By now, everyone knows the deal. The Heat formed a superteam, and teams outside of the destination cities said they could not compete So the NBA locked out, citing 2 core positions:
1) We need to change the CBA to foster competitive balance
2) We need to alter the basketball related income (BRI) split to boost profitability for teams
As for the second position, the lockout got the job done. The BRI split for players dropped from 57% to 50%. After just 8 teams were profitable before the lockout, 20 were profitable this season, and that figure is expected to rise to 25 next year, and all 30 teams in 2 years.
But as for that first position, the NBA has made up no ground.
Chris Paul left a one star team in New Orleans to form a 2 star team in Los Angeles. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, on one star models, teamed up. And then we had the climax. The Lakers acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, helping them join Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and the Lakers.
Stars conglomerating in a few destination cities flies in the face of what the NBA said it locked out for. The NBA maintained that competitive balance and money were equally important; a better $ split was not good enough, they needed both. In fact, when pressed on the issue of "isn't a better BRI split enough, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said, "the competitive issues are independent of the economic issues and our goal is to have a system in which all 30 teams are competing for championships, and if well managed, they have the ability to break even or make a profit. So we don't see the ability to break even or make a profit as a trade-off for the ability to field a competitive team."
Unfortunately, this was a farce. The new CBA was not designed to bring competitive balance; the lockout was solely about money. At its core, the CBA saw the following system changes:
1) luxury tax payments taxpayers owe to the league are significantly higher, and sharpen as teams become repeat taxpayers. So, a team $40 million into the tax may owe the league as much as $100 million in 2 years, as opposed to just $40.
2) tax teams get a $3 million and $1 million exception as opposed to a $5 million and $2 million exception.
Notably, the CBA still operates as a soft cab teams can exceed using exceptions. The only difference is that big spending teams see more of their money distributed to non taxpayers.
Translation: you can form that superteam you formed under the old CBA. As long as we get a larger check during tax season, and improve our bottom line. In other words, the exact opposite of competitive balance.
Think the change from $7 million in exceptions to $4 million makes a difference? Guys have historically taken a little less to play for a winner. So you get to hoard the stars and get the complementary pieces. Think the stricter tax makes a difference? Jerry Buss just acquired Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, and Jodie Meeks: and his net worth is LESS than that of James Dolan, Mickey Arison, and Mikhail Prokhorov.
Robert Sarver had Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, and Rajon Rondo's draft rights on his team. He dealt Johnson and Marion out of reluctance to pay them and let the Knicks outbid him for Amare. He sold Rondo for cash. And then he traded Nash to an arch rival. But he ratified the new CBA, after which he complained the Suns were playing the Bobcats and Bucks but not the the Heat and Celtics. He preferred 2 losses on his team's schedule that sold, to 2 wins. So tell me, does he care about competitive balance?
Bottom line: NBA owners locked out in order to make more money. There are a few destination cities where players are flocking. Some other teams try to compete. Some just cut their losses. Look at the Cavs and Magic. When LeBron was in Cleveland, the Cavaliers stopped at nothing to spend money to build a team for him. They paid Larry Hughes, took on big time salary to deal for Delonte West and Joe Smith, spent big on Mo Williams, Shaq, and Jamison, and paid Vareajo. Same for Orlando with Dwight: they shot money through a fire hose to get him players. Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson received absurd money in Orlando. Both teams spent like hell to win. Only when they lost LeBron and Dwight have they pulled back. Translation: we're having a hard time figuring out how to win. Let's just cut costs, watch the bottom line.
The Dwight Howard deal: it was just a tax move. The Nets were knee deep in tax with or without Dwight. The Rockets probably would've gotten Dwight but still stayed beneath the tax. The Lakers? They were barely in the tax before Dwight but he made them deep taxpayers. This trade, more than dealing Dwight to Brooklyn or Houston, gives Orlando the biggest luxury tax distribution.
Can The Non Destination Cities Compete?
Some point to the Spurs and Thunder as evidence that all 30 teams can compete. But is that true? Sure the Spurs and Thunder, as locations guys are not pining to run to, have still managed to have success, but both organizations have literally made no mistakes. They nail every move. They're fortunate: Durant-Westbrook could be Oden-Mayo if Portland and Minnesota took different guys.
Look at the Kings. They drafted high, just like OKC. They get Evans and Cousins, and where are they? Stuck. Better yet, look at the Nuggets and Rockets. Both are well run. Denver found Lawson and Faried late, swiped Gallinari Chandler and Mozgov for Carmelo, obtained McGee, and stole Iguodala in the Dwight deal. But they're STILL not title caliber. And they're stuck. Not picking high in the draft, and not a place stars want to be, they can't get their hands on a big chip. The Rockets? They built a nice team around guys like Lowry and Dragic, but saw they could not get a star like Bosh (in 2010) to join, despite going 11 deep. So they nuked the team for young assets to deal for a Gasol or Dwight. But it didn't even matter: guys just do not want to be Rockets.
On the other hand, take the Knicks. James Dolan may be the worst owner in sports. But it does not matter. All the Knicks do is get under the cap one summer, and BOOM, Carmelo Amare Chandler. The Nets played possum for 2 years, making no move of note from 2010-2012 besides dealing for Deron. One summer under the cap and BOOM a Deron-Joe Johnson tandem and deep bench.
