Is the max salary actually good for the Detroit Pistons? Today we’ll make the case as to why it doesn’t help small market teams like Detroit.
The “max salary” in the NBA was created in 1998 and is the highest amount any given player can earn on a newly signed contract. There’s a tiered system as well within the max salary structure which is based on how long players have been in the league. The max salary is obviously coveted by players looking for a big pay day, but does it actually help teams like the Detroit Pistons?
Let’s look at how the Pistons roster is currently constructed. Right now, the Pistons have two players on “max” contracts, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Let’s say that both of those players are thinking about leaving the team in free agency and want to get the max wherever they end up. Detroit’s advantage is being able to offer those players more years, five years instead of four, and more money than any other team in free agency. However, how’s that gone for teams with high profile free agents lately? Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant all in the same offseason turned down all of those perks from their at that time current teams to go elsewhere.
Luckily for the Pistons, there aren’t a whole lot of teams with cap space next summer to compete with in the Andre Drummond sweepstakes. But, what if Drummond was like one of those players and was absolutely determined to get out of Detroit no matter if the Pistons offered him the full five year max contract? What’s the Pistons recourse other than trading him if such a scenario comes to fruition?
The problem with the max contract is that every team has essentially room for one or two max contracts. However, not every team has players that are worth that max contract with the Pistons sort of in that same boat with Drummond back in 2016. Was Drummond worth the five year $127 million that he got in 2016? I’d argue no. But, was he Detroit’s best player at that time? Yes. Therefore, Drummond easily has the leverage to get that contract because who else is Detroit going to spend that money on?
I’m also not against these players being paid tremendous amounts of money. But, what I do find strange is that right now, players like John Wall make more money than LeBron James simply because LeBron’s value cannot be accurately measured because of the max salary. Having somewhere between 30-60 players making “max” money doesn’t make sense if we’re actually trying to reward the best players and are interested in competitive balance.
Imagine if the Lakers had to actually pay LeBron what he’s worth in order to play there. On a truly open market what would he be worth? $50 million a year? $60 million a year? Forcing teams to pay real market price for these superstar players would make it much harder to build super-teams and would do more for legislating equality than the max salary does.
And for a team like Detroit who has a hard time keeping star players, the difference between earning $127 million over five years as opposed to $100 million over four years isn’t nearly enough to entice already millionaires to play somewhere they aren’t interested in. But, doubling that would make it much more enticing to play somewhere like Detroit in theory.
However it also works in their advantage when it came to Drummond’s first contract after his rookie deal. The urgency to give him the max wouldn’t have been nearly as high if there wasn’t an artificial mechanism in place to determine what the best player on the team is “worth”.
To be fair, this proposal would hurt the pockets of the “middle class” of the NBA, the large contingent of players who aren’t going to be able to command the types of deals that a “LeBron type” would be able to command, but since when are we as a society not okay with that?
In a world of never ending capitalism and how much we “earn” our success in America, I find it strange that in one of our country’s greatest exports, professional basketball, that there’s a cap on how much one person can make. Not that I support the capitalist model in worlds where it is not arbitrary, but there’s these hints of “socialism” or fairness in pro sports that I find interesting that we don’t challenge much.
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Most sports fans have no problem with how much the “governors” (the NBA isn’t calling their owners “owners” anymore) make in revenue. There’s no cap on how much coaches in the NBA or any other league can make that I can recall. But it’s the governors that really pushed for the max salary after the NBA lockout in 1998.
Unfortunately for them, the problems they thought they were alleviating end up mutating into something they didn’t expect. Who could’ve seen coming a team headed by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh with all three of them taking pay cuts to do so?
These owners were hinging on their employees being selfish and money grubby. They didn’t take into account however, that these players valued things other than money and are now scrambling to find another way to wrangle in this player empowerment movement.
Getting rid of the max salary while still maintaining Bird Rights for teams prospective free agents feels like a compromise that could work for both sides.