NBA PM: NBA Moneyball?
For those of you who have not seen the movie “Moneyball,” or who are not familiar with the history of the Oakland A’s, don’t worry – there are no spoilers here. That said, seeing that excellent movie, starring Brad Pitt as A’s GM Billy Beane, gave me what I feel could be a look at the future of the NBA.
Up until now, NBA championships have been won, for the most part, by the teams that spend the most money. Someone recently pointed out in a chat that Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks were bound to win a title sooner or later because every year they throw a bunch of money at the best players they can find and hope they will play well together and win it all. Until last season that method hadn’t been too successful, but sooner or later it was bound to happen. But the Mavericks aren’t alone . . .not by a longshot.
Last season the Los Angeles Lakers were the big spenders of the NBA, ringing in with a payroll of over $91 million in a year when the salary cap was roughly $53 million. In other words, using a similar measure as one used in “Moneyball,” the Lakers paid $1.6 million for each of their 57 wins. They were swept in the second round of the playoffs.
The Orlando Magic were a close second, racking up a payroll of $90.8 million, meaning each of their 52 wins cost them in the neighborhood of $1.7 million.
The NBA champion Mavericks were right there, spending over $88 million last season, with each of their 57 wins costing $1.54 million.
Of course, those numbers are based solely on each team’s salaries, and skyrocket when you start to calculate the luxury tax dollars paid by each team – something like $19 million for the Lakers, a hair under that for Orlando and $16 million for the Mavs.
In other words, in today’s NBA it’s pretty expensive to be among the league’s elite.
Or is it?
The truth is, guys who look at more than scoring averages and Sprite commercials can often achieve the same or better results while still staying under the luxury tax threshold, and some can even hover close to the actual salary cap while still putting a very competitive squad on the court every night.
It should come as no surprise whatsoever that the Oklahoma City Thunder are right at the top of this list. GM Sam Presti spent just a couple of million over the soft cap last season and was well below the luxury tax threshold at roughly $57.5 million. The Thunder won their division and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals while spending just $1.03 million per win.
Likewise, the Chicago Bulls managed to win their division and make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals while spending just $55.2 million, or roughly $887K per win.
Meanwhile, teams like the Boston Celtics ($77 million), the Atlanta Hawks ($71 million), Toronto Raptors ($70 million) and Utah Jazz ($75 million) spent a heck of a lot of money to fall well short of expectations. The Raptors didn’t even get a playoff berth to show for their huge payroll.
If you want to know what the NBA might look like under a new collective bargaining agreement that implements a hard salary cap, you’ll want to spend less time looking at teams like Dallas, Orlando and the Lakers and take careful notice of the Thunder and the Bulls.
What it’s going to take to be successful in the next NBA economy is more smart analysis and less throwing money at names just because they look nice in the lineup. The days of indiscriminatingly spending money to add more and more talent to a team are coming to an end, and we’re about to enter an era where the smartest guys will likely be the ones who build contenders.
It will have the effect of leveling the playing field for the teams that can’t afford to spend at the rate of the Lakers, and frankly it will make the NBA a lot more fun for a wider range of fans. We might even start to see small market teams consistently advancing deep into postseason play, if you can imagine that.
We might have to miss a few games to get there, but an NBA where Moneyball is not the determining factor in winning championships promises to be a more sustainable, more fun brand of basketball.
Now go check out the movie . . .you won’t regret it!
Modified Hard Cap?
The big news today in the ongoing NBA labor talks is that there may be a compromise to be reached with regard to the hard salary cap. The owners are as insistent as ever that they want one, but they may have a creative solution to getting it that the players might be willing to support. According to ESPN, the owners are now seeking three primary measures aimed at cost reduction:
• The “Larry Bird exception,” which allows teams to exceed the cap to retain their own free agents regardless of their other committed salaries, is limited to one player per team per season.
• The mid-level exception, which the league valued at $7.4 million last season and could be extended by as many as five years, is reduced in length and size.
