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2017 preview? Adam Silver says he wanted NBA hard salary cap

Aug 8, 2013, 12:33 PM EDT

NBA Commissioner David Stern Announces Retirement Getty Images

During the lockout and Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, NBA Commissioner-in-waiting Adam Silver was the league’s attack dog. He was the bad cop to David Stern’s good cop in their routines for the press.

What came out of those negotiations was a much more punitive luxury tax system that was supposed to tamp down spending by the bigger market, richer NBA teams. The new taxes — which kick in for this season — were going to be so onerous as to force owners to rein in spending.

Then came the Brooklyn Nets. They have put together a payroll in excess of $100 million that will lead to about $87 million in additional taxes. And owner Mikhail Prokhorov doesn’t care.

Speaking with the New York Post, Silver talked about the owners wanting a hard (or at least harder) cap in what sounded a lot like a 2017 preview.

“I would say it’s no secret that we went into collective bargaining seeking a hard cap,” NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver… told The Post Wednesday after speaking at the league’s Rookie Transition Program in Florham Park. “So, for the long-term health of the league, we would rather do more to level the playing field among our teams, so the teams that have disparate resources are all competing with roughly the same number of chips so to speak.”

“What I’ll add is that what we’ve seen with the Nets, ultimately there’s no prohibition if you’re willing to pay a very substantial tax — there’s no prohibition on signing the players they did, but the new rules also dramatically limit those players that are available to sign, especially once you move into the tax. So we’ll see [what happens].”

Both sides have the choice to opt out of the current CBA in 2017, and one if not both will do so. And we will again be headed for a lockout and very possibly games missed. And you can bet some owners will again push for a hard cap.

I don’t think a hard cap is the answer in the NBA because the league both hasn’t and really can’t sell NFL-style parity. You can try to flatten out the talent pool but the NBA will never have the level playing field of football just because of the nature of the sport.

The reality of the NBA is that there are about 10 players (we can argue if it’s nine or 12, but in the 10 range) who are just on another level and if you have one of them you will win a lot more than you lose. Because a LeBron James or Kevin Durant can touch the ball much more in the NBA than Tom Brady can in the NFL — and because elite players can impact both ends of the floor in basketball — the NBA will always have teams with stars as the ones left on the biggest stages. Look at the last NBA finals — LeBron and Dwyane Wade vs. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Yes it was the Heat vs. Spurs, but they were there because of those star players.

In reality, the NBA gets its best ratings from star teams — the Bird/Magic showdowns in the 1980s, Michael Jordan in the 1990s, Kobe/Shaq and now LeBron/Wade. Having stars pair up is good for business.

The NBA has to provide the opportunity for any well run small market team to win (see Oklahoma City or San Antonio) but they need to be careful about flattening out the talent pool to the point the average fan tunes out.

  1. drex1 - Aug 8, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Cant they just start negotiations now or in the next year or so and save us the inevitable lock out which justs loses fans & pi$$es everybody off?

    • jcmeyer10 - Aug 8, 2013 at 1:26 PM

      No they have to start negotiating a week before the lockout happens then pretend like it snuck up on them and cry that the other side isn’t playing ball.

      C’mon, it’s SOP across all sports.

    • shanelsweet - Aug 8, 2013 at 1:38 PM

      The new taxes will give some owners much more incentive to cheat. That Kirilenko signing at millions below other offer(s) smells real bad, If parity is desired, the NBA should start an auction based system where free agents are sold to the high bidder.

      • adamsjohn714 - Aug 8, 2013 at 1:59 PM

        Parity isn’t desired. And the evidence shows that the lockout didn’t lose any fans. The NBA is stronger now than it’s been since Jordan.

      • Lujah - Aug 10, 2013 at 9:22 AM

        Your proposal to bring parity is a slave auction? Guys are already being traded with no say so isn’t that enough?

  2. andrexdrummondxforxdpoy - Aug 8, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    Screw the average fan,okc is exiting and they got there fair and square,same with SA.the game is much worse when teams just out buy other makes it hard to be a fan of the teams that have to get lucky in the draft like okc and SA

    • adamsjohn714 - Aug 8, 2013 at 2:01 PM

      Yeah! Tanking is much more respectable! (SA I’d argue doesn’t get lucky in the draft, they’re just really smart at drafting players. OKC seems like they’re just throwing darts blindfolded).

      • mytthor - Aug 9, 2013 at 2:19 AM

        SA is great at building depth, but they don’t win the titles without Duncan, and that’s the #1 pick that they got because they tanked the year David Robinson got hurt.

      • adamsjohn714 - Aug 9, 2013 at 2:32 AM

        That year they “tanked” was unique. David Robinson played in only 5 games. Also, Sean Elliot missed significant time. They fired their coach in the middle of the season and hired Pop. The Spurs had the 5th best chance to get the #1 pick. So they got lucky. Everybody needs a bit of luck. They used their little bit of luck to get a fantastic big man. Since then, they’ve drafted players like Ginobli, Parker, and Kawhi Leonard (trade, technically) all without being in the lottery. The pattern of drafting quality players leads me to believe that it’s not some crapshoot with them as compared to the Thunder.

