The Sixth Man (cont.)
Bleak is the brightest description. It looks more and more as though the NBA is headed toward a lockout, and it's going to take months before it reaches its painful end.
At this time, the owners aren't going to agree to a new deal unless the players accept salary cutbacks totaling hundreds of millions of dollars annually. That kind of result isn't going to happen without some kind of a fight from the players. They don't accept the need for such measures, and, therefore, they aren't going to absorb cuts five months before they receive their first paycheck next season.
The owners have created an appearance of unity, even as they negotiate among themselves over a plan to share revenues. Now it looks as though the players are responding in kind by coming together among themselves. The appearance of 60 players Friday at a union meeting in New York was inspiring for the membership, according to an NBPA source. The owners may doubt the players' ability to hold together once paychecks are being withheld, but the presence of so many players wasn't about convincing the opposition -- its importance was that it gave the players confidence in their own solidarity.
That's why the players walked into the negotiations dressed in matching T-shirts that read STAND. "We have to stand together," explained union chief Billy Hunter. "We have to be unified and be prepared to address whatever the circumstance is, but address it together."
Unless an unexpected idea or a brilliant new perspective arises over the next few days, the two sides are likely to maintain their disagreements throughout the summer. That doesn't mean an agreement won't be reached in time to save the 82-game season. But none of it is promising.
Payrolls of teams that exceeded the 2010-11 salary cap. This season the salary cap was set at $58.0 million. In order to sign a free agent last summer, a team's payroll needed to be significantly below $58 million.
Now consider the drastic change that may be facing the NBA as the owners seek some form of a hard cap on salaries.
During the 2010-11 season, 23 teams managed payrolls that exceeded the salary cap. If a hard cap is installed, its ceiling may be higher than the current $58 million -- nonetheless, the option to spend above the ceiling wouldn't be permitted in a hard-cap world.
I don't know what the future will bring, because it depends on the set of rules that will ultimately be negotiated by the owners and players over the days (or months) ahead. No one can say whether championship teams like the Lakers and Mavericks will have to lop off talent, or whether some kind of mechanism will enable them and other teams to transition out of the current era with minimal pain to their rosters and their fans. (It goes without saying that the players won't be happy, while the owners will retort that 22 franchises are in the red and that their pain must be shared.)
The purpose of this list is to show that teams have made a habit of routinely exceeding the salary cap (as well as the luxury tax) and that those days may be about to end. Think about the different kinds of decisions that will have to be made if all teams are forced to manage player salaries beneath a hard ceiling. I don't know if the NBA will be better or worse. But I do know it is going to be operated in a much different way than it has ever been managed before.
The luxury-tax payers are noted by asterisk:
*L.A. Lakers: $90.4M
San Antonio: $70.1M
Atlanta: $70.1 million
Golden State: $69.0M
New Orleans: $68.3M
New York: $67.1M
New Jersey: $59.3M
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