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Heat may be forced to break up superstar core due to league’s upcoming payroll taxes

Dec 8, 2012, 9:30 AM EDT

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Getty Images

The lockout that shortened the 2011-12 NBA season was about money above all else. The owners were willing to scrap the season if they didn’t secure a much larger share of revenue in the new collective bargaining agreement, and that’s exactly what they were able to do, even if it took holding the players and the fans hostage for a while to get that accomplished.

While helping the league secure a more parity-driven system that focused on competitive balance wasn’t the ultimate goal, the new payroll tax system put into place that will take effect at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season may eventually cause that to be the case.

Teams like the Miami Heat, for example, may simply not be able to afford to keep LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh together to make multiple runs at the title, or, at the very least, they may not be able to surround them with anything more than minimum-salaried players.

From Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated:

As a repeat taxpayer, the Heat will be facing the highest incremental tax rates in NBA history. If, for example, the luxury-tax threshold is established at $75 million — a highly optimistic gain of roughly $5 million from this season — the Heat could be faced with a tax bill approaching $48 million. In total, they would be paying $141.3 million for 12 players.

“They’re going to have to break up their team,” predicted a rival general manager who has done the math.

Unless the NBA’s financial circumstances improve over the next couple of years, Arison will be faced with two unhappy choices: The Heat could run a big deficit in 2014-15 to pursue the championship, or he could break up their winning roster by way of trades, amnesty or by not re-signing James, Wade or Bosh, should they exercise their options to become free agents in 2014.

Thomsen’s piece breaks this all down in much more detail, so it’s definitely worth checking out in its entirety.

The bottom line, though, is this: We can expect the league’s superstar talent to spread out a little bit more in the coming seasons, as opposed to congregating in the league’s largest markets that have with the best weather and the brightest nightlife, as we’ve seen in recent years.

We’ve already seen teams begin to plan for this; New York didn’t want to sign Jeremy Lin to a large contract because of tax ramifications, and the same was true for Oklahoma City where James Harden was concerned.

The repeater-tax may not have been at the top of the list of demands when the teams went to the bargaining table with the Players’ Association last fall. But it may end up slowly having the affect that fans desire, which is to give more teams in more cities a legitimate shot at winning a title, thanks to the dilution of talent that will follow once those higher financial penalties for exceeding the salary cap are put into place.

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