Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why is there even an NBA Salary Cap?

After sifting through the hubbub surrounding NHL free agency last week, and now being faced with the LeBron James show tonight on ESPN, I realized something.


This isn't coming from a Pittsburgh-homer perspective, just a sports fans. I love both hockey and basketball (particularly college). Both sports are by nature physical, fast-paced and flat out fun.

But when it comes to the way these leagues are run, it's not even close.

The NHL has a salary cap. PERIOD. There's no getting around it. Free agency in the NHL is more about doing the salary cap dance and signing the best players with your available money. The NBA? Forget it. The salary cap is just a number, not a law. Here's the breakdown:

2010-11 NBA "Salary Cap" = $58 million.

At first glance, you think, "Oh, well that's right where the NHL salary cap is! But wait, why are there so many $20+ million/year contracts in basketball?" Well, readers, here's why.

The NBA has a "luxury tax line", which is really just an excuse for teams to be able to spend more money. The 2010-11 Luxury Tax Line = $70 million.

And THEN, NBA rules state that teams have to pay an additional tax if they go over the luxury tax line, of $1 for every $1 they spend. To use an example, last year, the champion LA Lakers went $21.4 MILLION over the luxury tax line. Which means while the NBA "salary cap" was at $56 million last year, the "champion" LA Lakers spent a grand total of:

$90 million

Not to place the blame solely on one team. 11 of the 30 NBA teams went over the luxury tax line. To make things even more screwy, each team that doesn't go over the luxury tax line receives a $3.7 million rebate. That's not a typo. By not going $12 million OVER the salary cap, NBA owners make $3.7 million.

With the recent craze over where LeBron goes, and now that indicators are pointing to Miami, where Chris Bosh yesterday signed a monster deal, and Dwayne Wade is about to as well. Throw LeBron and his $20 million plus deal into the mix, and you've got a team that's turned the NBA salary cap into a Dane Cook joke (all show, no substance).

People can complain about the way the NHL has addressed the head shot issue, the fact that Gary Bettman looks like a troll, whatever.

The facts are that the NHL gets the basics right. They have rules that must be abided by, no loopholes, no exemptions. The NBA is anarchic, the rulebook serving only as a paperweight to $25 million contracts. It's why the appeal of the NBA is on the decline, and the NHL is on the rise. The general populous can relate to hockey players, they have an air of humanity about them. The mega-deal NBA fosters no such connection.

So ESPN, you can spare me the details. I will not be watching your LeBron James Contract Special. For as much of a joke as the NBA is, it should probably be broadcast on Comedy Central.