What's hidden in the proposed deal? Start with the salary cap. The league and the union stress that the cap will rise from last season's $15.9 million limit to $23 million in 1995-96. The cap will gradually increase to $32.5 million in the final year of the six-year proposal, producing an eventual average salary of $3 million per player. This isn't as big a concession as it might seem since there were 10 teams last season with payrolls of at least $23 million, and the average team salary was $21.5 million, thanks to cap loopholes and exceptions. Overall the decertification side contends that teams would have less room to maneuver under the new cap and that free agents would find their options severely limited.
There is no question that the proposed deal has some aspects favorable to the rank-and-file. Under the new contract the players would divide at least $25 million a year in licensing money instead of the $500,000 they received under the old agreement. The league and the union also argue that teams would have more money to sign veterans under the new system because it calls for a rookie salary cap. A first-year player would be paid according to a salary scale limiting him to a maximum of 20% more than the average first-year pay of those taken in the same draft position over the previous seven years. The huge contracts signed in recent years by such rookie luminaries as Anfernee Hardaway, Chris Webber and Grant Hill would be a thing of the past—and so would the hefty commissions earned by their agents.
But it is equally obvious that for a thriving league in better financial condition than it was when the last collective bargaining agreement was implemented, this proposal isn't as beneficial to the players as it could be. What Long and others have to decide is whether it's close enough to make decertifying worth the gamble.