Tweeted (and edited here) the following a few days ago:
You have a bunch of players with relatively long contracts that predictably don’t come close to living up to it, which is an epidemic in the modern NBA and which the new CBA tried to curb by reducing the maximum contract length. Something like the Joe Johnson or Rashard Lewis contracts would set a franchise back a half-decade or longer. From both a business and entertainment standpoint, you want your sports leagues to be able to recover from those kinds of mistakes quickly. It’s hard to side with the owners when it comes to the terms of the CBA, but it was a clear issue and normalizing them squeezed out role-player salaries.
But there’s a pretty huge mismanagement epidemic as well: those eight-figures-a-year contracts for non-superstar players, which from their outset are a clear disaster waiting to happen. There’s usually a couple of new ones each summer. These are so prevalent either because of the influence of sports agents with strategically placed clients and/or have been normalized as standard operating procedure.
I think the first type is the potential-based eight-figure contract. How often is the potential realized and soon enough that they’re worth their pay? I’m still waiting on Derrick Favors. Andrew Bynum was probably the worst case. It seems like most of the big men that fit this category end up posting something like 13 points and 8 rebounds for the duration of their contract.
Another not necessarily separate type is those contracts whose terms assume general health of players that very obviously won’t be. I feel like injuries aren’t nearly as large a factor in contract negotiations as they should be. How many 70+ game seasons do you think Irving will have over the next six years? Deron Williams and Brook Lopez over the next four? Al Horford? Rajon Rondo? Just a spitball number here, but eight-figure sub-elite players should be able to turn a .500 team into a 48-win team at least. If they’ve historically missed 10-20 games every season and their contracts are negotiated assuming they won’t, then their added-value really only comes if they’re healthy during the playoffs.
Irving could easily be worth $16 million a year with the current salary cap. But the very best players in the league might be worth $30-40 million a year.That’s the problem with having both a (soft) salary cap and a maximum player salary. It’s also why having LeBron James on your team is pretty much a guaranteed finals appearance. Even if you manage your roster well and get $70 million of value out of a $60 million salary cap, the league still comes down to whether or not you have those automatic value-efficient superstars because you not only get $20 million in extra value, but also the power to attract other value-efficient pieces like other value-efficient superstars and veteran role players.
If you wanted a perfectly competitive league, you’d remove restrictions on individual salary. James would command his $40 million and his team would as a result only have $15 million plus exceptions, minimum contracts, etc. to work with to win. In such a league, maybe a team based around two Kyrie Irving-level players being paid $16 million a year each would have as good a shot as the James team.
I’m picking on Kyrie too much considering he’s got lots of potential and could well be worth his contract. The Jazz are gonna give Gordon Hayward the max this summer. Good luck with that.