Let’s talk about free agency, shall we?
After seeing the events since July 1st unfold in the NBA, one line comes to mind for me.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Good Fellas, you know what I’m talking about.
“F*** you, pay me.”
Ever since striking mega deals with television networks ESPN and TNT, the NBA has a new revenue stream that is not just from putting butts in seats or from selling short sleeved jerseys.
No, it is a river of cash flowing with greater force than the Mississippi and brings richness to anyone who inhabits it like the Nile.
As a result, the NBA salary cap–the one device implemented in this league that tries to keep parity afloat–has grown at such an astounding rate.
The inflated cap has caused a series events that has taken the life out of the NBA. It has made bench players multi-millionaires and has allowed for the formation of a super teams that have come to dominate the league year in and year out. It has taken away parity of the game, mainly because the superstars of the league have control of every little nuance of the NBA on and off the court.
In the 2015-2016 NBA season the salary cap was set at $70 million. In 2016-2017, the number is officially set at a whopping $94.14 million, with the ability to grow to $107 million the following year. That is basically the equivalent of an extra max contract a team can take on as a result of television.
However, the NBA salary cap is softer than Marc Gasol on the low post (partially kidding).
This means that teams can exceed the salary cap, provided that some of their ridiculous contracts fall under the wide range of exception categories.
Basically, the salary cap in the NBA resembles the scoring system from “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”. Everything is made up, and it does not matter.
The $24 million jump in allotted salary per franchise means that players will make more money. Despite the jump, you’d think that the general managers of the NBA would spend it wisely based on the talents on each player, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Here are some eye-catching contracts since July 1:
Timofey Mozgov received a max contract totaling $64 million over four years from the Lakers. He put up 6.3 points per game, good enough for 46th amongst qualified centers.
Jeremy Lin is heading back to New York but this time he’ll be going downtown to the Brooklyn Nets, making $36 million over the next three years.
Matthew Dellavedova received a four year deal from the Bucks with $38.4 million in compensation to try and to replicate his 7.5 points per game stat line from last year.
All-star point guard Mike Conley signed the richest deal in NBA history with a five year, $153 million contract.
To put this in perspective, Dellavedova and Mozgov combined for only 71 minutes the in the thrilling seven-game NBA Finals series. They didn’t play a single minute in the pivotal game seven that decided the series, and yet, they will be raking in an excess of $102 million with their new deals.
Jeremy Lin, a backup point guard who started just 13 of the 78 games he played this past season, is receiving over $10 million per year run the floor of a team that will probably miss the playoffs and struggle to break an even .500 winning percentage.
Mike Conley, while a good player in his own right, is being paid over $30.6 million a year to score around 15 points a game and to play defense.
Taking an even more in depth look at Conley, let’s look at his stats for this past year. For players who played in over 55 games last year, Conley averaged 14th in the NBA in points. For point guards. Laker standout Jordan Clarkson, and even the oft-maligned Jrue Holiday averaged more points than the $30 million man.
While scoring is not the end all be all for the NBA, is defense really worth such a high premium? Especially in a league where points are given out like candy? Even if it is, is it worth it for the guy who finished 18th in steals for guys who played 55 games?
To add to absurdity of his contract, Conley’s per year salary is greater than MLB superstars Giancarlo Stanton, Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols, and Max Scherzer.
It is also greater than the salaries of two of the NHL’s best in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, combined.
Lastly, it surpasses a deal (on a per year basis) that was signed just 24 hours before, that being of NFL quarterback wunderkind Andrew Luck.
Let that sink in.
All those guys mentioned above are the best or one of the best at their respective sports. Conley would struggle to keep up with the big boys of the NBA on a night in, night out basis.
We now live in a world where mediocre NBA players are being compensated at all-star rates.
This trend will continue on and will be pushed down our throats by insiders as they tweet about the Tyler Johnson’s of the NBA signing deals that will pay them in the double digit millions per year.
However, this is not the biggest problem the NBA has.
Yeah, the contracts for run of the mill players are ridiculous, and the next trillionaire might be Rasual Butler.
The real problem is the league’s superstars, the super teams that follow, and the vice tight grip that these high-caliber players have on the league.
On July 4, 2016, Kevin Durant officially ended the NBA as a credible, functioning, sports league.
Durant, who was the last beacon of hope that any superstar would show loyalty to the team that drafted him, bolted from one the league’s best teams in the Oklahoma City Thunder to the best regular season team ever, the Golden State Warriors.
Durant will plop into a lineup that already features a cast of superstars. Stephen Curry, the reigning MVP and single season 3-point champion, will run the point. Draymond Green will stretch the floor at the 4-spot and provide a solid 15 point effort a night, along with rebounds and (moving) picks that free up any ball handler near the perimeter. Klay Thompson is the perfect antidote for a team’s cold shooting night as he can heat up anywhere at any time. He has the uncanny ability to be a silent scorer, and before you know it, Thompson is the team’s leading scorer.
At this point, who cares who plays center.
Golden State won 73 games this year in the regular season, and won the championship the season prior. Now, they add the four-time scoring champion and perennial MVP candidate.
Scary ain’t it?
It is incredibly scary. What is scarier though is that the NBA season is already predetermined.
We will most likely see Warriors-Cavaliers part three in the Finals.
We will most likely go through a season in which ESPN devotes a whole show to each Golden State game.
We will now have to go through a season in which we will only hear about if LeBron can repeat against a super team that has been newly dubbed the “Core Four” on a nightly basis.
All because Kevin Durant did not feel that he could win in Oklahoma City.
That in itself is lunacy, since his team was 48 minutes away on three separate occasions of beating the team he just signed with in the Western Conference Finals.
It has become too easy for superstars to leave their current teams, and it has become too easy for teams to manipulate the joke of a salary cap that NBA has implemented.
Very few teams actively set out this year to free up the needed cap space to sign a superstar of Durant’s caliber.
Unlike the preparation for the gongshow that is now posthumously known as the “Summer of LeBron”, the majority of the NBA general managers stood pat and decided to keep their core together.
There was no unloading of an overpaid bench player with a conditional first round pick, and a bloated expiring contract to small market teams who knew they could not sign a LeBron James, a Dwyane Wade, a Chris Bosh, etc.
There were no random buyouts announced halfway through a home game on Tuesday night against an out of conference opponent, of your favorite team’s second round pick from 2007.
This was all in due to the fact that salary cap significantly shot up this year.
The Warriors only had to trade Andrew Bogut to the Mavericks, and let Harrison Barnes follow him to Dallas.
As mentioned before, the increased cap meant an extra player with a max contract could legally squeeze onto an NBA roster. And the Warriors did that in staging a coup that has the robbed the NBA of its competitiveness.
It will become a two team race, with fewer dark horses than ever before.
There was once a time that you would have to think about who could win each conference. Not anymore.
Durant’s free agency proves that superstars have too much power in the NBA.
They can change teams whenever they want.
They can force general managers to trade for their best friends, even if it means sacrificing the future (see the Kevin Love trade).
They can force coaches to take back seats in the huddle, so that they can call the shots.
The NBA has become a circus that is run by a select group of players.
Nowadays, if you do not have more than one player of that collective superstar braintrust on your team, your chances of winning a championship are slim to none.
But, hey, let’s have the Lakers give Timofey Mozgov $16 million a year to give off the impression to the fans that teams are trying to build competitors.
That might be the only way to wet the appetite of the 28 other fan bases that are not associated with a Golden Bridge and King.