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Would a hard cap really be good for small markets?

Jul 4, 2011, 4:55 PM EDT

Dallas Mavericks v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four Getty Images

When we talk about a hard cap, we wonder how the Lakers at $90.4 million, or the Magic at $89.9 million, or the Mavericks at $86.6 million would get under those numbers. (For all of you out there that thought Dallas winning the title was a triumph of building a team over buying one, know the Heat spent just $66.7 million on salary last season.)

But smaller market teams who try to draft good talent and keep it together — teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder — would be ripped apart too, as Royce Young wisely points out at CBS’s Eye on Basketball blog.

Kevin Durant just signed a five-year extension that will pay him around $16 million a year. Russell Westbrook, an All-Star point guard at the age of 22, is eligible for an extension and would probably have it if there weren’t a lockout. He’s probably a max player or close to. So that would be another major mark on the cap for the Thunder. Then the other guys — Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Eric Maynor — all eligible for extensions next summer.

If the league has a stiff cap of even $60 million, how can the Thunder dream of re-signing these guys and keeping the core intact? Answer: They can’t….

Reality is, a hard cap might have more of an affect on the little guys, which is who the league wants you to think it desperately wants to protect. But basically, with a hard salary cap system, building through the draft and letting a core grow together is no longer the way to go. Put together a roster with five good players that need extensions and you’re out of room after three. Maybe you can get four, but how do you add another nine guys to fill out a 13-man roster?

If a hard cap does flatten out the talent base, you’ll see teams trying to do what Dallas did in the sense of having one elite star then trying to put more affordable veterans around them.

Which is to say, the NBA’s middle class will go away. What drives up the Lakers payroll is less Kobe and more Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest. They can afford to go over the cap and pay to keep good role players around their stars. But those days will end, it will be the high priced stars and the cheap guys around them. And some smaller teams that draft well will have to break up that core because they will bump up against the hard cap.

It’s one reason I think in the end you will still see a soft cap — one with far fewer exceptions but one that lets teams keep their cores together. Because what we want to see is good basketball, and drafting a team that can grow together is one of the best ways to get that.

  1. 1historian - Jul 4, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    Good piece – I for one would love to see OKC have a decent shot at it. They should raise the cap to the stratosphere and if the fans refuse to pay that much for tickets – c’est la vie.

  2. goforthanddie - Jul 4, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    If a hard cap is put in place, salaries will drop. Simple as that. There’s no way around it. If somebody thinks he deserves 1/3 of the hard cap and can convince an idiot owner to pay it, he’ll just have to get used to playing with Miami’s rejects.

  3. billsfanaddict - Jul 4, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    What dont ppl understand here …..IF there is a hard cap ALL salarys will be rolled back ((at minimum)) to an agreed upon maximum for all. The only slightly fesible way this doesnt happen ((ie:gets grandfathered in)) is a soft cap.
    A true Hard Cap CANNOT Exist with a dozen players making 40% or higher of a team’s cap space… to think this will happen is idiotic!
    Why writers arent making this point more often is rediculous. Owners Will Not allow teams to be ‘trapped’ by the dirks, dwights, melos, amares, KGs and kobes of the league. Teams with max-extended veterans are not COMPLETELY Retarded, it cant happen that way, its one or the other, the two cannot coexist. A simple “flat rate” rollback Is Not An Option in combination with an exceptionless hard cap, if by some stroke of league suicide this does hypothetically happen then the next Lockout can be guaranteed and will be lengthy and be coupled with contraction, possibly major contraction.

    • goforthanddie - Jul 4, 2011 at 9:14 PM

      1-It’s called “the amnesty rule”.
      2-Obviously owners will give themselves a way out. Say, if you’re over the limit, you can only sign/trade for league minimum players until you’re under the cap. This wouldn’t apply to re-signing players, just those switching. Allow the first two years for rosters/salaries to settle down,

      Letting teams amnesty one bad contract puts pretty much everybody under whatever the cap would be. The couple of teams that are left are stuck with their current roster and rookies/bottom-feeders until they’re under. No rollback required.

      • billsfanaddict - Jul 4, 2011 at 9:24 PM

        have you been paying attention? the players have already offered one, so ‘required’ or not it is already happening. hypotheticals are nice though arent they, too bad they dont make bad points good

      • billsfanaddict - Jul 4, 2011 at 9:29 PM

        …and having an Amnesty ((ie:an exception to the “rule”… the rule being a Hard Cap)) makes a hard cap what ladies & gentlemen? Soft! case point match mcenroe:)
        made for me by you, thank you much appreciated

      • billsfanaddict - Jul 4, 2011 at 9:58 PM

        its ok, i can understand the ‘thumbs down’ dude
        im not a fan when ppl shoot down my poorly thought out points also
        but i am glad ur reading

  4. tashkalucy - Jul 4, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    An incredibly moronic article.

