Recently, TrueHoop reported that just eight of the League’s thirty teams were over the luxury tax in 2007-2008.
Six of those teams made last year’s NBA playoffs. Two of them — the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics — met in the NBA Finals. Not coincidentally, the Lakers and Celtics were led by two players who make in excess of or near $20 million per season. Kevin Garnett made $23,750,000 and Kobe Bryant earned $19,490,625. In hindsight, Jerry Buss and Wycliffe Grousbeck would agree that their superstars’ salaries was money well spent. KG won Defensive Player of the Year and led the C’s to the best regular season record in the NBA and the NBA championship. Bryant was the Most Valuable Player, and the Lakers advanced to their first NBA Finals since 2004.
Despite billion dollar broadcast rights, sky-high ticket prices, and merchandise and apparel sales, few NBA franchises are profitable. It’s becoming increasingly clear that to win in today’s NBA, an owner has to be prepared to lose money. Owners operate from a profit and loss statement. There are limits to what most owners (not you James Dolan) will pay for the price of an NBA championship.
Baron Davis, Elton Brand, and Gilbert Arenas signed less than maximum contracts recently. Davis opted out of a contract that would have paid him $17.8 million next year to sign a five-year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers at $13 million per season. For Davis, it was the opportunity to return to Los Angeles and the chance to play with All-Star power forward Elton Brand that convinced him to take a $4.8 million dollar paycut. Although Brand eventually declined the Clippers offer, he signed a deal with the Sixers that will pay him $8 million less than what the Golden State Warriors offered for a chance at playoff contention with Philadelphia.
Arenas vowed to take a less than a maximum contract extension after the Wizards were eliminated from the playoffs so Washington could re-sign Antawn Jamison. In a shocking turn of events considering the state of today’s NBA — Arenas stayed true to his word and inked a deal that will pay him $16 million less than what was available to him.
Nearly every NBA player says they want to win a championship. But how many of those guys are willing to put their money where their mouth is? How many guys realize that there’s no shortcut to building a team capable of winning an NBA championship? It’s dollars and cents. If you really want to win a ring, then sacrifice monetarily for the greater good of your organization and help your franchise build a winner.
Tim Duncan — winner of three of the past six NBA championships — gets it. Duncan opted out of his contract before the start of the 2007-2008 season and signed a less than maximum contract extension ($11 million less) so that the Spurs could have salary cap flexibility following the 2010 season. It’s been widely reported that 2010 is the summer of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. But Manu Ginobili will be a free agent too. Tony Parker will be a free agent the following season.
Asked to comment on the extension and Duncan taking millions less than he could have received, coach Gregg Popovich said Duncan is “definitely special and that’s just a very good example of how his brain works and what his priorities are.”
That’s how the greatest power forward of all-time’s “brain works.” That’s where a four-time NBA champion’s “priorities are.”
Before being traded to the Celtics, Kevin Garnett agreed on an extension that will keep him in Boston through the 2011-12 season. Garnett was eligible for a four-year extension from the Celtics worth an estimated $116 million — but agreed to a three-year $56,600,802 deal.
Kobe Bryant has an early termination option on his contract next season that will allow him to opt out and become a free agent. Bryant demanded a trade before last season due to the lack of talent surrounding him. Jerry Buss responded by trading Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol and straying further into luxury-tax territory to appease his superstar. The Lakers front office rewarded Bryant with a championship caliber team.
If Bryant is serious in his desire to cement his legacy with multiple championships (sans Shaq), he’ll opt out and follow KG and Duncan’s lead by signing for less.