Capping Off The NBA
I’m back from vacation. Did anything interesting happen while I was gone?
I kid. I’m fully up to speed on the Golden State Warriors stealing Kevin Durant away from the rest of the league, and all the implications thereof.
What I find most intriguing about this coup is that it indicates something very interesting about the NBA’s salary cap. Specifically, it indicates that there really is no such thing as an NBA salary cap.
First, we should clear up a few things. I posted a few lengthy notes about the Warriors possibly trading for Kevin Love in the aftermath of their loss in the NBA finals. Fortunately, I was clever enough to put a gigantic caveat on all the Love-for-Harrison Barnes-speculation (“If they do sign him [Durant], the rest of this is null and void.”), so I don’t look entirely foolish. I still think Love would have been a great fit for the Dubs’ game, but they clearly don’t need him now.
So that’s that. But all that was just speculation about individual players; bringing Durant on board shows that the Warriors have figured out what the Miami Heat apparently realized before them: if you get three or more great players together on one team, you can pretty much abrogate the salary cap.
You’ll remember that back when the Heat brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play with Dwyane Wade, one of the first reactions to make the general rounds was something along the lines of, “How will they be able to afford any other players? All the rest of their team will have to be rookies and scrubs making nothing but the minimum.”
Well, the Heat were able to get along with actual NBA players filling out their roster, and the likes of the Birdman, Mike Miller, and (eventually) Ray Allen got themselves rings accordingly. Because, it turns out, when you put together a dominating set of All-Stars on one team, even veteran players start seeing the league minimum as a rewarding sum when it is supplemented with a near-certain chance to be a member of a championship team.
Hence, the Warriors can now look forward to having a lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green (assuming he’s not in jail) at the top end, and still supplement those stars with veterans like David West and Zaza Pachulia playing for relative pittances. West will be playing for the minimum, and Pachulia only a little more than that; and there still the possibility that other veterans will join up to fill out the roster for virtual breadcrumbs, all in the service of getting that ring.
And before anyone objects: the exodus of players leaving the Warriors this off-season in no way refutes this idea about the weakness of the salary cap. Barnes, Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush, and Festus Ezeli were all members of a championship squad who are now taking advantage of their best opportunity to cash in and get the best deals they can, which means signing with another team. Some of them might have been able to stay with the Dubs for the minimum, but for them the smart bet is to take the biggest check they can get now, while it’s available. (Marreese Speights signing with the Clippers for the minimum belies what I just said, but if the reports are true that the Warriors never even bothered trying to keep him, then that result begins to make more sense.)
However the roster ultimately shakes out, it looks like a pretty safe bet that the Warriors’ stars will go into the season with plenty of veteran help as they begin their presumed juggernaut march through the rest of the Association.
The lesson seems pretty clear: if you’re running an NBA team, do what it takes to sign as many top players as you can fit in your locker room, and let the dollars work themselves out later on. Whatever payroll headaches come later, you’ll be able to soothe yourself by gazing up at those banners in the rafters.