Towards the middle of December, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) agreed on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that will take effect on July 1, 2017 and will run through the 2023-24 season.
While there are many parts to this multifaceted agreement, the most notable of its many aspects involves a dramatic increase in player salaries, along with alterations to the free agency process. Minimum salaries in the NBA are rising by 45 percent and two-way contracts between the NBA and its developmental league (The D-League) are now finally a reality, as teams will now be able to develop their younger players who are not receiving consistent playing time in the NBA. These are without a doubt much needed-changes to make the NBA even stronger, but with a rising salary cap and with free agency approaching quickly this summer, any alteration to the free agency process should be examined closely by all NBA franchises to ensure that major mistakes aren’t made.
Under the new CBA, there are major changes being made that will affect the landscape of free agency. Measures were taken in this agreement to prevent franchises from forming “super teams” such as the 2010-2014 Miami Heat led by the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, along with the current Golden State Warriors team that boasts four bona fide All-Stars and two former MVPs. The prior CBA generally did a good job of enticing big-name players to remain with the franchises that originally drafted them. Despite Kevin Durant opting to leave the small-market Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Warriors, he remained with the Thunder organization for nine years, which is longer than most players elect to stay with one franchise in the first place.
The new CBA makes it far more lucrative for players to remain with their “hometown” teams. Designated veteran star players will be able to sign five-year extensions with their current team with one year left on their former contract. Previously, players were only permitted to sign four-year contract extensions with one year left on their current deal. Due to their naming to the All-NBA team in the past and their playing in the NBA for 7-9 years, 2018 free agents Russell Westbrook, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins all qualify for this designated veteran star player status. As a result of this new CBA, designated veterans can sign contract extensions worth up to $31 million annually for five years.
This aspect of the 2017 CBA (similarly to the agreement ratified in 2011) was established in order to prevent marquee players from leaving small-market teams for bigger market teams. These big market teams possess the financial wherewithal to have up to four All-Stars under contract. The NBA wants to give these small market teams a shot to win a title and to succeed on more of a level playing field, rather than to have a league dominated by the allure of endorsements and big money from bigger market teams.
I’m not going to sit here and say that the Warriors are ruining the NBA because of the immense talent they have in their starting lineup, because that is just not true. The whole point of free agency is that the player is allowed to sign with whichever franchise offers him a contract with terms that he can agree upon. While signing with the Warriors may have tarnished Durant’s legacy since he could have followed in the footsteps of players like Kobe Bryant and stayed with the franchise that drafted him, it was his decision to make. Players should not feel like they have to stay with a franchise but rather that they can move on whenever they feel the need. Jerry West recently stated publicly that if free agency had existed during his playing career, he would have left the Lakers to avoid ongoing confrontations with the team owner. While it breaks my heart to hear such an honest assessment as a diehard Lakers fan, a player should be allowed to depart for a team during free agency if he so pleases.
The new CBA incentivizes players to remain with the teams that drafted them, which is without a doubt an attempt by the NBA to eliminate super teams and to create a level playing field where a small market team possesses nearly the same chance as a big market team to contend for the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, if a player really does not like his situation, much like Durant in Oklahoma City, then he will now be forced to give up a substantial amount of guaranteed money in order to make his exit. This still allows players to leave and sign with other teams, but the system rewards players for loyalty to an organization. The new CBA should be applauded and its effects will hopefully be greatly felt for years to come.