Competitive balance a target that Stern, NBA have yet to get a fix on
I am not here to rip
Stern has been called the best commissioner in sports history, and he might be. And
Stern is whispering about a lockout next season. It's a stage whisper, intended for everybody to hear -- Stern says the NBA lost $370 million last season and the league needs a new pay structure and if the players don't surrender a piece of the pie, there won't be any pie, which, of course, would be crushing news for
In related news, the Toronto Raptors just gave $34 million to
And in more related news, the Memphis Grizzlies gave
In November 2009, Gay reportedly asked for a five-year contract extension in the $65 million range. The Grizzlies failed to sign him. Then Gay put up basically the same numbers as the year before, Memphis finished 28th in attendance in a league that supposedly lost $370 million, and the Grizzlies missed the playoffs. Naturally, Memphis then gave Gay a five-year, $82 million deal. If that's fiscal responsibility, then
I'm not here to question Stern's numbers. But I do think we need to take a brief tour through recent NBA labor history ... wow, that sounds boring
In the early '90s, NBA rookie salaries got way, way too high; it was like the contracts were made of helium.
How could teams fork over so much money for potential? Stern had to do something, so he persuaded the union to accept a rookie salary scale. Rookies would get three-year deals at relatively low salaries.
Stern thought he had solved his problem. But he had also created new ones. He did not anticipate that dozens of players would turn pro earlier than they ever had so they could plow through their rookie contracts and get big paydays. This led to
Garnett actually turned out to be worth it, but that wasn't the point.
Again, how could teams fork over so much money for potential? Stern had to do something. Now he had two problems: Players were turning pro earlier than he wanted, and they were making money they hadn't earned (even by the ridiculous pro-sports version of the word "earned").
Stern eventually got the union to accept an age minimum (forcing most players to play college basketball for a year, if not actually attend college). Most important, the league (and union) instituted maximum-salary contracts -- and ensured that a player's current team could offer more money, and longer deals, than any other team.
Stern thought he had solved his problem: Salaries had a clear ceiling,
Now, fast-forward to this month.
The Miami Heat stockpiled stars:
With a salary cap and no maximum salaries, precisely the system that the NBA had 15 years ago, there is no way that Miami could horde the three best players on the market.
In fact, with the system in place in the mid-'90s, James, Wade and Bosh might still all be on their (lucrative) rookie contracts. Of course, so would
The point here is that Stern can cite his numbers, he can talk about the economy and cost certainty, and he can try to tackle very real problems with very reasonable solutions. But he cannot predict the future. He cannot keep Memphis and Toronto from giving out foolish contracts. When the NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires next year, Stern might just get what he wants. But he'll need some time to know if that's what he needs.