New collective bargaining agreement aimed squarely at Warriors dynasty
Also: Jokic questionable for tonight as Golden State hits the road
There’s a big game tonight between the Golden State Warriors and the Denver Nuggets, with major playoff seeding implications on the line. At time of writing, Golden State is still holding on to that number six seed (wait, now it’s the fifth), and the Nuggets are pretty well set - but not assured - of the top spot in the crowded West. There’s still a lot left to play for in these four last games of the regular season.
Still no concrete news on Andrew Wiggins - though he is rumored to be back in the Bay Area, the official word is still “no news.”
On the Nuggets’ side, they’re calling star center, Nikola Jokic Questionable for tonight’s game. He’s been out for the previous two games (both losses) with some sort of nagging calf injury. The game isn’t until 5:30 today, so there will likely be more updates after morning shootaround. Keep your eyeballs peeled on the injury report page.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (41-37) at Denver Nuggets (51-26)
WHEN: Sunday, April 2nd, 2023 // 5:30pm PST
NBA dropped a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with significant changes
There’s a certain rhythm to making public announcements, so it raised some eyebrows when the NBA gave Woj the go-ahead to release the details at midnight on Friday night. My eyebrows raised even further when I clicked through to the article and read the very first bullet point at the top. The new deal does a lot of new things, from adding a mid-season tournament with a smaller than expected cash prize for the winners; to establishing a minimum number of games played in order to qualify for a variety of awards like NBA first team… but the biggest changes all seem to be aimed squarely at the Warriors’ pocketbook.
Pardon the large block quote here, but I want to emphasize how much thunder this announcement came with. This snippet starts after the first two intro paragraphs, Woj sets the stage and then delivers this (emphasis added):
Among the key elements of the deal described to ESPN:
The NBA is curbing the ability of the highest-spending teams, such as the Golden State Warriors and the LA Clippers, to continue running up salary and luxury tax spending while still maintaining mechanisms to add talent to the roster. The league is implementing a second salary cap apron -- $17.5 million over the tax line -- and those teams will lose several key team building mechanisms, including the taxpayer mid-level exception, utilizing cash in trades, moving first-round picks in drafts that are seven years away, signing free agent players in the buyout market and taking on more money than is being sent out in trades, sources said.
In recent years, there has been an average of three teams in this highest salary and tax range. The NBA decided punitive luxury tax penalties did not curb spending habits of some of league's wealthiest franchises to exceed cap, and league's hope is these measures will bring more parity to competition.
Draymond Green sounded apoplectic on Twitter, saying in part, “Middle and Lower spectrum teams don’t spend because they don’t want to. They want to lose… And this is what we rushed into a deal for?”
Per ESPN, under this new rule, Golden State wouldn’t have been able to add Donte DiVincenzo - a player that has played a critical role for this team over the course of the season. Combined with all the additional rules (no more cash in trade = goodbye buying 2nd round picks, ineligible to sign players from the buyout market) this is going to cause some major friction points for the Warriors. Each offseason, the front office cobbles together whatever they can to replenish the talent around the edges. DiVincenzo and Gary Payton II are both perfect examples of this dynamic. Play well, and they earn their way off the team.
They say that this rule is for “an average of three teams” per year, but the modified agreement is going to make life difficult for the Warriors more than any other team. One could almost say that this was an intentional targeting.
Here’s another interesting bullet point from that same ESPN article:
The NBA and NBPA have agreed to increase the upper limits on extensions from a 120% increase on a current deal to 140%, which could have a significant impact on the futures of stars like Celtics forward Jaylen Brown.
Under the current rules, Brown would be allowed to sign a four-year extension worth $165 million. With the extension rules increased to 140%, however, Brown -- who is set to earn $31.8 million in the 2023-24 season, the final year of his current contract -- would be able to reach his four-year maximum of $189…
That’s pretty interesting. That’s an extra $25 mil for Brown? Sweet haul. It sure was nice of the negotiation team to fight for th… oh? What? He’s ON THE NBA PLAYERS COMMITTEE DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN THESE NEGOTIATIONS?
Anyways, the net impact of this new deal - which will extend through the end of this decade - is that it just got a whole lot harder to maintain the dynasty without members of the established core taking massive pay cuts. This is, as Green pointed out, more than a little backwards. But perhaps some historical context might be helpful here.
Before 1983, there was no salary cap in the NBA. It was an unprecedented move, the first professional league in America to implement one; and it only came about because the players were ready to strike, and some of the owners were on the verge of running their teams into the ground.
Prior to that, players could be paid whatever. Wealthy owners, and/or those that just knew what they were doing were running circles around the rest of the league. It wasn’t until the NBA/ABA merger that Oscar Robinson filed his famous lawsuit. Speaking to a Senator at a hearing surrounding his antitrust lawsuit, Robinson perfectly quipped:
“Mr. Chairman, my name is Oscar Robertson,” he began. “This will be my 12th year in professional basketball, and I’ve seen some of the ills that were brought on the ballplayers when I first started playing basketball, and I think it’s terribly wrong for anyone to limit anyone’s ability to earn more money.”
I dug a book out to pull this next quote. It comes from The Cap, by Joshua Mendleson, which I reviewed for this site so long ago that I can’t find it - maybe it was the old site… but the point is that there is something deeply unfair about how capitalism puts limits on workers when it suits them; and the NBA, and sports leagues get a special exemption from labor laws to do so. Here’s a quote that I highlighted, the book is definitely worth a read, if you’re nerdy enough to care (though be advised it’s badly in need of an update covering everything after the mid 1980s):
Basic aspects of the NBA business - the draft, reserve clause, and later, the compensation system were in and of themselves anticompetitive and unlawful… the lawsuit was “the first challenge in any professional sport to the entire system.. and was the first ever filed seeking to eliminate restrictions upon competition for player movement.
In other words, the entire idea of a salary cap is pretty wild, when you think about. The system “in and of itself” is set up around artificially limits - how much is a player like Stephen Curry truly worth to a franchise? A lot more than whatever he’s allowed under the salary cap.
But in the end, the compromise does indeed continue to impose restrictions on player movement while also protecting the team owners from themselves. This is always the trade off in these negotiations now. The owners offering financial incentives mostly, and balancing the payouts against the league’s business desires.
This time, the league saw the Warriors ownership simply eating the financial penalties more or less. And this is what is at the core of the angst around players like Green taking a salary cut so that the ownership can “afford” additional talent - all while conveniently ignoring the skyrocketing valuations that the league and teams are enjoying directly because of these players’ talent.
It’s all good though. To me, it just looks transparently like the rest of the league is still real worried about Golden State. Teams like Golden State? Sure. But mostly, this is 100% about the Warriors.
The postseason is just one week away, and the league is still hearing the footsteps of this aging Warriors team that is still looking to do additional damage. Go ahead and legislate, and worry, NBA.
This is a tricky one. Denver is the least favorable place to play a road game and the Warriors truly have sucked on the road this year. But it’s crunch time and the team is starting to gel. Jokic or no, Golden State wins a tight one.