Dan Le Batard wrote a tremendous column for the Miami Herald on the situation the Heat find themselves in with Dwyane Wade. The short version of the crisis: Wade has repeatedly taken less to accommodate Pat Riley's roster plans, and had been expected to do so again by opting in to his 2015-16 contract giving Miami ultimate flexibility to chase Kevin Durant and others a la 2010. Wade might rather opt out now and get paid.
There is so much to digest in Le Batard's column, but this is perhaps the most widely important observation:
Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan and Wade have played at discounts so the team could have more, but Wade is the only one of the three to do that while in his prime.
The player's union, led by a new litigator who enjoys a good fight, wants this to stop immediately. So, too, does power broker LeBron James. James didn't make much clear at the start of free agency last offseason, but he did make this abundantly so: He was not playing for one penny less than the max. James, now the union's vice president, and Michele Roberts, now the union's head, don't see why stars should be taking discounts while the Clippers are selling for $2 billion and a new TV contract in 2016 is about to be an oil-well spewing money.
Everyone acknowledges that the NBA is a league of stars. They drive the ratings, the merchandise sales and usually the championship teams. (Eighteen of the past 25 championships have been won by teams featuring Jordan, Duncan, Kobe or LeBron, four of the greatest players ever.) Yet, the NBA has been on a mission to depress the salaries of superstars since 1995, often with the cooperation of non-stars and players' union leadership.
In 1995, the union agreed to institute a rookie salary scale to prevent future top draft picks from making millions of dollars before they stepped on an NBA court. (These days, stars on rookie deals are the best bargains in the NBA.) In 1999, the union approved individual limits on salary, which regulated what percentage of the salary cap stars could be paid. (Notably, Kobe was one of the few dissenting votes on that deal.) In 2005, the union agreed to a reduction in the maximum length of contracts. In 2011, the union coughed up a chunk of basketball-related income back to franchisees, which limited salary cap growth and had an outsized impact on stars' salaries while maintaining pay levels for most lesser players.
Roberts, the firecracker union boss, has openly stated that she believes the individual player max to be an unfair policy. That puts her in opposition of most of her membership. The individual player max caps what guys like LeBron can earn, but the labor deal between the union and league also ensures that all players will split roughly 50 percent of all NBA revenue. So by limiting what some make on the upper end, there's more money available for the hundreds of Derek Fishers and Roger Masons.
Fisher and Mason, career role players, were the two player leaders of the union in past years. Roberts' predecessor Billy Hunter earned a reputation for shoddy preparation and poor strategy. (The decertification ruse in 2011 was severely botched.) Now, Chris Paul and LeBron are the top guys in the union, and Roberts has openly gone after the league on a number of fronts. After 20 years of income redistribution, the stars appear poised to strike back against team officials prodding them to give up money for the greater good.
The franchisees kept their own battle over revenue sharing mostly under wraps in 2011. The players are unlikely to be so fortunate given the names and stakes involved. Mickey Arison (a cruise ship operator) quarreling over corporate welfare with Herb Simon (a shopping mall developer) is way less exciting than LeBron arguing that he should get $50 million a year at the expense of guys like Matthew Dellavedova. If the players go through with this, the media and fans will eat it up, and eat the union alive.
Wade's situation is a nice prelude to the war coming down the road. The question that remains is whether it'll be a civil war among players fighting over slices of the pie or whether CP3, Roberts and LeBron can unite the membership to fight the league for a bigger pie itself.
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