    If there is a hard cap for small market teams, there is for large and medium market teams as well.

    So some small market teams may not be able to keep all their players. Fine. Golly, then neither will the large market teams, most of which are over the cap now.

    Does this writer understand the first thing about professional sports competition?

    See why I said the other day that God created debit cards because sports writers cannot balance their own checkbooks? I’ve been watching for decades, and there is nothing more hilarious then to read sports writers try to talk about economics during strikes and lockouts. These guys have degrees in how to write rumors and gossip. 12 year-old paper boys understand business better then they do.

    “You’re out of your league, Donny.”

    • david8726 - Jul 4, 2011 at 11:52 PM

      You obviously didn’t put too much thought into your post before you responded. If you did, you’d realize Kurt is right about this.

      The reason why is that good players never CHOOSE to go to small market teams. On the open market, good NBA players will always choose to go to big cities, even if it means taking a little less money to do so.

      Small market teams are able to retain good players now because the current system lets them offer more money and more years to keep players on their roster.

      But, if you take that advantage away, small market teams will start losing a lot of good players that they draft. Then they’ll have to wage an uphill battle on the open market against bigger market teams to sign role players to replace them.

      A big time NBA player might be willing to take less money to play for a big market team. He’ll never make that sacrifice to play for a small market team.

      • tashkalucy - Jul 5, 2011 at 1:38 AM

        “You obviously didn’t put too much thought into your post before you responded. If you did, you’d realize Kurt is right about this.

        The reason why is that good players never CHOOSE to go to small market teams. On the open market, good NBA players will always choose to go to big cities, even if it means taking a little less money to do so.”


        Other then the 3 that went to Miami and took less money in a medium market (money that is made up because Florida has no state income tax), please name us JUST ONE player that has gone to a major market for less money. How about Carmelo Anthony……see the year long thing his agents did to get him a max extension even though he was already signed. And where did he go…..from mid-market Denver to NYC.

        Look pal, if you put a hard cap on ALL NBA teams to pay an equal amount and it will be impossible for the large markets to get all the all-stars, unless those guys are willing to take 25-40% less money.

        Furthermore, I don’t even think a hard salary cap is the issue. The issue that the owners have made plain is that they do not want star players leaving 22 of the 30 markets to play with their friends, leaving the 22 ownership groups and their fans wondering why they’re now a feeder team as most are in MLB.

        Here’s the real issue – when an NFL team loses a player to free agency the team gets a couple of #1 draft choices. The NBA needs to do something similar. But draft choices alone will not work, because in the NBA a player makes up 20% of the players on the floor and he plays both offense and defense. Consequently, getting a star player means the team the player goes to will likely wind up with a low first round draft choice as the team improves drastically. So something needs to be worked out such as

        1) taking the teams #1 draft choice for 2 of the next 3 years, AND
        2) having the team that signs the free agent freeze 2 or 3 players and the team that loses the free agent can then take the player of their choice that isn’t signed. A team and it’s fans lose a star player, they need to get something good back immediately, plus some future considerations. And the team signing the player realizes that they’ll lose one of their best starters plus draft choices 2 of the next 3 years….and THEN with a hard salary cap on top of that, the idea that a team can sign 2 or 3 top free agents becomes pretty much unworkable if becoming a championship contender is the objective. In short, they’ll have guys even worse then the ones that played around the Heats 3 egos.

        The need to take similar action with the draft. As Charles Barkley said – most of the high draft picks today are “projects”, as they either have less then 3 years of college basketball experience or are coming from overseas where the game is far different and it takes time for the players to adjust. As Barkley notes, the objective of the draft is to make the crappy teams better…RIGHT NOW. So I would suggest this – each of the top 18 teams will freeze 5 players. Teams picking in the top 12 of the draft have the right to take a college or international free agent, OR they can select a player that is not frozen by another team. In turn, if they take an NBA player, then that team will be given their draft choice, which can only be used to take a college or international player.

        These are the sorts of things that are needed.

