Marketplace Economy or Greed: Are NBA Salaries Out of Control?

A spectre is haunting the NBA – the spectre of salary caps.

It’s the classic case of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. The high, mighty and powerful NBA owners are ganging up against their poor and overworked players. Or are they?

You see, this isn’t a case where the executives are gaining unreasonable profits while the factory workers suffer. This is a case where individual greed on the part of the NBA players has reached the point of absolute hilarity. How can you keep a straight face when Adonal Foyal, the Vice-President of the NBA Players’ Union, calls an attempt to bring some reasonableness to the NBA salary structure “ridiculous” and “unfair?”

If you haven’t heard, the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of the 2010-2011 season. Negotiations for a new agreement have already begun. Despite the negotiations, little headway is likely to made and a lock-out is all but assured. The conflict, essentially, is one of money. The owners do not want to continue to pay NBA player exorbitant amounts of money while average NBA players insist that they can’t feed their families off of $5,000,000.

I can see both sides (sarcasm alert).

Owners of the NBA Teams are generally smart business people. They want to invest in enterprises that make money. The best way to make money is to ensure that revenue exceeds expenses. Well, as any owner of a business will tell you, hiring the right people is probably the biggest expense a company will have. Payroll can be a tremendous expense and in the NBA that is an understatement.

Take Adam Morrison. His wild wild west mustache puts him in the running for ugliest NBA player and his 2.5 points per game on 37% shooting puts him in the running for worst player in the league. He was a national embarrassment after crying on the floor during a nationally televised NCAA game and has only played in 21 games this season. He is a bona-fide scrub. He gets no respect from the national media or bloggers. And you know what? I would trade places with him tomorrow…without question. I can make fun of and insult Adam Morrison all I want and he doesn’t care. He’s laughing all the way to the bank. This season he’s due to make over $5 million.

You see, when I pay my ticket prices, I’m not just paying to see Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. Those high ticket prices are also designed to absorb some of the costs to pay Adam Morrison’s salary of $5,257,229. Larry Hughes shoots a worse percentage than Adam Morrison and yet he’s due to make over $13,000,000 this season alone. And I wonder, why do I have to pay money so that Adam Morrison can sit on a bench and smile because every game he’s $60,000 richer? And why do I have to subsidize Larry Hughes’ bad play? What incentive does he have to shoot better when he collects a check for over $150,000 every single game?

I’m sorry, Mr. Foyal, but it is the salary structure in the NBA as it exists that is ridiculous.

Some will counter with the idea that the market sets the salary. In some cases, that is true. Owners have vigorously competed with other owners over player talent. The battle over potential and prospective talent has led to over-inflated salaries for many players. The idea is that the more talent a team has, the better chance the team has to win. The better the team is, the more fans who will come to the games. Fans attending games means major money for owners.

Here’s the truth, though. Most NBA players shouldn’t be making more than teachers, doctors, scientists and engineers. Most NBA players are riding on the coattails of great, great players. Because, when I think about it, I pay my entire ticket price to see Lebron James or Kobe Bryant or Dwight Howard or Kevin Durant. You can bring their teammates along if you have to, but that’s who I’m paying to see. In rare cases, I’ll pay to see a team – a team that truly plays inspired, team basketball. But let’s face it, teams that work together and win without a superstar are rare in the NBA.

What has been lost in the negotiations between what owners want and what NBA players demand is what the fan is willing to pay for. It’s like we have to buy an extra value meal when we only want the fries. And I suppose that’s the luxury of having a superstar. You can raise ticket prices to absorb $5million for Adam Morrison as long as you put Kobe Bryant on the floor. But what happens when there’s no Kobe to back Adam? What happens when you’re the Nets? Empty seats.

Why should any player on a team that has only won 4 games and lost 47 be able to collect full salary? In the real world guaranteed contracts don’t exist. If you are bad at your job, you get fired. At will employment is a harsh reality. But NBA players can produce a poor product and still get paid more in one year than most hard working and competent people will see in their lifetimes.

You know, I don’t have a monopoly on morality, but that’s what seems unfair. It isn’t just unfair to the teachers and doctors and engineers. It is also unfair to the NBA fans who want a better and more cost effective product on the floor.

The owners are expected to ask for a hard salary cap and shorter contracts for NBA players. That is a step in the right direction. But let’s not take baby steps here. Let’s also eliminate the guaranteed contracts and put more incentives in the contracts for winning. Let’s reward players who are good at what they do and get rid of players who are not good. This doesn’t just make good financial sense, but getting rid of guaranteed contracts really allows players who aren’t yet in the NBA to compete for open roster spots when guys who aren’t good enough get ousted from the league. A better and more robust D-League would result along with more inspired play from all players.

The offseason negotiations to create another collective bargaining agreement is not just a chance for players and owners to outlet their grievances, but also an opportunity for the fans to demand a better, more cost effective product.


One Response to “Marketplace Economy or Greed: Are NBA Salaries Out of Control?”

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