Forest’s Fast Take
Issue   |   Tue, 10/25/2016 - 22:32

With the NBA season officially underway this Tuesday, Oct. 25, there is plenty of chatter from hometown fans either high on their hopes or bracing for another mediocre season. The national conversation, however, focuses purely on the rise of the “superteam”, The Golden State Warriors. The Oakland-based squad is the large favorite in Vegas and in the minds of all sports analysts. They were largely regarded as the best team in the league last year, breaking the 1995-96 Bulls’ previously untouchable regular season record. They lost an unprecedented nine games in an 82-game season. Yes, that’s 73 wins out of 82. Ridiculous. They would have capped this outstanding year off with an NBA title if it were not for the best player of all time having his best series of consecutive games in his career in the NBA finals. Not much you can do about that. How does the winningest team respond to this adversity? They sign the best free agent of the offseason market, forward Kevin Durant.

So how does this happen? How can a team as stacked as the Golden State Warriors sign a top five player in the league? These guys are professionals, after all; they only have 10 or so years to make their biscuit before they have to retire. Why waste years of your precious career making less coin than you could have otherwise? The true sportsman will answer, “Because he wanted to win it all, of course,” but the answer is that he didn’t have to. Durant will be making just as much money ($54.3 million/2 years) with the Warriors as he would have anywhere else in the league. How is that possible? There is a salary cap, after all. Well, the NBA instituted this phenomenon called the “maximum contract,” often referred to as “max contract.” This stipulation prevents a player of any level or experience from making more than 35 percent of the salary cap. The 35 percent level is only reserved for seasoned veterans with consistent accolades to back it up, so most elite players negotiate around the 25-30 percent zone. This allows for teams to have three of the best players in the game, being paid in full, before even reaching the salary cap (let alone the luxury cap, which allows teams to pay even more with ensuing fines).

There are at least four players in Golden State that could be getting max contracts — Curry, Durant, Green and Thompson — but all of them aren’t. This is a direct result of the salary cap increase. Each year the cap bumps because the league’s revenue is consistently rising. It is more than good to hear that this revenue is being given back to the players by their organizations, as they are the ones who ultimately perform and generate intrigue. Trust me, there is nobody happier that all of this extra dough isn’t merely being used as napkins for fat cat owners to wipe the filet mignon off their faces. But it does create a further problem in player salaries that allow for superteams to form in their wake. If a player is already under contract, they often cannot adjust their agreed upon salary to reflect the increase in cap level (did I just stumble upon gold, @AdamSilver?). This year, with an extraordinarily large bump in salary cap level, has created an especially scintillating market for free agents looking to cash in. I mean, for God’s sake, Mike Conley is the second highest paid player in the NBA at the moment. The point of the matter is that these increases allow for yearly opportunities to assemble a squad as audacious as the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors.

I’ve taken one economics course here at Amherst. I tallied an unimpressive B-, but I did, however, learn how a free market works.

Imagine an NBA void of all max contracts, but still with a salary cap. This is the ideal model of fairness, because in this market, players would get paid what they’re actually worth — not what the NBA is allowing them to be worth. I’m no friend of financial models, but I can hypothesize that under this free market, where a player is paid whatever percent of the cap that they are valued at, the Warriors would not be able to afford four All-Stars. Lebron James, the best player ever to bounce a ball on the hardwood, is currently being paid a little over $30 million, but if the free market were allowed to take hold, his salary would amount to as much as 75 percent of a team’s cap.

With this new season’s current cap, that would allow him to make $70 million per year. With top talents eating up this much of the total allotted cash, teams would not be able to afford multiple All-Stars on a single roster. This is where the parity disappears. Despite all of my griping, this season will continue as scheduled regardless. So how do we fans enjoy it? Well, I’m not going to lie to you, this regular season is going to be brutal. The best teams will do the best and the worst will, well, you know. The painstakingly long season last year was only redeemed by the Warriors’ triumph over the 1995-96 Bulls and hometown interests. For instance, I had fun watching the Celtics overperform under Brad Stevens with emerging stars in Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, but nobody outside of the Celtics circle could give less of a hoot about that. So what is there to be excited about this year?

Watching the Warriors steamroll teams as they bid to break their own record? I’m sorry, but that just seems so 2015-16. If I could offer any advice to the NBA fan it would be to enjoy the game in its intricacies. By all means, root for your local squad to be the best they can be. Enjoy awesome passes, inspiring defense and young standouts, but don’t get your hopes too high on the parity and competition within the league — there won’t be any.