Monday, Feb. 7, 2011
By Mark Schanowski
When NBA players and owners get together for collective bargaining sessions this summer, one of the biggest concerns has to be the viability of smaller market teams. We already witnessed LeBron James and Chris Bosh bolting their franchises to form a superstar trio in Miami. And, dont look now, but the Knicks might be the next super-team with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and possibly even Dwight Howard talking about teaming up with Amare Stoudemire in New York.
So, how can the NBA avoid becoming a top-heavy league, with 5 or 6 powerhouse teams, a few middle class squads and 15-20 punching bags? The answer might lie in the franchise-player concept currently used by the N.F.L. Teams are able to keep one player out of free agency by guaranteeing to pay him the average salary of the top 5 players at that position. The idea could work well for NBA teams who focus so much of their game plans and marketing around one of two star players.
Imagine the Bulls without Derrick Rose, Oklahoma City without Kevin Durant, Orlando without Howard or the Clippers without emerging star Blake Griffin. One player truly can change the direction of a franchise, and the NBA needs to make sure they have enough competitive teams to keep the regular season interesting. By guaranteeing every franchise can keep its best player by paying a competitive salary, the league will have more continuity and fan identification in every market.
The other issue going forward is the idea of a hard salary cap, similar to what exists in the N.H.L. right now. We all saw what happens when a team brings in too many high salaried players. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last year, then had to unload almost half of their roster to get in line with the leagues hard cap. If the NBA is able to sell the concept of a hard cap to the Players Association (which doesnt seem likely), a number of teams with bloated payrolls like the Lakers, Mavericks and Magic might be forced to sell off players for pennies on the dollar to meet league guidelines. Thats why the Bulls dont want to take on any long-term, high-priced contracts right now, given the fact they still need to sign their franchise player, Rose, to a long-term extension.
Looking at the Bulls payroll for next season, theyll have 3 players making over 10 million dollars in Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. When Rose signs his extension, that group will grow to 4. So, thats why the Bulls would have zero interest in bringing in a high-salaried veteran like Richard Hamilton or Stephen Jackson as an upgrade at the shooting guard position. Since both of those guys have 2 years remaining on their contracts, adding their salaries to a rapidly growing payroll might prevent the Bulls from signing Rose to an extension if the league goes to a hard cap, or a new system with fewer loopholes for a team to re-sign its own players.
Any way you look at it, were staring at a new economic reality in the NBA. When the dust finally settles after an expected lockout, some teams may find themselves needing to sell off some high-salaried players, and the franchises that have their payrolls in order will be ready to swoop in and reap the benefits.
Nuggets could be facing worst-case scenario
With just over two weeks until the NBAs trade deadline (February 24th), it appears Denvers inexperienced front office team of Josh Kroenke (the owners son) and General Manager Masai Ujiri may have over-played their hand in negotiations on a possible Carmelo Anthony deal. The Nuggets should have moved quickly to close a 3-team deal that would have brought Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and a couple of 1st round draft picks to the Mile High City.
Instead, the Nuggets got greedy and tried to force New Jersey to take on Al Harringtons bad contract in addition to everything else they were giving up in terms of players and draft picks. Understandably, the Nets refused, ultimately leading to the announcement from team owner Mikhail Prokhorov that his franchise was ending trade talks with the Nuggets.
Now, Denver is involved in 3-team discussions with the Knicks and Timberwolves that as of now would only bring restricted free agents Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer, plus just one first round draft pick to the Nuggets for Anthony. Clearly, the Nuggets management team messed up in not getting the earlier deal done with New Jersey. They know that Carmelo has always wanted to go to the Knicks, and now New York management doesnt even have to make a competitive offer since theyll be able to sign Anthony as a free agent if they just wait until the off-season.
Any way you look at it, the Knicks are going to wind up with Anthony, and Denvers front office will have a tough time convincing their fan base they did the best they could in trading an unhappy star. Going back to the super-team concept I mentioned earlier, the Knicks will have 23 of the job done with Anthony and Stoudemire, and depending on the new cap rules well see if theyll have the room to add a third star.
As for the Bulls, they continue to explore lower-priced options for an upgrade at shooting guard, including Courtney Lee, Anthony Parker, Shannon Brown, Rudy Fernandez and O.J. Mayo. Are you in favor or the Bulls making a trade, or should they stick with the current cast, and wait until the labor situation is settled before making any roster moves?
Please post your comments in the section below. Ill be talking to you from Salt Lake City Wednesday night. Our pre-game coverage on Comcast SportsNet Plus begins at 7:30 p.m.
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.