Jermaine O’Neal isn’t necessarily afraid that a hard salary cap would beget smaller contracts, although that’s part of it. Mostly, O’Neal fears that a hard salary cap would irrevocably harm NBA basketball as we know it, leading to a selfish league where the middle class no longer exists and teammates are competing against each other for millions.
“Taking out the mid-level (exception to the salary cap) is going to ruin our game,” O’Neal told USA Today. “It’s going to individualize our game so much. Basketball is based off a system. Everybody is given a role in the game. It’s not just everybody running up and down. We have some really good mid-level players in our league, borderline All-Star players. If you’re going to say, basically, we’re going to roll back salaries and we’re going to give two of the top players on the team the top deals and take out the mid-tier and let everybody else fend for the $1 million, $2 million, $3 million (shakes his head). … Doing that is going to make guys go for their own. It really is.”
A hard cap would inevitably shrink the NBA’s middle-class, if not make it disappear. Even with salary cuts and a hard cap, superstars will get paid — they sell the most tickets, they sell the most merchandise, and they win the most games. Which means the middle class, like O’Neal fears, would take the brunt of the owners’ proposed changes. A hard cap would also likely force owners (or at least competent owners) to reevaluate their stance regarding borderline stars like Gilbert Arenas, Joe Johnson and Rashard Lewis, who were never quite superstars but were certainly paid as if they were.
Owners say a hard cap is essential to promote parity. The Los Angeles Lakers, armed with many millions of revenue, accumulated $91 million of payroll last season to field the best team possible. The New Orleans Hornets spent $48 million. The difference makes parity in the NBA, under its current rules, difficult if not impossible. Small markets have a difficult time spending Lakers money because, well, that money just doesn’t exist. It’s possible to succeed in a smaller market without an owner diving too deep into his own pockets — look at the Oklahoma City Thunder. But it’s almost impossible to replicate the Thunder’s success. They A) made a series of near-perfect personnel moves to reach their current perch near the NBA’s peak, including lucking into Kevin Durant, choosing Russell Westbrook higher than anyone expected, and watching idly as James Harden became a stud, and B) will need to open their wallets to continue competing once Westbrook and Harden finish their rookie contracts. Success won’t always come cheap, and parity has been a problem in the NBA for a long time.
But the players don’t see why the burden of parity is being thrust on their shoulders. Parity could just as easily be sought by implementing a revenue-sharing program that takes away at least some of the inherent advantages of bigger markets. If the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks and other large-market teams shared a percentage of their television and sponsorship money, the playing field could presumably be leveled off without instituting a hard cap. Especially considering that the players are willing to give back hundreds of millions of dollars worth of salary, they feel that owners need to make some concessions of their own to help change the (admittedly broken) NBA system.
Meanwhile, Jerry Buss is on board with revenue sharing. Yes, Jerry Buss, the owner who has the most to lose from sharing revenues, the owners whose Lakers team makes bushels of money and uses a large portion of that money to field championship-caliber teams almost every season, to spend on players other, less-financially successful teams cannot afford. Buss is also on board with a hard cap, but the players, at least for now, swear they will not accept one. (OC Register)
“A team like the Lakers with well over $100 million in payroll and Sacramento at 45, that’s not an acceptable alternative for us,” Stern said. “That can’t be the outcome that we agree to.”
As much as Buss loves his rum and Coke, he has held a Molotov cocktail with the NBA’s limited revenue sharing and soft salary cap. It has allowed Buss and his minority investors to make a lot of money and feel comfortable spending a ton of it on great players others can’t afford.
But dramatically increased revenue sharing will inhibit the Lakers’ spending. A hard cap will flat-out prevent the Lakers from spending. It’s lose-lose when Buss is 77 years old and determined to come from behind the Boston Celtics in total championships, 17-16.
Yet the Lakers have accepted it. Why?
For the greater good.
And you can’t play in a league of your own anyway. However much he leads his unfettered, playboy lifestyle – his latest summer vacation to enjoy was through Europe – Buss is married to these other NBA owners, for better or worse.
So with their days of shopping alone on Rodeo Drive ending, the Lakers intend to go out gracefully – and loyally to Stern, for whom Buss has always had an appreciation.
The many specifics of revenue sharing still need to be worked out – and progress is expected on that front Thursday in the NBA’s board of governors meeting in Dallas – but Buss is fully accepting that his pockets will be where most of the grabs go. He’s hopeful the revenue-sharing system leaves him some protection, but wherever the details of the sharing and capping go, Buss considers himself – bottom line – a team player on the owners’ side.
A revenue sharing system could be just what the NBA needs to end this lockout, to offer a semblance of financial parity and help assure that most or all franchises will return to profitable business. The players have offered their own concessions — at least for now, they are willing to accept either a hard cap or salary cutbacks, but not both — and now it is the owners’ turn to negotiate in good faith. David Stern has taken a hard stance in the negotiations so far, and the prevalent thought is that he is waiting for the players to cave, waiting to crush the players underneath the league’s leverage.
But maybe he is just waiting for the owners to budge, and maybe Jerry Buss is leading the way, and maybe the league can find some common ground after all, and maybe Jermaine O’Neal won’t have to worry about players becoming too selfish, because the owners have finally started to look in the mirror and realize that the broken system involves them, too.