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The Economic Quandary of 2010 Max Players

Jul 1, 2010 – 9:35 AM
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Bethlehem Shoals

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There is no one -- I mean, no one -- who doesn't believe LeBron James should get the most money an NBA player can be legally tendered. This generosity, of course, comes with limits, and these limits are called the salary caps. James is only eligible to earn X amount of money, based on the reigning Collective Bargaining Agreement and LeBron's tenure in the league. Bored yet?

Here's the simple part: The NBA sets parameters for how much superstars like LeBron can be paid. The question is, what does this mean for everyone else looking to get paid this summer? Do we see whatever James, the uber-player, gets as the uppermost point on a curve? Or, as I have proposed elsewhere, are NBA salaries like government pay grades, where some signings simply offer a better value than others?

The paradox of 2010 is, to say the least, unseemly. No one disputes the fact that James deserves gobs of cash, but there are rules to restrict this figure -- and prevent an all-out bidding war from breaking out. That's life for the league's absolute best players, but produces the artificial effect of squeezing out stars like Joe Johnson.

We all have a rough sense of who deserves $10 million a year; given the current CBA, there's a firm limit on what ultra-studs like James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can expect. What's the fair figure for James? That's not the way the NBA thinks these days, but it doesn't stop that uppermost peak from casting aspersions on, and passing harsh judgment upon, anyone directly 'neath it.

Why is Johnson, or Amar'e Stoudemire, catching such hell? Because they stand in line to make as much as (or in Johnson's case, more than) LeBron. That's patently illogical, given what each brings to a team. Yet we still have no problem with double-digit players -- almost-stars, maybe occasional All-Stars, who will provide a shot in the arm, or high-test second option, to a team on the rise.

So what happens to Amare or JJ? We're operating with fairly slim margins here, a deviation of two or three million per year in either direction. It really comes down to the patent absurdity of Joe Johnson and LeBron James standing on the same tier of salary. Because that's exactly what it is, a salary, the kind of socialist crap that our own government uses to determine pay at most levels.

Granted, in a perfect free market, James would be subject to an all-out bidding war -- and to be fair, often lesser players are elevated through these market-driven outbreaks.

James, though, is a fixed point. Again, if he represents the top of a curve, then the average NBA salary is plunged into the abyss. If Joe Johnson isn't worth the max deal, then he displaces the $12 million guy, who in turns knocks down the $8 million fellow ... shoot, soon we'll have folks paying to come off the bench for the Timberwolves.

The only logical way of viewing this salary situation is to see the recruitment itself as a contest for the best value. In effect, everyone knows that James is the top prize. This would be the case even if a cap-less environment necessitated paying him $30 million each season. However, in sports, there are winners and losers. There is absolutely no reason why, all of a sudden, teams should be coddled.

LeBron James is the biggest bargain on the market. Because it's a players' market, plenty of other lesser athletes will be given comparable contracts. If a team wants a value like James or Wade, it's incumbent upon them to go out and recruit them. As in, life isn't fair. That's why you have to be better than others.

The real losers, or fretters, are those teams who end up paying the same amount for lesser talents. Sucks for them that they couldn't land James or Wade. However, this says less about the inherent unfairness of the cap system -- it is what it is, and viewing this as a curve would set off utter chaos -- and more about an organization's ability to bring the best personnel on board.

If you don't think your team should pay Joe Johnson, well, someone else will. And the injustice there isn't that Johnson makes the same as James, but that your team failed to step up and deliver the game's biggest bargain in the summer when it mattered most.

As usual, the cap is in place to keep teams safe. Without it, we wouldn't have this wide-open field of recruitment -- one that, however erroneously, has been compared to blue-chippers heading into college. It would come down to who had the most cash, regardless of the quality of their pitch, or what they could offer LeBron, firepower-wise.

What seems more appealing to you: a world where the Knicks got every max player by default, or one where teams were judged by the content of their character, and if they lost out, would have to grin and bear a consolation prize that -- on the court and in the books -- simply wasn't LeBron James?
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