Like an 8:40 a.m. college class on a Friday morning taught by a boring professor, the NBA lockout drags on. But Mark Heisler of SheridanHoops.com believes he has a solution to quicken the negotiations: alter or even eliminate the mid-level exception.
The Mid-Level Exception.
Put in the 1999 agreement as a trade-off for the players accepting a limit on maximum individual salaries, it started at $1.75 million. Since then, it has grown into a monster.
Last season the Mid-Level started at $5.8 million. With 8.5 percent annual raises, the role players it was designed for were getting five years and $37 million.
That’s an average of $7.4 million annually.
Remember when the Lakers were trying to get rid of Luke Walton, Vladimir Radmanovic and Sasha Vujacic?
All were Mid-Levels, who’d have been overpriced, even if any of them could have hit the ocean from a boat.
I just counted 24 full Mid-Level contracts ongoing, averaging about $5.5 million per season.
Cutting the Mid-Level to a flat $2 million-per-year would save $3.5 million per year per player, or $84 million.
Eliminating the Mid-Level entirely would save $132 million.
The NBA owners have been gung-ho about abolishing the current soft cap in favor of a hard one, but count Heisler unconvinced by the owners’ hard stance. “The owners have sought a hard cap in every round of negotiations since setting up a soft one — then abandoned it when they got the dollars they wanted,” he wrote. The mid-level exception could become a concession the players can make in order to keep the current soft salary cap.
Heisler reported that the mid-level exception was widely considered “a goner” when Collective Bargaining discussions first began. He also writes that the owners “would love paring down the Mid-Level, or dropping it… and I don’t think the players would be that unhappy to weaken it.”
But would the players really take so kindly to weakening the mid-level exception? The players association reportedly desires to keep the middle class strong, even if that means conceding more money in the Basketball-Related Income talks. Thinning or eliminating the mid-level exception would crush the middle class, putting a significant portion of salary-cutting strictly on the middle-tier players.
You could argue that many mid-level players don’t deserve their mid-level paydays, and that is true: I’ll bet you Travis Outlaw’s salary that you can’t find one reason why Drew Gooden’s five-year, $32 million deal from the Milwaukee Bucks made sense. But if the players association agrees to lessen the mid-level exception, they are giving way to an NBA landscape in which the middle class is significantly diminished and the middle tier of NBA stars have severely limited options.
Admittedly, the mid-level exception hurts competitive balance: it is one more way for overspending teams to add talented players, one more way for the rich championship contenders to get richer. The Lakers, for example, used a portion of their mid-level exception last season to add Steve Blake, bringing their team salary upwards of $90 million despite a salary cap set at $56.1 million. But from a players association standpoint, the mid-level exception affords the middle-class its best opportunity to cash in.
Is the players association ready to throw that middle-class underneath a quickly-approaching bus?