Thoughts after a Laborious Day

So now that my rankings are done, I want to talk just a bit about the labor situation.

Earlier this offseason, I talked about my general pessimism with the NBA labor negotiations. Though some preseason games have already been canned, nothing in the regular season has been decided. While people will miss paychecks, players have not. No deal yet, and no timetable set.

Anyway, some updates on stories that may marginally impact you:

Andre Iguodala interned on Wall Street with Merrill Lynch. Maybe the NBPA can turn that into leverage – you know, the threat of investing the Maloof’s money poorly might actually get the owners to budge. And the always-reliable Kate Fagan caught up with Dre after the meeting to discuss the ongoing negotiations. The take: Andre has always been considered a bright guy – he’s an avid reader and a very smart on-the-court player when not jacking repeated mid-range shots. However, it is much easier for him to keep it together than, say, Jodie Meeks, who makes approximately 3% of what Andre earns. Good thing he and Elton picked up the tab when the team had its workouts.

More on that last point – something that has seemingly been an undertone in Adrian Wojnarowski’s columns on Yahoo is that this labor dispute is, essentially, the war between the NBA’s middle class and the owners. His column on D-Wade today is almosting screaming that point at you. The current salary cap system succeeds only in limiting the max salaries for owners. Wade (personally, one of my least favorite NBA players not on talent but on principal) stated that the league’s biggest superstars, namely himself, Kobe, and LeBron, are worth far more to their teams than they are actually paid. And I tend to agree with that assertion – if the NBA did not have a salary cap, the highest paid players would be the most well-paid in all of sports.

Why? Because the potential value of one player in the NBA is greater than that of other sports. What do I mean? In the NBA, teams only have 12 active roster spots at a time. For the most part, teams have 14-15 guys on their rosters, significantly less than other major sports. Meanwhile, on the best teams at the most important times, only 8-9 players will see action. So the goal of an NBA team, essentially, should be to maximize the value of those 8-9 players while paying as little as possible under the salary cap structure while paying everyone else as little as possible.

At the same time, the real generators of value are the top players. You don’t have to look further than Cleveland for this. With much of the same pieces but the loss of one player (albeit the best in the world) the Cavs lost 42 more games than one year previously. The loss of LeBron single-handedly changed the franchise from a model to a bum. The value of LeBron James is difficult to measure exactly – with jersey sales, television exposure, and a per-win value (as done by Tom Haberstroh), he may be worth the entire salary cap himself. So essentially, he’s underpaid. To illustrate what happens, Mike Miller gets about 1/3 of Dwyane Wade’s and LeBron’s salaries but provides nowhere near as much value to his team as each of the other two. The system as it currently stands favors the Mike Millers and hurts the earnings potential of the Dwyane Wades and LeBron Jameses. It’s a little bit of socialism in a league full of millionaires and billionaires.

But Wade won’t be complaining. When the time comes to negotiate his next contract, even under a hard-cap system, he will get paid very handsomely and earn millions more from his outside endorsements. Even if the league takes some money away from his current contract, he will still get paid handsomely. Below his worth, but still tens of millions of dollars. He can only lose by putting himself at the forefront. I actually disagree with him and other “stars” attending today’s meeting – I know he has some sort of responsibility to help the players in some way, but he is not the one fighting for cash or rights. His talent and charisma will earn him those dollars, and he will live comfortably for the rest of his life.

The people fighting are the “middle class” or even the future middle class – the ones that stand to lose the most, the people trying to protect their future mid-level exceptions and bird rights. LeBron and Wade and Kobe don’t have to worry about this. They will get paid their millions. This is about the role players, the guys that are -this- close to being expendable, the guys who provide some valuable, but repeatable, skill. The bench guys and the “star” role players, mainly. This is about securing their futures, keeping the expendables’ contracts in tact. And since there are more expendables than superstars, including the current union leaders and most union reps, the system they approve will attempt to favor their interests (ahead of stars and rookies, the underrepresented).  Hence, the most important factors for the players will preserve guaranteed contracts and allow for the middle class to make more, whether through the current mid-level or something similar. The stars get the privilege regardless – they will still be offered the highest deals and will be given guarantees. This is a middle-class war for the union. Remember that if and when a deal happens, because the goal is to protect those parties, not the stars.


And with that, this will probably be the last you hear me on the blog for a week, though I may have something short up tomorrow. I have a busy week of schoolwork coming up, so I’m focusing on that. And I’m leaving you in the good hands of Dante and Kyle, and they should be with you until I come back. 

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