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NBA lockout: Eliminating max salaries helps competitive balance

David Stern

The NBA wants you to believe this current lockout has little to do with money, and more to do with ensuring competitive balance.

All those years Commissioner David Stern joked about wanting the Lakers and Celtics to appear in the NBA Finals every year? Apparently he was lying. Now the NBA feels horrible that there are so many markets that don't have a chance to legitimately win a title, and it has instituted various measures to give more teams greater opportunity. Those range from increasing luxury taxes, promoting revenue-sharing and shortening the length and size of players' contracts.

There's no doubt that a team's willingness to spend can dictate its success. The Lakers are a living example. But numerous studies have shown a team's competitiveness has mostly hinged on making smart draft choices and free-agent signings. So if the NBA is actually serious about taking steps to ensure stronger competitive balance, it needs to eliminate max salaries.

It could sound head-scratching since this whole labor dispute has hinged on the owners and players fighting over $4 billion. But doing so would ensure the superstars actually receive what they're actually worth on the market and spur all those elite players into spreading out through the league.

The Lakers are often cast as the example of teams having an unfair advantage over other teams because of their market size and plush payroll. But eliminating max salaries would've made it impossible for the Lakers to keep both Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal on the roster beyond their clashing personalities. Should Bryant and O'Neal actually earned their market value, there's no way the Lakers could've afforded them both.

The same applies to this current Lakers squad, which has long-term contracts to Bryant (three years, $83.5 million), Pau Gasol (three years, $57 million), Lamar Odom (two years, $17 million, team option final year), Andrew Bynum (one more guaranteed year at $14.9 million, with a team option for $16.1 million in 2012-13) and Metta World Peace (three years, $21.5 million). Under such a rule, the Lakers would have to be selective on which superstar they'd keep, while other teams would clamor to make the others their franchise player. 

This isn't necessarily a good thing. Despite the NBA's latest spin about competitive balance, the league has thrived because of team dynasties. But if the league truly wanted to achieve equal parity, this would prove to be more practical than just implementing various proposals designed to protect front offices from making poor signings.

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-- Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: NBA Commissioner David Stern says he wants more competitive balance. Credit: Louis Lanzano / Associated Press

 
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