        I’ll say it again – how come ALL teams in the NFL have an equal chance to win of their front offices and coaching staffs select and coach up players. How come players don’t have to leave Denver for NYC? If Peyton Manning was in the NBA would he stay in Indianapolis? It seems to have worked out well for him. He gets to playoffs, Super Bowls and even won a championship. And he gets more endorsements that anyone in professional sports.

      • david8726 - Jul 5, 2011 at 3:55 AM


        First of all, holy wall of text.

        Second of all, your wall of text can be responded to by asking this simple question – When was the last time you saw an NBA star join the grizz, timberwolves, bobcats, or bucks in free agency?

        The answer is never. Teams like that in small cities are incapable of making star players willingly join them. The draft is their only hope. If you think a hard cap will change that, you’re in for a rude awakening.

        If an NBA star has to pick between taking less money to play in LA or playing in minnesota, he’s going to leave some money on the table and play in LA. That should be blindingly obvious.

        NBA players love money, but they love cold cities in small markets even less.

      • savocabol1 - Jul 5, 2011 at 8:42 AM

        To david: You never see big time players going to small markets because the larger markets will, and have the ability to, pay them more then they are truly worth. With a hard cap that would change everything. Big time players will be forced to explore the smaller markets. There really is no debating that. By saying that a star player will willingly take less money just to play in a major city is a huge hyperbole.

      • tashkalucy - Jul 5, 2011 at 10:18 AM


        Oh, when did I ever see a free agent go to a small market?

        I asked the same question this[past weekend.

        Maybe you need to read the holy wall of text. Because something sure as heck is going to be done. And you can rest assured that it will be that teams that sign free agents will pay a price – and teams that lose free agents will be compensated.

        Sorry to tax you thinking process.

  5. goforthanddie - Jul 4, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    billsfanaddict :
    1-It’s not me voting you thumbs down, I rarely bother voting, and your multiple babblings are barely worth acknowledging.
    2-How does immediate elimination of a 15mil contract from the payroll constitute a “soft” cap? 65mil payroll – 15mil contract = 50mil payroll.
    3-How old are you? You type like you’re 8, sound like you’re 5, and throw a tantrum like you’re 2.
    4-Since you’re such an attention whore, and get so butt-hurt that people online think your posts/thoughts are worthless, I’ll be a nice guy and vote EVERY ONE of these cries for attention thumbs up. Would that give the baby his bottle?

    • billsfanaddict - Jul 5, 2011 at 8:56 AM

      adorable conclusion freud
      point #2 has nothing to do with anything i said so i cant answer that for you
      would point #3 make your age ‘just concieved’?
      Not sure how you dont see that your original reply made no sense and disproved nothing so since i cant use logic against ill use simple equations…..
      HARD CAP = no exceptions ((note: nhl is ‘close’ but it has flexibility henceforth its soft))
      AMNESTY = an exception ((note: meaning if used, then one could not call their cap hard))
      SOFT CAP = exceptions allowed ((note: like a mostly rigid cap w/amnesty’s))
      SALARY ROLLBACKS = an offer by employees to give back whats been legally promised to them in a contract. ((note: this has already offered by the players, so why are you pretending we live in a world that we dont? “Required” or Not, it no longer matters once the side that can/would say ‘**** off’, read-employees, to the idea has given up doing so.))
      … are we still confused friend?

  6. bittersonicsfan - Jul 5, 2011 at 12:06 AM


    Exactly. Leveling the playing field across the board, small and large markets.

  7. glantern444 - Jul 5, 2011 at 1:56 AM

    Lets see aren’t the owners wanting less money for the players? So if the cap is 69 mill and the players goes from 16 to say 12 maybe the teams can sign extensions to keep the core siince obviously ibaka or harden won’t be Max players…n the heart got there big 3 thays why they couldn’t spend it was because they didn’t want to obviously!

  8. cosanostra71 - Jul 5, 2011 at 3:31 AM

    the problem is that GMs are giving these stupid contracts more than that the players are taking them. What idiot GM gave Rashard Lewis $130 million, and why does he still have a job? Can you blame Rashard Lewis for taking that contract? Maybe the owners should look at the guys they employ that offer these contracts rather than the players who agree to them.

    • craigw24 - Jul 5, 2011 at 10:45 AM

      You make the point that I think is the reason this will fail – hard or soft cap – stupidity. Just because an owner is good at business doesn’t mean they are good at sports business – the rules are different – see Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling.

      Also, whether or not there is a hard cap, if one player is bringing many, many more customers than another (i.e. Kobe Bryant) I can certainly see an owner giving that player 40% of the total cap income. In fact they may be earning it. That fact, by itself, will destroy what the owners are saying they are trying to accomplish.

