NBA gets new deal; Spurs get an old one

The short season works. The NBA might even be better suited for 66 games rather than 82.

Starting on Christmas lessens the damage, too. Most casual fans don’t pay attention to the sport until then; this time, they will pay attention to Dirk Nowitzki getting his ring while LeBron James does not.

So the owners are happy because they will get more money, and the players are happy because they will start getting theirs. The only ones who will be disappointed are those who thought the NBA was closer to a level-playing field.

As it turns out?

It’s been leveled for 24 or 25 teams.

Business will change for the other half-dozen franchises, too. Now they will think twice before they burn through a few extra million; they used to think only once.

Last season, four franchises had larger payrolls than everyone else, and that was only because the Heat and Knicks weren’t able to open their wallets as they would have liked. As it was, the Lakers spent about $22 million more than the Spurs, and the Magic, Mavericks and Celtics each paid at least $15 million more than the Spurs.

Not coincidentally, each made the playoffs. Not coincidentally, the Finals included two owners whose combined worth is more than $7 billion.

Mark Cuban is the poorer of the two, but one of his personnel moves before last season was indicative of what money can do for a basketball team. After the Spurs eliminated the Mavericks in the spring of 2010, Cuban bankrolled the trade that exchanged Erick Dampier’s expiring contract for Tyson Chandler.

Cuban got the player who would change his team with a price tag to match. Adding tax, Chandler cost Cuban about ? twice his salary of $12 million.

Cuban could afford it; the Spurs could not. Their one splurge in this era was the trade for Richard Jefferson, and that still hangs on them. They will be debating, soon, whether to amnesty Jefferson and reduce the loss the best they can.

Under the tentative agreement, the old rules will be in effect for the next two seasons. That gives the Mavericks a better chance of signing Chandler and keeping their championship group together, and being given a chance to repeat is only fair. Cuban will have to pay only a dollar-for-dollar tax.

Under the new labor deal, that will go up considerably. The scale escalates as the payroll does, and no one is certain of the details yet. But it’s safe to say Cuban, given the same circumstance, would pay at least twice as much for Chandler.

That sounds stiff, and it will likely dissuade some deals. Again, they will think twice.

But just as the best players will always get their money, the richest franchises will spend theirs. Their revenues will encourage it, too. The Lakers, for example, will be working with a new Time Warner contract that will pay them $150 million a year.

The Spurs have won in this environment before. But they’ve had Tim Duncan, an economic equalizer, and they had hoped for a labor agreement that would create a competitive balance closer to the NFL than to Major League Baseball.

The owners’ proposals included various provisions as recently as last week that would have led to that. But Friday, getting everything else they wanted from the players — and needing to meet the Christmas deadline — the owners compromised.

“It’s not the system we sought out to get in terms of a harder cap,” NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said, “but the luxury tax is harsher than it was in the past deal, and we hope it’s effective.”

They hope.

Which is what the small-market franchises have always done.

Leave a Reply