In 1997, Michael Jordan signed a mega contract. Sure, it was only two years, but a two-year $63.3 million contract paid Jordan more in one year than he had made with the Bulls his previous nine seasons in the NBA combined.
This was a monster contract now, and it was a monster contract at the time. When it ended, there would be no other contract like it at the time.
Jordan’s mega deal, along with Kevin Garnett‘s six-year, $126 million deal and Juwan Howard‘s six-year, $105.4 million deal, led to the 1999 lockout as owners feared committing $20-plus million in guaranteed money to players. They saw Jordan’s deal especially becoming a norm and fringe players like Howard sneaking into big deals (he was not so much a fringe player when he signed, but even then everyone thought the deal ridiculous).
The maximum contract — a contract tied to a percentage of the cap — was born out of that lockout 14 seasons ago and it has helped teams set costs and level the playing field for keeping the game’s very best players. It continues to have that purpose.
The large influx of money coming from the announced television deal with Turner Sports and ESPN/Disney has many around the league seeing changes.
The salary cap is going to increase with the increase in basketball-related income. That means a modest increase in salaries for the top players. But, more likely, it also means a large chunk of change will be shifted toward the middle of the NBA. The mid-level exception salary will increase and teams can more easily spend money on role players rather than the set salaries for the best.
And that does not sit well. Especially with the guys who can get max money. They are not getting a bigger piece of this increasingly growing pie.
Kevin Durant is the next big free agent and he is sensing the change in the waters. And his potential time to strike. Durant is seeing this bigger pie and wants his piece (h/t Matt Birch of The Sports Daily):
Kevin Durant on the idea of doing away with max deals: "A lot of these guys are worth more than they're making."
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 7, 2014
And then Kobe Bryant chimed in:
Players are "encouraged" per new CBA to take less to win or risk being called selfish+ungrateful while nbatv deal goes UP by a BILLION #biz
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) October 7, 2014
AndLeBron James weighed in too via The New York Times:
The whole thing that went on with the negotiation process was that the owners were telling us that they were losing money. There is no way they can sit in front of us and tell us that right now.
This seems to point to a lockout. That will come in a few years.
Durant though has to do his striking now. His free agency is coming and he stands to lose a lot if the collective bargaining agreement does not change to rise with the increase in revenue. Or at least the salary for maximum players needs to rise along with the salary cap. As things stand now though, the middle of the league stands to benefit most while the top players will see their salaries stay relatively static.
There is no doubt that LeBron James should be making more than $20.6 million per year. Or that Kevin Durant should make more than $19 million this year.
It takes a lot of years to get to be able to make $23.5 million per year like Kobe Bryant. Bird Rights are involved, etc.
This statement from Durant is a prelude to so many things.
The first one is Durant wants to make sure he can keep his salary if he decides to switch teams. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement gives a built-in advantage to teams in retaining their free agents. Currently teams can offer 105 percent of their current salary in making max contract offers if it is above the maximum salary. That will not change. Teams though will not be able to go over the cap to sign him unless they have his Bird rights (pretty much the Thunder unless he gets traded).
The second is that there is initially a fight within the union over a pretty important issue — the division of the amount the players get of basketball related income.
This is a typical fight within a union that has such a large swath of interests to represent. The stars have taken more control of the union than in years past. Part of the discord of that 1999 lockout was within the union itself with Patrick Ewing on one side of the executive counsel representing the stars’ interests and Antonio Davis representing the journeyman’s interests.
That division within the union had a lot to do with the prolonged nature of that lockout in 1999 (which shortened the season to 50 games).
The union was controlled by mid-level players for a long time with Derek Fisher as executive president. The union seemed to be working to protect their interests a whole lot more with the star players comfortable at a max level plus the endorsements they could get on their own.
Chris Paul‘s ascendance through the executive committee to become president is a pretty large step. Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala also are on the executive committee. The rest of the committee is full of journeymen players like Roger Mason, Jr., Willie Green and James Jones. Stars though have gotten more involved, moreso than in the past, with James weighing a run at president as the union continued to clean house following the contentious ouster of Billy Hunter.
This is not to say Paul is going to put his interests ahead of the group’s interests. He has always spoken and dealt with union matters in an extremely professional and knowledgeable manner. He is not Patrick Ewing when he was on the executive committee, in other words. Paul seems to represent the interests of the union’s membership.
These negotiations coming up in a few years have some more intrigue since it will be the first time new NBPA executive director Michelle Roberts enters negotiations with the league. No one is quite sure how things will go.
Leverage appears present for disgruntled max players to try to push for more. Durant knows it is time to push now so he can take advantage when his free agency time comes.
He and the other stars are woefully underpaid. But are they willing to sacrifice standing in the union to get a higher salary?