If the NBA is serious about parity

October, 3, 2011
10/03/11
10:53
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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On Yahoo, Adrian Wojnarowski quotes Dwyane Wade saying what economists and GMs have known for ages: Superstars are worth far more than teams are allowed to pay them:
“In terms of driving revenue, if the NBA had no cap, the compensation would be totally different,” Wade said. “Like baseball, where they have no cap, you see the players that they feel fill arenas, that people come out to see, A-Rod, those kind of guys, look at how much money they make on their deals.

“You’ve got guys -- starting with Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe and LeBron -- all players that individually people wanted to come to see. And wanted to just have a glimpse, just one glimpse, to be able to say that I’ve seen that person play. For what they’ve done for the game, what they’ve done for organizations, I don’t think you can really put a dollar amount on it.”

There is talk about some players being worth as much as $70 million a season when you factor in how they generate media attention, ticket sales, TV ratings and the like. (Case in point: This blog post! A million people have said stars are worth a ton. But it matters now because Dwyane Wade is saying it.)

Which makes me think ... the NBA, in talking about hard caps and stiff taxes, is adamant that increased competitive balance is incredibly important and valuable moving forward. If they really want to alter competitive balance, then the real way to do it is to get whatever kind of stiff tax we're headed for already, or let those stars suck up an infinite amount of it.

Think about it. If the Heat could pay Dwyane Wade $50 million, and the salary cap or luxury tax line was around $60 million ... well the most likely thing is that Wade will play on a one-star team. For competitive balance, that's huge. This is the first proposal I've heard that would get bad teams what they really need to compete: stars.

If stars could make infinite amounts, Wade would have long ago snarfed up all the cap space in Miami, and LeBron James and Chris Bosh would be giving hope to NBA fans in other cities.

Similarly the Lakers would have been paying Bryant $50 million a year for the last decade, which would likely have made some Pau Gasols and Andrew Bynums available for the NBA's lesser teams.

The haves and have-nots in the NBA right now are not strictly big and small markets. The cities of Cleveland and Miami are about the same size, and both are willing to spend big on star-laden teams.) The haves and have-nots in the NBA are teams with stars (Oklahoma City and San Antonio included). The most precious resource in the NBA, the only resource essential to contention, is a star or two.

Teams without stars are the competitive balance issue.

Clearly, owners love that they have capped those stars' contracts. It's a bit of a boondoggle. And the union has played along, essentially taking money from the best players to shore up the middle class -- a noble act, to a degree.

Meanwhile, stars are a windfall for any owner lucky enough to employ one. But those way-below-market star deals not only bring a chance to contend, but also extra revenues to pay other players. If the NBA is as serious about improving competitive balance as they say they are, the obvious move is to set their sights on maximum contracts.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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