Guerin: Why the NBA Needs a Hard Cap

Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first broke the news that All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins agreed to a one year, 5.3 million dollar mid-level exception deal with the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The reaction around the league was fairly predictable. Both players and fans from everywhere but the Bay Area were understandably outraged and incensed that the 2018-19 NBA season had been virtually sealed overnight. The rich got richer. Although the owners will receive money from the Warriors as compensation for them going over the salary cap, the owners around the league should be pushing hard for a hard salary cap.

NBA owners should be taking the temperature of the mood around the league. The situation must really be bad if players are complaining that they feel the league has been decided. The Warriors are a stunning 38,000,000 over the salary cap. The owners around the league should want parity. They can make much more than the 500,000 the Warriors will pay as a part of the luxury tax if they are getting good ticket sales as a result of making the playoffs because they have a star.

The NHL is a great example. It has a cap number that the teams cannot pass under any circumstances. However, they still have multiple stars on teams and with the young talent in the league, teams are always in contention for the Cup. Teams always feel that they have a shot, and there is always stars on each team.

The NBA would benefit greatly from a hard cap. It has a greater share of the U.S. television market than the NHL, so if many teams are good, the ratings for the NBA as a whole would be good, instead of just the games that the Warriors, the Boston Celtics, or Los Angeles Lakers are a part of. Teams will be able to pay for more than one star, allowing for parity, while teams who manage well and players who want to take less will still be rewarded.

The only difference is that a team like the Warriors or the Cleveland Cavaliers—before LeBron James left—wouldn’t be able to form, just wildly overspending the rest of the teams by such a wide margin that it really isn’t fair. They had larger markets than smaller teams like the San Antonio Spurs or the Memphis Grizzlies—the Spurs and the Grizzlies couldn’t support paying multiple years of paying into the luxury tax, which gives large markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia a large advantage.

If a hard cap were to be implemented, it would surely affect the Celtics just as much as the rest of the NBA. For one thing, large max deals would become considerably smaller, as teams would try to create cap space for their benches.

In terms of this year, the 2018-19 Boston Celtics are already 11,000 over the salary cap, which doesn’t seem like much but it gets worse considering that the Celtics haven’t signed Marcus Smart yet, who is expecting to garner between 12 and 14 million dollars a year.

The Celtics are making their push to topple the champs, but it won’t come without a bit of a splash over the luxury tax threshold. In order to create parity, get a hard cap. It would be hard to come by, at the collective bargaining table, but it would be well worth it.


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