NBA Owners Discuss Hard Cap Alternatives While Regular Season Hangs in the Balance

The day of reckoning for the NBA is rapidly approaching.

With owners and union officials meeting this week, several concessions were made by owners that gave fans a reason for either optimism or angst, depending on said fans’ desired outcome. However, NBA commissioner David Stern was quick to tell the media not to get too excited, as a deal was far from being close.

Stern went on to then say that the sides would meet again Friday in New York to “see whether they can either have a season or not have a season”. This gave the impression to most observers that Stern was essentially saying if momentum toward an agreement was not made this weekend that the league would just cancel the whole season now.

The league office was quick to rebuke that assessment, implying instead that the statement was just emphasizing how important these talks would be toward getting the season started on time. Whatever the reality of Stern’s intentions, this weekend is huge for the NBA.

Chris Broussard is reporting that the NBA’s superstars, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Paul Pierce, among others, are joining the meetings. Up to 15 owners are expected to be in the room. In other words, the heavy hitters are getting involved, and it could be the catalyst for the beginnings of a framework for an agreement getting done.

Either that, or with so many big names in one place, the whole thing could blow up if tempers flare. What would cause the tempers? Perhaps the fact that the NBA owners are fighting to restrict the movement and/or combining of the very superstars who are expected to be in New York. With owners trying to stop the superstars from forming superteams, the superstars themselves could potentially get angered at the implications of actions detrimental to either parity or the general enjoyment of the league by NBA fans in the middle.

The talks this weekend are going to be interesting, for sure. ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote an article about the talks and he includes a lot of great insight into the topics/ideas that are being discussed. The one thing that is definite is that the owners have taken the hard cap off the table. That doesn’t mean the owners aren’t still trying to achieve the same results. Stein writes:

Possibilities presented by the league as alternatives to a hard cap include:

•  The institution of a sliding “Supertax” that would charge teams $2 in luxury tax for every dollar over $70 million in payroll, $3 for every dollar over $75 million in payroll and $4 for every dollar for teams with payrolls above $80 million

•  A provision to allow each team to release one player via the so-called “amnesty” clause and gain both salary-cap and luxury-tax relief when that player’s cap number is removed from the books

•  Shortening guaranteed contracts to a maximum of three or four seasons

•  Limiting Larry Bird rights — which enable teams to exceed the salary cap to re-sign their own free agents — to one player per team per season

•  Reducing the annual mid-level exception, which was valued at $5.8 million last season, to roughly $3 million annually and limiting mid-level contracts to a maximum of two or three seasons in length as opposed to the current maximum of five seasons

•  A new “Carmelo Rule” that would prevent teams — as the New York Knicks did in February with Anthony — from using a Bird exception to sign or extend a player acquired by trade unless they are acquired before July 1 of the final season of the player’s contract

•  The abolition of sign-and-trades and the bi-annual exception worth $2 million

•  Significant reductions in maximum salaries and annual raises and a 5 percent rollbacks on current contracts

There are also still some teams, sources say, who are pushing for some sort of franchise-tag system similar to what the NFL employs as well as a restriction that allows big spending teams to exceed the annual luxury-tax threshold only twice every five seasons.

It’s important to remember that these are all just ideas that the owners have reportedly been considering. There’s no mention of whether the players are even remotely interested in discussing any of these ideas. What it does show, though, is that the owners continue to look to think outside the box to shake up the way the NBA works. The question is whether they are making things more difficult than they have to be. The ultimate long term leverage lies with the owners, and if they wanted to stick to the hard cap proposal, it could makes things a little more simple. It might cost them a season to get it, but eventually, they would get it.

One of the more fascinating proposals is the concept of the “Carmelo Rule”. Essentially, this rule would get rid of these ridiculous “blackmail seasons” where the players hold their current teams hostage in the last year of their contract, force a trade to a certain team, and shred the leverage of their current team to get a fair market return on their trade. Ironically, the rule wouldn’t have actually applied to Carmelo Anthony, although my guess is that the rule would be worded so as to apply to the last non-option year.

By forcing the acquiring teams to make sure they complete a deal before the start of the players’ final seasons, it would ensure teams had to adequately compensate the current team for getting an entire season of the player before his contract expired. This one may or may not be a detriment to the deals getting done anyway, but it would at least eliminate the distracting and, frankly, annoying storylines of players on their last year trying to use their future free agency as leverage to force a trade now.

The other important thing to note is the severity of the sliding luxury tax penalty. A 4-for-1 tax on every dollar once a team passes $80 million is so extreme that it truly would be a hard cap by a different name. I doubt too many owners want to pay $400 million for $80 worth of salary. Even at 2-for-1, spending $210 million for $70 million worth of salary is steep.

It remains to be seen how willing the players and owners really are to get a deal done without sacrificing games. Either way, by Monday, we should all have a better idea of whether this thing is almost done, or if we need to brace for a long winter with no NBA basketball.

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Photo Credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

  • The Conductor

    Will your life really change if there is no basketball this year?

  • Boomhauertjs

    Will Dan Gilbert be among those 15 owners? Will he challenge LeBron to a fight? And I doubt a deal will get done if that’s the case.

  • Stinkfist

    LeBron should not be involved anyway whatsoever with the discussions. He has proved he has no idea how to handle anything

  • Ben

    I would love to run back and forth from Lebron to Gilbert…you believe he wrote that letter Lebron? The nerve of THIS guy to show up at the conclusion of meetings Dan?

  • Shamrock

    Lock the mutha up…it’s time basketball was returned to a better state. I’m sure it won’t happen but one can hope.

  • http://www.morningjournal.com/content/articles/2011/01/31/sports/doc4d463b0cd062d819200129.jpg Return of the (Alex) Mack

    Maybe Lebron can represent that players union in a one hour special on espn in which they Decide whether or not to accept the owner proposal, a table cloth shirt will be mandatory

  • C-Bus Kevin

    NBA…you have my completely divided attention.

    Good luck in your quest to become the NHL.