Big Money Blues Ever wonder why some of the teams with the lowest team salary are also the most successful franchises in the NBA while teams with the highest payroll perennially flounder in the cellar? I mean aren’t the highest paid players the crème de la crème? You don't need to recite the collective bargaining agreement to understand that a player’s salary is associated with productivity… more specifically points per game. How many "Max" salaried players are lock down defenders or league leaders in assists (Kidd and ???)… you'd better be able to fill it up if you want to back up the Brinks' truck. There’s no hard evidence that the shoe company contracts are tied to performance quotas (ssshhhh) but we are all aware that if the big money players want to wear the big check mark on their sneakers they need to be netting over 18 PPG or the next up-and-comer will gladly fill your shoes (so to speak). [floatl]http://img93.imageshack.us/img93/7625/stnashtrophy2950502195qs.jpg[/floatl]Sorry Big Ben, your stuff will only get you a token endorsement later on. These players are driven to score and score big… teammates be damned. The more selfish you play the more you get rewarded. Sure there’s exceptions for true team players like Nash, Kidd and Lebron. The guys sporting MVP and ROY awards… Big $'s = Score or have hardware. But there’s a cost Since there is very little correlation of high team salaries to championship contention, then what is the problem with showing loyalty by rewarding your productive players? Unfortunately players that primarily focus on scoring often isolate their teammates (hey what about my next contract) often leading to internal dissention and selfishness on their part (oh my god I better shoot while I get a touch). Another consideration is injuries. The guys that hog the rock typically garner two or three defenders. They become contortionist trying to compete for slivers of open space while being blindsided from all directions. These studs are taking a much bigger risk than the Michael Curry’s of the association who are content to park it on the arc while they wait for a bone from "Mr. Big Money". What happens when your Ace goes down or becomes a shell of his former talent? How’s that "salary filler" lookin’ now? We’ll save the laundry list of maxed out players hitting the injury list. Which brings us to the third component of having one or two "Max" players… the level of talent these GM’s have to surround them with. Journeymen and inexperienced kids on rookie contracts. It’s a recipe for mediocore purgatory… just good enough to not receive a top five talent in the draft, but not good enough for the show. Years of more youth movements until the boat anchor’s contract deal expires. GM X says "Ya mean I've got five more years of praying to the ping pong gods for being loyal…Anyone interested in my 34 year old gimp with 50 mil left on his contract? How 'bout if I throw in a 1st rounder" It’s more the norm than the exception. Selfishness + Injury Risk + Untalented Teammates = Losing Formula Please Save me from myself Back in B.C. (before cap) the league was close to closing it's doors… it was all about big market teams retaining the best players (much like the Knicks today) as only a hand full of teams could stay in the black. David Stern, a long time legal consultant for the NBA (going back to 1966) became commissioner in 1984 (the year Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton entered the league). They promptly formulated the early draft of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Like him or hate him, Stern helped to preserve financial stability to the association. Today teams can only exceed the soft cap to sign their own players. The hard cap constitutes a threshold that teams have to pay a penalty for each dollar they exceed the limit (luxury tax). In today's front offices the salaried capologist is equally important in all trades and Free Agent signings. Without delving too much into CBA specifics, the crux of the agreement was to share the wealth with small market teams. Even though the Knicks of the league are able to reach unprecedented levels of team salary they still have to pay the more fiscally responsible teams for the privilege of their overindulgence. Therefore allowing the little guys to wade in the free agency pool. We don’t know squat [floatr]http://img93.imageshack.us/img93/1154/ahill4db.jpg[/floatr]If we fans were the GM, we would have retained Grant Hill for a Maximum contract… given Stack a hefty raise and Alan Houston would be retiring as a Piston in a wheel chair. Oh how we cried the injustice of Stackhouse being moved for Rip Hamilton. What would our team salary be right now? Would we even have a contender? Nope, we’d all be fired! Well, we’re about to hit similar crossroads again. Once again there will be unpopular decisions to be made. There's a definite risk of having veterans growing old together as their salaries in turn rise … which leads us to the current state of the Pistons… Joe can say all of the right things about Mr. Davidson but we have seen no evidence that he's willing to pay maximum salaries for diminishing returns… will he be satisfied having Ben Wallace coming off the bench making $18,000,000 that year? In one year and five months we’ll have our answer whether "Mr D" will dip his billion dollar toes well into the lux tax arena. That’s the day when our MVP candidate Chauncey Billups becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent. If Joe moves a veteran for an expiring contract we’ll know what's up. Early projections from salary cap expert Dan Rosenbaum has the luxury tax for 2008 to be in the 59.9M range and a soft cap at approximately 50M (he’s predicting a drop in basketball related revenues). Needless to say, Mr. Davidson’s beloved Piston's overhead is about to take a steep hike. What’s Our price of Loyalty? [floatr]http://img83.imageshack.us/img83/4566/250pxbenwallace1eo.jpg[/floatr]Certainly Ben is the face of the Pistons. Streams of "hard work" and "effort" clichés swirl through the cranium. When it comes to Ben, it's simply a mutual admiration society from the fans, management and the media… he represents all that is good on our championship caliber squad. When it comes to Ben, for once it should be cap be damned. For every $ Mr. D will go over the luxury tax he's made back in merchandise sales, TV revenues and gate receipts direct contributions from "The Body". The bond between Ben and Detroit is simply irreversible. He has earned the right to have a recliner and a beer at the end of the bench when he reaches the age 36. There will be a life long position for Big Ben in the organization… whether it's Arnie's (Arnie Kander) right hand man or the VP of Bobble head distribution, we’ve gotcha covered big guy. As for Ben's next contract, it may make sense to give him a front loaded deal and a lower salary for the remaining years. He can use current value of money for investments. Joe covered next years cap room when he traded for Cato’s expiring contract. This brings us to the rest of our players reaching their prime at nearly the same time… McDyess, Chauncey and Rasheed. Should they deserve the same commitment as Ben? This is where we reach the proverbial fork in the road. The road to the left leads to temporary satisfaction and inevitable destruction. The other path leads to early criticism and longer term success. Joe has always taken the "right" path at the right time. Never has he faced the level of salary that’s peeking just around the corner. In two years the team salary will easily approach 70+ million with three starters at 33 and Chauncey at 31. Is Chauncey going to be able to hold down his speed position at 33-36 years of age? In all likelihood these players will lose ½ a step and potentially become defensive liabilities. Why bring this up now? Hey we’re in a championship run possibly for the next two to three years! The reason is that GM’s can not afford to wait until their players are past their prime and expect to receive anything close to fair market value, as compared to when the players still have a pep step in their giddyup (accelerated depreciation ;)). If we’ve learned anything about Mr. Dumars, it’s that he’s successful in buying low and selling high. The key this summer will be whether the Pistons are hoisting another trophy. In that case the current core is untouchable for another year. However if the team comes up short Joe may be forced to turn over a veteran or two. Tayshaun will not be going anywhere. He’ll be a base year player. Meaning that he will have received a raise of over 20%. This triggers the base year status where only ½ of his salary can be counted in a trade for another player’s salary. This makes it difficult to trade him (simplified version). When that next big trade for one of our prized veterans takes place, we can take solace in the past controversial moves when Joe has worked his magic (or maybe worked over the Magic ). He’s reaching to pick low lying fruit while we’re cherishing our aging apples on the ground. [floatl]http://img93.imageshack.us/img93/472/rodmanwedding7rt.jpg[/floatl]If there’s a lesson to be learned from NBA management’s bungglemania it’s that you don’t make long term marriages with top tier salaries unless you want to embrace early retirement… whilst babbling " 'til death do you part…'til death do you part".