But this isn’t about fair. This is about the NBA putting its house back in order — naked, real-world realpolitik. If you understand nothing else about these negotitations, understand this: this isn’t just about money, at least not totally; this is about re-establishing who’s in charge.
For three years, starting in 2008, NBA teams twisted themselves into pretzels to clear cap space for the free-agent class of 2010. No single group of players ever wielded more brute force than that one, headlined by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire. On the mere hope of getting James, the Knicks basically went into receivership for 36 months. The Bulls similarly cleared the decks; having lucked into Derrick Rose via the 2007 Draft, Chicago dumped the likes of John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich for almost nothing while it waited. Miami became a JUCO team for two seasons, while Riles and Andy Elisburg — the smartest cap guy in the league — bided their time and worked their spreadsheets.
And James lorded it over them, making them come to him in Ohio those first two weeks in July last year, then making the whole league watch his Decision on the Four-Letter Network, reality TV writ large, making all these billionaires and multi-millionaires nothing more than pawns, waiting for LeBron Trump to tell them who was fired and who was hired. Dan Gilbert went Comic Sans Crazy as his franchise lost $100 million in worth in the blink of an eye, and it scared the other owners out of their minds. It ticked them off, too.
Carmelo Anthony — also, like James, Wade and Bosh a member of the Draft class of 2003 — would wield his cudgel a year later, holding the Nuggets hostage for more than six months before he got traded to the team he wanted to be traded to all along, the Knicks (who, coincidentally, signed Stoudemire after missing out on Bosh, Wade and James). And the owners in small markets, already mad at the Commish for not having more “robust” (the league’s favorite word on this topic) revenue sharing, already feeling like they were falling further behind, got their backs up. The Jazz didn’t even wait for Deron Williams to humiliate them, sending him on his way to the Nets a year before they had to.
But the Players’ Spring has ended, cracked down with brute force, and now their options are bad or worse, and bad is on the 3:30 train out of town.
It will certainly be interesting to see if the NBAPA is willing to die on principle … and, what eventually comes about if it, indeed, chooses to go this route.