Saturday, January 2, 2010

Yellow Lorry Slow

Chris Ballard wrote in the November 23rd edition of Sports Illustrated that LeBron James should publicly announce now that he will sign in July 2010 for the minimum annual salary, about $1 million. Teams could then work on shaping their rosters between now and July to be as strong competitively as possible, rather than jettisoning good players to shed salary commitments.

The problem, of course, is that James's personal commitment to such a plan would be questionable: a "non-credible threat", in pointy-headed parlance. It could be useful for him to encourage every team to improve their roster as much as possible in the next six months, and then, on July 1st, choose whichever team (above a certain cutoff talent level that he deems sufficient) has the most salary space available to offer. James may like winning, but who doesn't like money? That suggested strategy stands in contrast to the REAL likely strategy, in which teams seek to clear enough salary space for the maximum allowed annual salary (see Section 7(a) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement), thus undermining the roster quality. Considering the low credibility of James's threat, teams could be wary of such a $1 MM promise from him (particularly as he's already apparently broken his February 2009 promise to compete in the February 2010 All-Star slam dunk contest). Teams like the Knicks or Heat could stop worrying about cap space and simply work on improving the roster in the next six months, only to then find themselves jilted by James; the teams then wouldn't have any salary room to sign another star like Amar'e or Bosh, who also want max dollars.

The solution to the problem described above could be to move to non-guaranteed contracts in the NBA's next collective bargaining agreement in 2011. In other words, each year of a player contract would, sequentially, constitute a team option. New York wants to clear salary room to grab LeBron and Wade in 2010? Just renounce the rights to Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries; don't exile Lee and Gallinari! But, likely the Players' Association would never agree to such a move. It neither makes the overall pie of league revenue larger nor assures a good distribution for players. Many teams would suffer as good teams could more easily snack on the detritus of poor teams' stars.

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