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Winderman: It’s time for built-in buyouts in NBA contracts

Mar 2, 2011, 1:17 PM EDT

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One of the prime sticking points in the negotiations for a new NBA collective-bargaining agreement is maximum contract length. Currently, players can be signed for up to six seasons. Management wants far shorter terms.

Based on the machinations at the buyout deadline, the players certainly are fueling management’s argument.

Even with time left on the contracts, teams have written off the likes of Mike Bibby, Troy Murphy, Corey Brewer, Jared Jeffries, Rasual Butler and several others this week, while also coming close to doing so with the likes of Jason Kapono and T.J. Ford.

All essentially outlasted the usefulness on their contracts, contracts that proved to be longer than any tangible benefit.

And yet, for players such as Bibby, Murphy, Butler and Jeffries, the newfound freedom just might allow them to extend their careers by showcasing their skills for the balance of this season with contenders.

For so many teams (and even players) empty seasons on the end of contracts have proven to be a bane. They limit maneuverability (for teams) and opportunity (for players).

While it might not be what the union wants to hear, and assuming that the union won’t relent on guaranteed contracts, there has to be some sort of built-in buyout system with all contracts, a process the doesn’t have to wait until there are only six weeks left in the regular season.

The compromise could be that the first two or three seasons of all contracts remain fully guaranteed, with preset buyout percentages for ensuing seasons. Like the current third and fourth year of the rookie scale, such decisions would have to be made a season in advance (or at some preset time in advance), for a player to know where he stands.

Beyond that, perhaps the NBA needs to move to some sort of waiver draft, like the NHL has, or something like Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 draft, where only a preset number of players can be protected on the eve of the season, a number below the roster limit.

Amid concern of an imbalance between the haves and have-nots, perhaps if teams were limited to protecting only nine or 10 players prior to the starts of seasons, then the likes of Murphy or Butler or Ford or Kapono (or even a Rip Hamilton) could have shaken free to help teams in need of such skill sets. One contender’s 10th man could be another team’s seventh man. (Salary-cap provisions could be made for such acquisitions.)

What the buyout deadline has shown is that there is a market for players who have spent the first four months lacking an opportunity.

Such less-restrictive redistribution of talent would figure to benefit both the union and the league.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at

  1. teke184 - Mar 2, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    “Like the current third and fourth year of the rookie scale, such decisions would have to be made a season in advance (or at some preset time in advance), for a player to know where he stands.”

    They have these mechanisms now… they’re called “player options”, “team options”, and “early termination options.”

    You have to announce whether you’re exercising your option by a certain date or you lose it.

    Just because teams aren’t using them doesn’t mean they can’t start doing so as Standard Operating Procedure.

  2. bigtrav425 - Mar 2, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    6 yrs is def to long in any sport…4 yrs with a team option for a 5th or maybe some kinda clause that if there production doesnt slip to much in the 4th yr the 5th will automatically pick up no matter what they are making.As far as buyouts there def needs to be something done about that.What im not sure yet.But something for sure

  3. rajbais - Mar 2, 2011 at 7:31 PM

    How about telling all these “genius” owners to get together and make sure that only 90-95% of players get 1-year deals so that buy-outs don’t have to happen?

    These owners are dumber than men who marry women without prenups (I don’t know how to spell it because I’m not married). How about sign guys to deals that prevent buyouts because the players will be told that their money is not work free?

    One-year deals are not bad because max contracts are not mandatory and the salaries for the season don’t have to be cheap! They can fit with the capspace!

    This statement should be resonate with fans because players like Andre Iguodala, Drew Gooden, and Jerome James are obvious examples of players who are overpaid because they were never worth theie respective total dollars or contractual lengths.

    The owners can actually prevent a lockout and work with the current CBA staying in place if they put their feet down during free agency negotiations. Instead of getting spin-doctored by agents they should just say “we owners have become financially strapped during the last several years and too many bad signings elsewhere have given us no choice but to take this route.”

    Fans who see free agents signed or re-signed don’t care about the contractual lengths or dollar amounts if they know that they can help their teams. If these owners thought like fans and understood where we come from they wouldn’t be in buyout or failing CBA negotiations.

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