Will the NBA’s New Salary Cap Mean Anything at All?

By / April 19, 2015 / analysis, article, Highlights, mlb, nba

With an ever-growing pie, will the rich become richer? Or will the less-endowed receive a larger sum of the new cash influx?

That’s the NBA’s future conundrum in its simplest terms. After inking a nine-year, $24 billion deal with ESPN and Turner Sports, the NBA is receiving a ridiculous amount of BRI (basketball-related income), which will influence the spending room for teams. According to recent reports, the league’s salary cap has the potential to skyrocket to $67.1 million next season, $89 million in 2016-17, and $108 million in 2017-18. What will this mean for the pieces that comprise the NBA’s money-making puzzle (the players)?

There are several obvious ramifications of the growing cap, and that is where the discourse should begin. For purpose of discussion, let’s focus on the $108 million in 2017. Many have already pointed out that superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant will undoubtedly be attracted to the fact that they can now be offered more for their services, especially when one considers how much money franchises generate off of box-office talent like James and Durant. Additionally, young and emerging stars like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, and others will have several opportunities in the near future to dip their feet into the rich waters. Expect a lot of one to two-year deals this offseason and next.

Kevin Durant and LeBron James, two of the NBA's biggest stars. (John Kuntz/The Plain Dealer)

Kevin Durant and LeBron James, two of the NBA’s biggest stars. (John Kuntz/The Plain Dealer)

But once you traverse pass the glitz and glamor that surely awaits the stars in the game, the negative flip side of the deal emerges: What about everyone else not named James and Durant and Curry? 

I mean, in a perfect world, more cap room would lead to more to offer for the bench players and 6th men of the league. Right?

Not so fast. If anything, the three-year jump from $63 million to $108 million will continue today’s same trend for the less-endowed members of the NBA; the good-but-not-greats and the benchwarmers that plug holes in every team’s roster. It doesn’t matter if the salary cap is $60 million or $100 million. More money for a franchise will simply mean more for the 1% of talent on a roster.

For example, LeBron James makes $20 million in 2014-15. That’s about 1/3 of the Cavs’ cap. What’s holding him back from signing a long-term deal in 2017 that will give him $33 million a year, about 1/3 of the cap when adjusted to the new salary cap of around $100 million?

In the end, James is still making the same percentage (1/3) of the cap, regardless of whether the ceiling is $60 or $100 million. Looking at it from that perspective, James’ monetary gains won’t change — if anything, it’ll increase. As a result, it’s hard to see if the new cap will really impact things for the majority of NBA players that aren’t as gifted as James.

The Spurs’ Boris Diaw.

Then again, the new cap room opens up opportunities for middle-of-the-road guys, or players who are among the league’s proverbial second and third tiers. Because sure, players of the Andrea Bargnani-ilk shouldn’t get $20 million contracts (the fact that the Knicks pay Bargnani $11.5 million now is bad enough). But expect larger contracts for sturdy and above average players like Boris Diaw, Paul Milsap, and Kenneth Faried, just to name a few examples. I do believe that a larger cap will allow for more money to flow the players that fly under the radar unfairly, like the three names mentioned before. But I do not believe that the larger cap will present more opportunities for the league’s bottom tier of player, and that’s my concern. Despite everything I’ve said in this paragraph, the larger cap will still give more opportunities to James and Durant to reap in more money, not for guys on the edge of the bench.

Again, I also don’t think it’s fair that scrubs should be walking home with $5-$6 million when they were previously making $800k-$1 million. No general manager and ownership would sign on for that. But, as is unfortunately the case in today’s star-heavy landscape, the less-skilled are the ones that we forget about. By raising the salary cap and allowing big stars to get an even bigger share of the pie, the smaller talent will receive even less of their already small slice.

There are some solutions to the problem I have highlighted. There is the improbable: removal of the salary cap altogether; and there is the thought-provoking: replication of MLB’s player union, when the star members of the MLBPA (largely regarded as the strongest players union in professional sports) stood by their weaker companions. A more in-depth exploration of this instance can be found in a New York Times article discussing the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant:

According to Professor Gilbert, solidarity between the star players and the lesser ones has been critical to their bargaining successes since the mid-1960s, when the players brought on Marvin Miller, a former United Steelworkers economist, to run their union.

The Cubs’ Kris Bryant.

Most famously, in the run-up to the Major League Baseball strike of 1981, the club owners were determined to scale back the free agency rights the players had won five years earlier. The owners proposed requiring any team that acquired a free agent to compensate the player’s former team with a member of its roster. 

That approach would have sharply reduced teams’ incentives to sign free agents, except in the case of the most-sought-after players. But the stars held the line, effectively preserving free agency for their less-skilled colleagues.

“From the standpoint of labor, it was the most principled strike I’ve ever been associated with,” Mr. Miller [a former United Steelworkers economist] later wrote. “Many of the players struck not for a better deal for themselves but for a better deal for their colleagues.”

So, yeah. Let’s see if guys like James are willing to take paycuts of their own to allow more money for their lesser-skilled companions. Considering how many cuts a guy like James has already taken in his career, will he be willing to do it again? If it means the betterment of the league, perhaps the conscious James will see the big picture. But then again, aren’t we already asking James and other stars to take paycuts — with $60 million caps? If we ask guys to take paycuts with $100 million caps, won’t that defeat the purpose of the increase?

Man. Since when has $40 million seemed so insignificant?

About Author

Amiri Tulloch

Amiri is the 15-year-old host, producer, and founder of JG Sports Talk. Amiri created JG Sports Talk in 2011, at 11-years-old, and has continued to broadcast ever since. Follow Amiri on Twitter: @AmiriTulloch, and email him at jgsportstalk@gmail.com.

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