Friday, December 2, 2011

Selling the New CBA

Fail. Fail. Fail.
There is a little thing in consumerism called buyer’s remorse. We’ve all felt it at one time or another, some more than others. In fact, many people, such as myself, deal with some level of buyer’s remorse on a constant basis. It sucks, and its effects turn even the easiest decision into a life-altering conundrum.

Buyer’s remorse is defined as the sense of regret after having made a purchase. People will typically experience it after making a major purchase, such as buying a car or buying a house. Whether it’s the sudden feeling that you made the wrong choice, that you paid too much money, or that you made the purchase from undue pressure; buyer’s remorse can be a crippling after effect to what should be a new and exciting part of one’s life. All of the positive thoughts and emotions that stemmed from the early stages of the purchase are quickly replaced with an unnerving obsession with the negative aspects of the purchase. To use technical terms, the buyer becomes overwhelmed with the potential opportunity costs of the purchase. “Maybe I could have gotten a better deal.” “Maybe the other one is actually better.”

 Like I said, by definition, buyer’s remorse is most usually associated with major purchases. As for myself, buyer’s remorse is an unfortunate everyday occurrence. As my wife and friends can attest to, I tend to make every decision far more difficult than it needs to be. I have spent upwards of three hours figuring out where I will go to it; for fear that I’ll buy McDonald’s and immediately realize I wanted Burger King. Sadly, I can’t even tell you how many times this has happened.

Earlier in the week, I posted a goofy little fantasy draft my friend Laney and I did together. In short, we decided to create a fake NBA full of replacement players to fill in the gap while the real NBA was duking it out in their never ending labor dispute. As it turned out, the never ending labor dispute ended. I described the moment I got this news as “an early Christmas present.” A week later, I’m still excited about my beloved NBA coming back, but I have to admit I’m feeling something else as well. Something a bit less exciting. Something a bit more morbid.

I’m feeling buyer’s remorse about buying the NBA.

Yes, I know that statement seems a bit odd. After all, it’s not like I actually bought the NBA. At least, not with a physical pile of cash like you might have associated my comment with. On the other hand, I kinda did buy the NBA in a not-so-monetary sort of way. I bought it emotionally. I bought that I just wanted my games back, no matter the cost.

Well, that’s what I got. I’m not sure it was worth it.

To properly put into context why I’m not content with the conclusion of the lockout, we must first understand what the lockout was about in the first place. Here are some quotes from various league officials that supposedly give us a clear indication of their priorities.

"We had a great year in terms of the appreciation of the fans for our game," he said. "It just wasn't a profitable one for our owners. And it wasn't one that many of the small-market teams particularly enjoyed. Or felt included in." – David Stern

That quote was from early July, when the lockout first began. Notice his comment about small-market teams. The league, on several occasions, specifically mentioned the plight of small market teams. For the most part, this was in reference to the supposed financial losses those franchises suffered, but this is directly tied to another issue that was brought up. Here’s another quote:

"We need a model where all 30 teams can compete for a championship," – Adam Silver

This July 1 quote is from Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and it strikes at the heart of why I’m unsatisfied with how things turned out.

Since the beginning of this lockout, we’ve heard non-stop rhetoric from the league about hard caps, franchise tags, elimination of sign and trades, elimination of cap exceptions, and various other CBA machinations that would enhance the league’s competitive balance. The reprehensible Carmelo Anthony “hostage” situations would be eliminated. The intolerable “super team” fad would be abolished. Each and every market would have an equal opportunity to compete in this new NBA, and fans across the country would no longer be subjected to losing their franchise hero.

This is what David Stern and his minions repeatedly tried to sell to us. This is what I bought into at the start of this process. This is what I was prepared to lose an entire NBA season over. What we got was…

Chris Paul's agent has told the New Orleans Hornets that Paul will not sign a contract extension and wants to be traded to the New York Knicks, Yahoo! Sports has reported, citing league sources. “

Isn’t that just fantastic. Five months of fighting and bickering on the part of the league and its players, and nothing has changed. Five months of frustration and false hope on the part of the league’s fans, and we’re right back in the same place we were last year.

The past two NBA seasons has been dominated by story lines of the league’s top players coldly holding their franchises and fans hostage as they sought to retreat to a preferred destination. This year, a year when things were supposed to be fixed, the season will be dominated by story lines of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Deron Williams looking to do the same. Great job, NBA!

Instead of actually fixing the situation, here is what the NBA came up with:

Bird Exception still intact

There were some slight changes to the Bird Exception that are supposedly going to make it “costly” for star players to flee in free agency, but I’m dubious of that. We just saw Lebron and Bosh take less money to go to their preferred destination, so I’m guessing that the changes won’t have nearly the impact the league is trying to sell us on. For starters, maximum contract lengths were reduced from six to five years. This apparently is a way for the league to safeguard against their typical dumb signings. So, instead of wasting $100 million on Rashard Lewis, they’ll only waste $80 million. Great. Also, the annual raises were reduced from 10.5% to 7.5%. Of course, those numbers only apply to players re-signing with their team. Annual raises for a player signing with another team would be just 4.5% and the maximum contract length would be 4 years. Overall, it would cost Chris Paul approximately $10 million to outright sign with New York or another team after he hits free agency. That’s a lot of money, but I’m guessing its effectiveness in deterring that type of player movement will be far less than anticipated. Of course, the unfortunate loopholes to this are also still in existence…

