players of those skill levels. Shoot, many true NBA fans don’t even know who Solomon Hill played for last season (Indiana Pacers). The best examples of the new math and new normal in the NBA are the contracts of Chandler Parsons and Mike Conley, who both signed maximum contracts with the Memphis Grizzlies. Parsons opted out of his deal with the Dallas Mavericks and agreed to four-years $94.8 million, while Conley becomes the league's highest paid player with a new five-year, $153 million deal. Add in that each team must use 90% of the cap and we’re going to see big bucks going to players who ordinarily would never be considered in those big money conversations. Hence, the contracts of Mozgov and Luol Deng for the Lakers and whoever the Sixers sign after the initial rush.
Neither player has made the All-Star team, but both are set to double the annual salary next season of the reigning MVP Steph Curry.
Of course that will change next summer when Curry signs a new deal under an even higher cap, as will Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. But, in the meantime, we’re looking at Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Evan Turner and others bring in an extraordinary amount of cash and it seems to be ruffling a few feathers. NFL players have taken to Twitter to show their astonishment,
displeasure and disappointment over the money being thrown around. But, it’s apples and oranges when you look at the total number of players on a roster and the economics involved. However, we know the NFL pulls in nearly three times as much revenue as the NBA ($13 billion to $5.2 billion in 2015), but its sharing principles and lack of guaranteed contracts keep the power (and big bucks) in the owner’s box. The same rings true in the NBA, as the owners will continue to reap the benefits of these player’s blood, sweat and tears, additional marketing and television deals, arena deals, money the players never see. For instance, the Lakers signed a $3 billion local television deal with Time Warner in 2011, so that $28 million Kobe made last year was a drop in the bucket compared to what he’s made the Buss family over 20 years. Trust me, no one’s hurting here. The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement dropped the players’ share of Basketball Related Income to 51.15% for the 2011-12 season and 50% for each subsequent season, down from 57% in the previous agreement. This was done to ensure that more teams operated in the black and to reduce some of the autonomy players were gaining. However, the league seemed to overlook the game changer LeBron James had become.
We knew what he had done on the court, but he and his team of advisors had the foresight to maneuver and manipulate the CBA in his favor. Along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they engineered the creation of “The Big Three”, which caused outrage around the league and for casual sport fans, but what it did was show the power the players were capable of. For years, teams traded, released and discarded players at the slightest whims, but when the players took the chance to buck the system, it turned into national outcry. After taking a short on his contract with the Heat, LeBron has taken it a step further with his series of 2-year contracts, with the option to opt-out after 1, he’s signed with Cleveland over the past few summers. By crafting his contracts in this manner, he not only keeps the pressure on the Cavs to deliver a great team, but he puts himself in the position to have the maximum salary offered each summer. He made $24 million last season, but with the new cap, he’s in line to sign a new two-year deal with the option to opt-out again next summer with a nice raise. This will put him position to sign a deal for about $40 million per season, if the owners or players decide not to opt-out of the current CBA. Add in the rumored billion-dollar lifetime deal with Nike and the numerous endorsement deals he’s signed and business ventures and you’re looking at the new model for NBA businessman. He’s learned from Michael and Magic, then upped the ante, by putting himself and his friends in position to lead a revolution of sorts in the power dynamic of the NBA.
Look for Kevin Durant to sign a similar deal with Oklahoma City or one of the other teams courting him, to put himself in a position to make far much more money next summer. The losers in all of this are the players who signed long-term deals last summer. We marveled at the money Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard received last season, but their annual salaries are now aligned with very good players like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, but fall behind deals given to Hassan Whiteside, Conley and Parsons. Butler has more All-Star appearances (two) than the latter three and Kawhi Leonard is a Finals MVP and best player on one of the league’s top teams. Seems like they needed LeBron’s business people in their ear.
On Social Media, folks look at the money being thrown around and discuss all of the social ills that can be addressed with that type of money, not realizing how many players donate money, buildings, scholarships, computers to various organizations and cities across the country. How many families are lifted out of poverty as a result of these contracts. It seems as if they want the NBA to do the job of the Government. The salaries of NBA players, musicians and entertainers seem to always be a point of contention, but people seemingly fail to understand how much money is generated by these highly-skilled artists, who are at the height of their chosen professions. Sure, teachers and policemen should be paid more, but are we mad at Bill Gates for amassing billions for creating something the entire world needs? Or, as you rant on Facebook are you upset with Mark Zuckerberg for becoming a billionaire before 25?
Of course there’s always a racial element to discussions about money and professional athletes. The NBA is just under 75% Black, so the feigned outrage has a lot more to do with who’s getting the money than the fact that the money is being doled out in this manner. There’s hardly a peep when Zack Grienke or Max Scherzer sign deals that pay them upwards of $30 annually and they only play every five days. We can move on to soccer where Ronaldo made $53 million and Lionel Messi made $51 million, but can’t lead his country to a title. We can go on with the comparisons all day, but there’s this disdain, outward and internalized, for the amounts of money these (mostly) Black young men are signing contracts for. Average white folks have gone on to make millions and billions because they possessed a skill or created something necessary to the world, largely to applause and rabid usage. Hell, some of those average students have become the owners of these teams and generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year because of who can dunk or make a 25-foot shot. But you’re not mad at them, you’re mad at the young men who have committed their lives to perfecting their skills and talent and have positioned themselves to redirect the lives of many, while inspiring millions to work hard at the gifts they possess.
What the hell are you looking for?