  3. themike31 - Aug 8, 2013 at 1:12 PM

    I agree with the point that star teams drive ratings, but I feel like that’s mostly because that’s all the NBA has known. But think about a league where the stars are distributed due to the cap and a playoffs where every team is more likely to win at any time. That sounds exciting and fun in a March Madness kind of way.

    Doubt we’ll ever see it, but I’d rather see (for example) James vs. Wade in the first round than James and Wade vs. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

    • ProBasketballPundit - Aug 8, 2013 at 3:39 PM

      In a league with say 1 star per team, LeBron would win 8 straight championships.

      • themike31 - Aug 8, 2013 at 4:46 PM

        That’s possibly true. Still, I’d love to see him prove it. Would blow any arguments about him vs. Jordan out of the water.

      • tcclark - Aug 8, 2013 at 11:17 PM

        then why do we play with 5 guys on the floor if only one of them matters? For years Wilt Chamberlain was the best player in the NBA, but the Celtics had the better teams. teams are what matter the most in the NBA. LeBron didn’t win anything until he teamed up with Wade and Bosh. I think it’s a little far fetched to assume he’d win 8 championships alone when he was alone and didn’t win anything.

  4. herlies - Aug 8, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    The soft cap sucks. It’s more like a salary “suggestion”

    Please get rid of the ability for super rich owners to blow away everyone else’s payroll by simply paying a tax penalty.

    • deadeyedesign23 - Aug 8, 2013 at 1:57 PM

      How about allow for super rich owners to pay players what their actually worth. Why does LeBron have to leave tens of millions of dollars on the table so that someone can own a team in Salt Lake City, Utah?

    • kinggw - Aug 8, 2013 at 2:54 PM

      All of the owners are super rich, they have the money to spend. Whether they choose to spend it is another question, but this argument that some owners are handicapped by richer owners’ spending habits is bunk.

  5. aaroncurryisbust - Aug 8, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    You mean Wade/Bosh.

  6. zoomy123 - Aug 8, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    The major problem with small market teams is not their disparate resources, it’s that small market teams tend to be perennially mismanaged. Take the Cleveland and LBJ situation. Cleveland had LBJ for 7 seasons and never put the pieces around him to legitimately win a championship. The best players he played with were Drew Gooden, Mo Williams, Delonte West, and an old Shaq. Who’s fault is it that the Cavs were mismanaged this terribly? Is that the fault of the Lakers? Or the Celtics?

    • spursareold - Aug 8, 2013 at 2:56 PM

      I have to disagree. Being mismanaged is NOT a function of market size. Philly, Atlanta, and DC are all in the top 10 markets, and perennially mismanaged. SA, OKC, and Memphis all manage their teams well, and none are in the top 30 Nielsen markets.

      They need a sliding scale where if you manage your cap well and don’t pay the tax, maybe the next year you get a bonus cap figure of 1 or 2 million. If you’re a scofflaw, maybe your tax and cap figure shrinks and you pay more taxes.

      I’m also in favor of 100% distribution of the luxury tax to the non-payers. Right now, I think it’s about 50%, with the rest going to the league.

      • zoomy123 - Aug 8, 2013 at 8:45 PM

        I never said that mismanagement was a function of market size, I said that small market teams tend to be mismanaged. These two claims are not the same. The former implies that market size is the cause of mismanagement, the second claim identifies a correlative relationship.

  7. senorpapino - Aug 8, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    A hard cap improves competitive balance. At the start of each NFL season, there are usually 15-20 teams that have a chance at winning the Super Bowl. At the start of each NBA season, there are usually 5 or 6.

    The other factor that kills NBA teams are guaranteed contracts. Having guys like Amare and Eddy Curry maxed for 5 years completely limits your talent ceiling. I’d like to see an injury rule that allows guys like these to be cut.

    • kinggw - Aug 8, 2013 at 7:37 PM

      The system should stay how it is. I like that GMs have to live with the consequences of bad contracts they sign. If GMs sign guys like Curry and/or STAT with injury histories to ridiculous deals, they shouldnt have easy outs.

      Bad management limits your talent ceiling, not guaranteed contracts.

    • tcclark - Aug 8, 2013 at 11:22 PM

      I think 5-6 is being a little generous for the NBA. It was a forgone conclusion for everyone that the Heat would win this year and they did. All of the talk wasn’t “who’s going to win the championship” it was “who has a chance to knock off the heat.”

      And it’s not guaranteed contracts (the NHL has been living with them for years and they have great competitive balance), the problem is max contracts themselves. If there is a limit to how much you can earn what advantage do small market teams have? If both are offering the same money are you going to LA or Minnesota? Yeah that’s what i thought.

  8. Kevin S. - Aug 8, 2013 at 6:31 PM

    You can’t have a hard cap with guaranteed contracts, because you never know what the cap is going to be year-to-year. That said, the biggest issue preventing competitive balance is the individual player max. LeBron and company were all willing to leave $2 million/year on the table to team up. Would they all have been willing to leave $20 million on the table?

    • tcclark - Aug 8, 2013 at 11:24 PM

      The NHL has guaranteed contracts and a hard cap. It works fine. I’d like to get rid of them too, but it shouldn’t stop them from going after a Hard cap

  9. usm418 - Aug 9, 2013 at 1:02 AM

    The greedy owners want guaranteed profit with no accountability for poor management. Another lock out is imminent.

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