• The current luxury tax, the $1-for-$1 penalty a team must pay to the league for the amount it exceeds the salary cap, is to be severely increased.
There are always more ways than one to achieve a particular goal, and in this case the owners seem to have found a work-around. Instead of imposing a hard cap outright, they are reportedly willing to talk about another soft cap, but this time with a luxury tax so steep it will all but accomplish the same thing. Teams won’t want to spend the money to go over the cap, even if they feel doing so gets them closer to a championship.
But how big would that penalty have to be to discourage owners like Mark Cuban, who have thus far been willing to spend any amount to win a title?
That remains to be seen.
What’s important is that the owners are now backing off on two of the primary issues the players were unwilling to negotiate on. The softer cap stance is a big change, as well as a willingness to maintain some kind of MLE. There is speculation that the players will balk at the stipulations that would come along with a soft cap, and that the players might not be willing to settle for the 50/50 split of BRI (Basketball Related Income) that the owners are rumored to be willing to offer up. But in the spirit of compromise, perhaps the players can give a little on some of their more concrete demands, as well.
The deadline to reach a new CBA without missing regular season games is fast approaching, and now it sounds like the two sides might find common ground in time to save the 2011-12 season. Of course, we’ve been here before. Hopefully this time neither side will move the goal posts for a deal and thus force NBA commissioner David Stern to take more drastic measures than canceling training camp and a few preseason games. No one wants to see the November 1st opening night date vacated.
The next meeting between the NBA players and owners is scheduled for Friday in New York.
Wade Talks Lockout, HEAT
Continuing with today’s theme, Miami HEAT star Dwyane Wade took some time to talk to WFAN in New York recently, covering both the lockout and some lessons learned in Miami last season. He said the fact that the owners and players are talking to frequently is a great sign.
“The only good news is we’re looking to have a season. It’s just talks, and that’s positive to be able to have consistent talks and I know that there’s more talks coming up this week. That’s a good thing for the fans and this league, that we are talking and everyone’s getting in the room.”
Wade acknowledged that everyone involved really just wants to get back to the business of playing NBA basketball, but there are serious long-term implications of any deal that is reached and everyone’s looking to make sure it’s a good deal going forward.
“Obviously, we all want to get back to work. This is our lifelong dream to play basketball at the professional level. But, also, we understand that we have to make sure that the business of the players, this goes on beyond us. A lot of us would be retired the next time we go through this again, so this is for the future of the NBA and the players of the NBA. It’s unfortunate, but that’s a part of life.”
Normally the HEAT would be gearing up to defend their Eastern Conference championship and push to the ultimate goal of winning it all, but the lockout has at the very least pushed back the preparation process. In the three months since the HEAT lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, however, the reality of how the HEAT fell short last season has sunk in.
“It’s humbling,” says Wade. “We learned a lot about what we are as a team. We understand that we tried the fast track to get it together the first year. We fell two games shy of that, but the Dallas Mavericks were a good team. We were still in the transition stage of trying to figure that out and find it out. Hopefully when we get back to a season, we can have another opportunity, another shot at it.”
Since that disappointing loss there have been rumors that perhaps Wade and fellow star LeBron James weren’t getting along, but Wade quickly put those rumors to rest.
“Everything when it comes to the Miami HEAT, myself and LeBron, it’s just rumors and it’s overblown. We’re best of friends and most importantly we’re teammates and have one common goal. That’s eventually to be a champion. We laugh at a lot of the things that people say. Ya’ll give us laughter, so we appreciate the laughter that ya’ll bring to our lives.”
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HOOPSWORLD Chats: There are two chats on the schedule today. First, CBA guru Larry Coon kicks things off with his salary cap chat at 3 p.m. ET. Next up, Mark Nugent will take over at 5 p.m. ET. Both of these chats fill up fast so be sure to submit your questions now. To view all of HOOPSWORLD’s upcoming chats, click here.