Sign-and-trade/Extend-and-trade still in existence

I hate, hate, HATE the sign-and-trade. Same for the extend-and-trade. I understand that the league wants teams to get something in return for a player instead of being left high and dry, but those are the breaks of free agency! Now, in all fairness, the new CBA will be far more restrictive on these cap loopholes. Starting in Year 3 of the new CBA (that really helps Orlando and New Orleans, doesn’t it?) a sign-and-trade contract will be restricted to four years and 4.5% raises. An extend-and-trade contract will be restricted to just three years with similar financial constraints. Obviously, that sets up a financial deterrent for players to leave their current teams, but I once again have to express my doubt that this will actually be effective. For a variety of reasons (i.e. endorsement money), playing in a certain market can offer more than a slightly better contract can. For this reason, markets like New Orleans and Orlando will continue to be killed by these stupid cap loopholes, the existence of which is idiotic and unexplainable. What’s the point in having a cap if you offer dozens of ways for teams to get around it? Instead of fostering a league where markets can actually compete, you constantly keep the New York Knicks’ and Los Angeles Lakers’ of the NBA world in the market to compete against the Memphis’ and Orlando’s.

Mid-level Exception still in existence

This is the one that angers me the most. Once again, what is the point of a cap if you constantly offer ways around it? Why should teams be able to sign quality players after they’ve hit the cap limit? Now, the CBA will severely limit the use of the MLE for luxury tax paying teams, basically cutting the available exception in half, but any team under the projected $70 million tax threshold will have a full 4 year $20 million contract at their disposal. One of those teams…the Miami Heat. Thanks to the new restrictions against taxpaying teams, the MLE very well could hand the next couple championships to the most unlikable team in sports.

Going one step further with that thought, I think this new CBA is tailor made for the Miami Heat model. Any large market team that is even remotely well run can form one of these dynasties in the new NBA. Star players all across the league are fleeing to play for the Knicks, Heat, and Lakers. All it takes is available cap room (or enough young players to send in a sign-and-trade), a GM who isn’t totally incompetent, and the right free agent class. The still-present ability to add valuable players, despite the salary cap, to a top heavy team threatens to undermine the league as we know it.

Maybe I’m overreacting a bit, but I can’t help but feel dissatisfied with how everything played out. Call me misguided, but I actually thought the league was serious about fixing its problems. I actually thought they were serious about championing competitive balance. I actually thought they were seeking real fixes to the system. In the end, they were seeking the same thing they’re always seeking – money.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see some NBA. The return of the league is still good news to me, but the concept of opportunity cost is stuck in my mind. Within a season, we could see Chris Paul as a Knick and Dwight Howard as a Laker. Where does that leave the Hornets and the Magic? Where does that leave the next group of small market teams that lose their franchise player?

Opportunity costs

The ability for franchises to hang onto their franchise player
The elimination of idiotic cap exception/loopholes
The end of Carmelo Anthony situations
The end of “super teams”
Contraction

I’m not saying all these things had to happen, but the fact that none of them did is disconcerting to me. Ten years from now, when the two sides sit down to negotiate the next CBA, where will we be? As depressing a thought as it is, I’m afraid the league will still not care about the same things we as fans care about. I’m afraid it will all come down to a better BRI split. I know its business, but that’s sad to me.

I expect Miami to take full advantage of their situation and effectively ruin the league for the foreseeable future. My only hope is that an interminable Miami run, combined with more Chris Paul/Dwight Howard situations, will make the state of the league so unsavory that there will be a real commitment to fix things next time around. I doubt it. Unfortunately, the league doesn’t seem to care much about its fans. That strikes me as odd since, you know, we’re the customers! Yes, ratings were huge last year, but what happens when Lebron wins three or four championships in a row? How many people tune in to see him gloat? What happens in all those markets where they can’t keep a star player?

I’ll be here complaining until these things get fixed. I’ll still be watching, but I’ll complain as I do so. If that strikes you as hypocritical, then you’re probably right. I’m definitely part of the problem. Even as I berate the league for “ruining the product,” I devote hundreds of hours per year to watching/writing about/talking about it. Like I said, I bought the NBA. Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t return it. If things turn out as badly as I fear, believe me when I say that I will. Maybe then, when devoted fans such as myself bail, the NBA will get serious about fixing things.

6 comments:

  1. Good write-up. Sincere, to-the-point. I can't tell you how glad I am right now that I've never bought the NBA! I'm convinced I'd be just as angry as you if I gave a crap. And that's a great point about what happens when the Heat win several championships. Yeah, NBA, you got lucky last year, but to keep up that success you're going to have to pray for a miraculous Dallas situation to happen every single year. Good luck with that plan - unless, of course, they plan to go the route of paying the refs to 'make sure' there is a Dallas every year. In that case, this may actually work for them!

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  2. Casey, I'd give more credence to that thought if the NFL weren't systematically ruining their product as well. Rule changes, 18 game seasons, over expansion...they have similar issues. All in all, the NBA has been great, but it all comes down to sport preference. I love hoops.

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  3. I know, I'm commenting on your comment that "you're glad you never bought the NBA." We all bought the NFL, no doubt. It seems all professional sports are heading down this path.

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  4. I don't know...I think MLB isn't heading down that path...they're already to the end of that path.

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