The NBA playoffs are in full swing, and the fans of the 16 teams still in the mix get to hope and pray that somehow this could be their year. For the rest of us fans from teams on the outside looking in, we get to read a million articles about mock drafts and NBA free agency and hope and pray that next year will be Paul Zipser’s breakout season.
While we are still a while out from this time, most NBA front offices are already looking at the list of potential free agents and keying in on their targets. Full-fledged stars like LeBron, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins are headed for unrestricted free agency this offseason — assuming that LeBron and George choose to decline their player options — and all should be highly sought after. They will all garner large max-salary contracts. Another player likely to hit free agency this offseason will be Zach LaVine, who will be a restricted free agent with the Bulls this summer. There has also been talk that he could potentially garner a max contract, depending on what teams offer him and what, if any, offers the Bulls will match.
There seems to be a fundamental flaw in the salary system, when you have a situation where LeBron’s name is being mentioned in the same category as Zach LaVine’s. The value brought to a team by LeBron James is immensely higher than the value brought by LaVine. That is the biggest and most unavoidable problem that the NBA has run into with max contracts.
Harrison Barnes and Chandler Parsons should not be making an amount similar to Chris Paul and Anthony Davis. Carmelo Anthony and Andrew Wiggins should not be making an amount similar to James Harden or Russell Westbrook.
Since the league sets a salary cap, currently sitting at about $99 million, the max contract has created a problem where players of extremely different value are eating up the same amount of salary cap on their respective teams. This leaves the teams who don’t employ top stars at an immense disadvantage. They are either forced to commit too much of their cap to a lower-level star while sacrificing their capability to sign other good players for years to come, or they must choose to not sign that player at all and blow up a team they spent years building.
If the league instead chose to move to a system in which max contracts didn’t exist and players were instead paid solely based on their value, the competitiveness of the league would increase immediately. “Superteams” like the current Warriors and LeBron’s Miami Heat teams would not exist. Team success would start to favor the teams that are well coached and have the best chemistry, rather than accumulating multiple stars on below-value max contracts.
Removing the max contract is the best way to ensure that the league maximizes parity and fan interest, and that every player earns their true value.