No, The Lakers Didn't 'Buy' Dwight Howard And A Superteam

From the Salt Lake City Tribune:

Life in the NBA isn’t fair.

And that wouldn’t be all that troubling, except that the league is built on competition. And if you build a league on competition, then it should be fair competition, where the league’s integrity is at least preserved and at most championed. As is, it is neither preserved, nor championed.

It is simply up for sale.

The rest of that article is pretty much what you'd expect, but his point up there is important because it's probably going to be echoed a lot in the coming months.

So, rebuttal:

We're talking about teams from big markets being the only teams rich enough to exceed the salary cap and pay massive luxury taxes, right?

Yes, the Lakers will be taxed for the big salaries now on their roster. But given their market and the extra money they bring in from that market, they can pay those penalties on their way straight back to contention.

There are forecasts that the Lakers, between salaries and luxury taxes, in the coming years could shell out some $150 million. The Jazz will hover at less than half that annual amount. Utah could spend more to win more, but, on the tethered basketball and business side, that kind of spending for a small-market team isn’t sustainable.

Right. Okay.

Well... the Bulls had the best record in the NBA last season and didn't pay a dime in luxury tax. Neither did the Thunder. The Spurs paid less than three million. The Heat won the NBA title and paid 6 million dollars in tax, a number they definitely recouped with playoff money.

The Spurs, Bulls and Thunder weren't richer than the rest of the league. They lucky and smart as they built through the draft, while the Heat were lucky and smart building through 2010 free agency. Money had very little to do with it. You could complain that players flock to Miami and L.A. more than Salt Lake City, but that ends two ways:

  1. Should we restrict players' freedom to play where they want?
  2. Should we get rid of teams in places like Salt Lake City because they can't possibly compete?

(A hard cap may limit superteams like L.A., but it wouldn't necessarily keep Deron Williams from looking around at his crappy teammates and searching for a bigger market.)

But we're off track now.

More important: As Henry Abbot noted at True Hoop today, the idea that the Lakers have been "buying" success all these years does a disservice to how evil and brilliant they've been.

The Dwight Howard trade is just the latest perfect example. They didn't need Dwight, so they waited and refused to trade too much. In the meantime, they traded for Steve Nash using a salary exception they created when they gave away one of their four best players (Lamar Odom) for nothing last winter, an incredibly risky move at the time.

Once they had Nash, Howard became more attractive to L.A.'s front office (as the missing piece) and L.A. became more attractive for Howard (as an instant title contender). The benefits for both sides made too much sense. So, L.A. spent the last month putting together a trade, and the rest is history. The Lakers will pay a lot of money for their starting five this year, but nobody else in the NBA would've been smart enough to even put themselves in that position.

Likewise, one reason L.A. can pay that much money is because they've spent the past 30 years paying for success and taking risks and refusing to rebuild, which in turn made them the most valuable and visible team in the NBA, with massive revenue streams that allow them to overpay for future success, guaranteeing more value. It's called running a successful business. If that aggressive model only works in a major media market, it's not the only model that works -- just look at the teams in the NBA Finals last year.

Meanwhile, according to Mark Deeks and Sham Sports, the Knicks have paid 195 million dollars in luxury tax since 2002. Over that same span, they've won exactly one playoff game. Winning isn't easy in any market, and with apologies to small market fans who want to hate the Lakers for being rich, the NBA's integrity isn't "up for sale" any more than the Knicks are title contenders every year.

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