Even worse, look at the Heat and Lakers. The Heat tried to overpay Elton Brand a few summers ago, a move that would have blocked the big 3. They dealt Daequan Cook, Michael Beasley, Arnett Moultrie, and a first rounder for second rounders! They're not that well run; the moves MIAMI makes to get better are not smart. Same for the Lakers, really. But the players make the moves, and choose the destination cities. They nuke this idea that management matters, at least to an extent. They've hijacked the process, ceasing to trust management and taking it upon themselves to win by forming superteams (and when you see the year LeBron had, can we blame 'em?). That's why we previously called LeBron a Sam Presti clone.
Don't blame the players. The current system tells stars this: make 18 with nobody next to you, or 17 on a loaded team. So of course guys team up: the goal is to be remembered as a champion and this gives them the best chance.
NBA owners are to blame for the superteam movement. Why? The CBA breeds an uneven playing field between the few cities where guys want to be, and everywhere else. If you run a team where guys are dying to go, you need only run it decently because guys will flock. All Miami did for stars was amass cap space by dealing longer deals for shorter deals: a fourth grader can do that on NBA 2K13. As for the other teams, they must manipulate the CBA and be incredibly smart, and even then must get lucky with a player or 2 landing in their lap. Durant Westbrook and Harden fell to OKC's laps. Duncan came the year after David Robinson was hurt: the Spurs were not your typical team picking #1 in that with a healthy Robinson they'd have been good without Timmy.
But this is the system NBA owners agreed to. Owners in markets struggling to compete basically said "we're fine with you five teams hoarding all the talent. As long as our luxury tax cuts are bigger and you share more revenue." Rather than blame players for taking advantage of the system to further their careers, let's take a look at owners that chose a pocket padding system over one enabling them to bring a winner to their fans.
THE FIX: A Hard Cap With No Limit on Max Salaries
A hard cap, with no limit or higher limits on max deals, would fix the CBA. In such a system, big name stars would make more money, and teams would have a cap number they could not exceed by a penny. The result? Less stars would team up. Inevitably, stars would seek the max or something comparable, and teams would be unable to stuff 2-4 stars in the cap. Yes, guys like LeBron claim they took "less money" to leave, but ultimately him and Bosh sign and traded to get their money. Deron? He took the Nets extra 26 million. Dwight? He opted in, which maximized his payout wherever he went. The evidence that guys would play for $15 million over $25 million, is scant.
The result of a hard cap? Bye bye superteams. Hello "competitive balance." One of our readers, a football fan from Plattsburgh, extolled the value of the hard cap system.
"As long as the soft cap is the NBA business model, they'll never sniff the success of the NFL. The leaue will never be as successful as it can be. The soft cap makes it difficult for teams like Utah or Charlotte to be competitive. A hard cap is designed to stop what some of these teams are doing. Success for a franchise starts with management. A soft cap to me seems like no cap at all. If you're willing to blow mountains of money, you could have no cap."
But remember, this is not the system we have, because owners did not fight for it. They fought hard for a nice BRI split, but not to curb the superteam movement.
As long as they get a wad of Benjamins, they don't care if their team goes down 25 points faster than you can say "Kobe Dwight Nash"
The competitive balance moniker was nothing more than a catchphrase designed for fans so they would side with their locking out teams, in the belief that the lockout was designed to help bring them a more competitive team. The reality: in exchange for the ability to form superteams, the players and destination cities waived a wad of Benjamins in front of the owner's faces, and the owners said yes faster than you can say "Kobe Dwight Nash."
And you know who gets the last laugh, don't you. When you get an NBA finals with 12 all stars while they sell you "competitive balance," David Stern will be grinning ear to ear, and all you can do is hope that one day, your team happens to win the draft lottery when a franchise guy goes #1.
The NBA is winning.
Through our Facebook and Twitter pages, #Sources has interacted with its readers and fans to get their takes on the Superteam era, as we wrote ours above. A common thread among our readers is a dislike of this new era of NBA players teaming up.
"You can't build a mountain without digging a hole," said one of our readers from Long Island. "The creation of superteams means that other teams must suffer. When half of the nba all stars reside in 3 cities, it means that the rest of the country combined shares the other half."
Another one of hour fans is from Albany and enjoys muffins. She echoed similar statements, ironically, as a Miami Heat fan.
"Super teams are terrible for the league. The better a team is, the more people will like them and want to see them play and buy their stuff. But it kills competition. Becuase the most popular teams get to buy all the talent."
Another one of our fans from Delanson, New York, is a begrudging Laker fan in part because of how he feels about superteams.
"I like the Lakers. But I hate all the players."
Not all reactions to superteams from our readers, however, have been as negative. Like anything else, it's debatable whether superteams are good or bad. And everyone has an opinion.
"Superteams suck, but that's where the league is now, so we might as well enjoy it and hope for the best for our team," said one of our readers from Rochester. "I don't like the idea of forcing teams not to hoard and gather stars. Let the market work itself out."
Some fans take it a step further. As long as my team's the super one, I'm all right.
"All I can say is, welcome aboard, Mr. Ray Allen," one of our Albany readers said. (Of course, many fans in Boston call Allen "Judas": maybe our man from Delanson has a point.
Another reader, calling the Lakers a super duper team, is fine with the movement as well, referencing his hockey team as a potential superteam.
"I would like to say that the New York Rangers of the NHL are going to have a great season in '12-'13," said the New Jersey native. "After the acquisition of sniper Rick Nash, the Broadway Blueshirts are primed for a run at the Cup this season!"