      I don’t mind the player salary rollback so much. What I really dislike about the owner’s demands is that they are trying to guarantee a profit for themselves. Under any type of economic system, the only time this is possible is a monopoly. Then the customer has to find another type of product (read: game) to purchase before the problem is solved – i.e. the owners all see losses.

  9. doggie15 - Jul 5, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    Just goes to show that the there are two words that should never be used together: sports and journalism.

    The really stupid assumption is that salaries for the best players remain the same which is the whole point. If there is a hard salary, salaries across the board will come down so the notion that big stars are going to be making anything north of 10M is a crock.

    I am not arguing for a hard cap per se although it would be better than the current system. But one of the biggest problems re: the owners making money is the # of guaranteed contracts which results frequently with many teams paying for a) pretty bad players, 2) pretty lazy players who have no incentive to actually play hard or within a team concept (which is about the only thing small market teams can use to win consistently and 3) “expanded” rosters which results in teams that have 12 guys on the roster while paying for 15.

    No wonder the business owners, who ought to expect to make a reasonable profit or why invest in a business, have a hard time breaking even much less make a profit.

  10. wiLQ - Jul 5, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    “it will be the high priced stars and the cheap guys around them”
    IMHO the effect of hard cap will be different:
    1) all salaries will drop by a certain percentage,
    2) high priced stars will become “moderately priced players”,
    3) cheap guys will remain cheap guys but with a 20-40% loss of earnings.

    “What drives up the Lakers payroll is less Kobe and more Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest”
    That’s always a fun argument that 25M$ doesn’t drive up payroll as much as 8M$ or 13M$ or 7M$ 😉

    • Kurt Helin - Jul 5, 2011 at 7:14 PM

      My point is this: Kobe may cost $25 million but the revenue he generates for the team (ticket sales, jersey sales, sponsors wanting to be part of the team and on down the line) bring in far more than is expended on him. However, LO and Bynum and Artest do not bring the value of their contracts in terms of pure revenue. And while most teams can afford maybe one “middle class” guy (by NBA terms) the Lakers can have a bunch.

  11. LPad - Jul 5, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    If I’m not mistaken they use a hard cap in football and small market teams like the Bills struggle to make money while the Packers make it hand over fist, which shows that the problem doesn’t lie in a hard or soft cap.

    • 440shane - Jul 5, 2011 at 2:23 PM

      Completely incorrect here, ALL NFL teams make a lot of money, some more than others. The Packers do no make it hand over fist. There just was an article in ESPN the Mag a week or so ago, saying how the Packers made far less last year after giving extensions to certain players like Greg Jennings and the like. They do use a hard cap and floor in the NFL. Small market teams and large market teams all make loads of money in the NFL. Some bigger teams like the Cowboys complain about the revenue sharing, but that is really the only difference in the NFL. I.E. Dallas makes 25 million to Jacksonville’s 15 million…..

    • doggie15 - Jul 5, 2011 at 4:37 PM

      Bad example for a few reasons:
      1)since the NFL has revenue sharing, it takes general incompetence for a team not to make a certain amount of money which is not the case in the NBA. Bigger market teams and teams with big followings(Packers as an example) can make more money but only mismanagement would cause a team to lose money which is the case for at least 2/3s of the NBA. I bet you that the Bills make more money than all but 5 to 6 teams in the NBA.
      2) very few long term contracts with long term guarantees in the nfl. I suspect that if one did an analysis, you would be shocked at how many really poor basketball players have received very large guaranteed contracts over long periods of time. in the NFL, the “stars” may receive a large bonus up front, but after that you only get paid if you are on the team. Because of the frequency and severity of injuries, it is much more rare for an NFL player to have a long term guaranteed contract than it is in the NBA. I guessing 3/4s of every roster in the NBA has some form of guaranteed contract.
      3) The cap in the NFl is a true cap. The NBA probably has the softest cap with owners able to go over if they want to pay the luxury tax.


    • goforthanddie - Jul 5, 2011 at 5:16 PM

      The Bills struggle year in, year out because they are a poorly run team. GB wins Super Bowls because they aren’t.

  12. kenkawai993 - Jul 9, 2011 at 9:46 PM

    What about a salary cap where the teams are allowed to exempt one single player from the whole team salary cap? Like say for example the nets sign deron Williams to a 3 year 60 million dollar contract but the cap is say 40 million. Williams can be exempt from the cap but the team cannot pay any other player more then the exempt salary amount.

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