Request for comment: What if the NBA had almost no salary restrictions?
Since a lot of people seem to hate the fact that, under the current system, superstar players are seeking to play together on the same teams, I'm inspired by some recent Dave Berri columns to wonder how a significantly different CBA system would affect player movement.
So let's say these are the rules:
- There's no salary cap at all, hard or soft. Currently it's about $60 million I think.
- There's no such thing as a "max deal", ie. no maximum salary for players. Currently, the max salary is, what, $17 million per season? in that ballpark anyway.
- Dollar-for-dollar luxury tax at about $80 million or so. Money distributed to teams in small markets only, ie. not to the Raptors -- the team with the richest owners in the NBA BTW.
- No restrictions on contract length, ie. back-loaded contracts 20 years long would be possible.
- No restrictions on rookie contract length or size.
- No mandated guaranteed contracts.
- No restrictions of any kind on trades.
- I hate the bloody draft, but, for the sake of this discussion, let's say the draft still exists under more or less the current system.
This somewhat similar to the system MLB uses, with fewer rookie restrictions. A couple things to keep in mind. The most productive player in the NBA my most statistical measurements is Lebron James. Lebron James currently has a near-max deal. I've seen studies suggesting that LBJ's marginal revenue product is approximately $45 million per season. In other words, he produces that much for his employer. Meaning he's paid about one third of what he's producing. Under the system outlined above, I think it's uncontroversial to say that his salary would at least triple. Many of the other top 10 superstar elite players would command a similar salary.
Under the previous CBA, a team could sign 3 max-deal players if they wiped nearly all the rest of their roster off the books. The Miami Heat was the only franchise that realized this and employed that exact strategy. It worked for them. But it worked not in spite of the rules but because of them. If the max deal threshold was, say, $20 million, it's still possible Miami could have signed the SuperFriends, but they would have had to take big pay cuts.
More things to keep in mind: The local TV deal the Lakers and Knicks have for themselves pay them over $150 million per season. Their ticket revenues for home games are over $1 million per 41 games. Then there's shared national TV revenue and whatnot. But these teams still do not have unlimited resources.
I would think, in an unregulated system, LBJ would cost at least $60 million per season, maybe more. Wade would be close to that, and Bosh would be at least $20 million. Would Miami, or any team, be able to afford that? Would they want that kind of expenditure? Maybe constructing a good team around one of those 3 would be a more cost-efficient way of contending.
I also think you'd see less money for middling players. Outrageous contracts like Calderon/Bargnani etc. for relatively unproductive players would be less common than it is now. I think middling players would be traded a lot more often. Player movement for roster balance would be more common, ie. no more teams with 6 shooting guards and no post defender.
Keep one more thing in mind: The NBA has had a salary cap since 1984. From then until now, the Showtime/Lake Show Lakers and the "Michael and the Jordannaires" Bulls won 14 out of 28 possible championships. So, has the salary cap created parity?