Friday, December 20, 2013

NBA Should Have Cap Exception For "Franchise Legend" Players

Kobe's contract may hurt the Lakers cap numbers,
but it was the right thing to do.
I love the NBA.  I love its place in sports.  It is, indeed, a star driven league and it is unapologetic about it.  You are close to the action when you go to the games so there is a natural feeling of closeness with the players.  They are wearing, essentially, underwear as their uniforms so there is no helmet or masks blocking their faces.  LeBron James going to the Miami Heat had more impact than Albert Pujols going to the Angels or even Peyton Manning going to the Broncos.  

The shame of it is when a long time player for your team gets sent somewhere else because, well, he's getting old and not the player he used to be.  It's hard to stiff them on their contract when they've meant so much to your organization.  Still, signing a guy for what he's done for you instead of what production he'll bring during the contract can weigh your team down.  

Obviously, Kobe Bryant comes to mind when this happens.  Kobe signed a two-year extension with the Lakers (beginning next season) that will net him $48M.  Do I think he will be worth $48M on the court for LA those seasons?  Nope.  But his overall value to the team, the organization and the city makes the money well worth it. To put it another way, during the seasons Kobe was winning championships and becoming the legend he is, it was impossible to pay him his true value and this new contract is a way of making sure he gets what he's deserved.  

I've been big on the NBA having some sort of cap exception for franchise players.  I call it the "Franchise Legend" exception.  A guy like Kobe, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki should be able to get paid for their service of staying with the same team and not be a cap casualty.  Like Hakeem in Toronto, Ewing in Seattle or even Karl Malone in Los Angeles, these stars should've had the ability to sign a nice contract worthy of a Hall Of Famer and it not limit the team's cap space and the ability to rebuild their team.  

The Lakers should have been able to sign Kobe to this mega deal and it have less of an impact on their cap.  I feel it is a reward for Kobe and all of the things he's done in LA (remember the Lakers signed Magic and Worthy to late deals for similar reasons) as well as the worth he has to the team itself and the dignity of his career.  Nowitzki deserves the same in Dallas.  He's the best player the Mavericks have ever had and shouldn't have to take a veteran's minimum deal just so he can stay with the club and they sign free agents.  Plus, it gives teams a reason to keep these guys late in their career and not just deal them out to start their rebuilding.

Maybe the rule should be at least 13 years in the NBA with the last 10 with the same team.  If LeBron stays with with the Miami Heat when he's 37 years old, he would've played 18 years in the NBA with 11 in Miami.  He should be able to sign his golden years with Miami and, by then, for the worth he gave that franchise.  Make it where guys who signed that deal have a no trade clause (most would anyway) making it where the player AND the NBA signs off on it (and the new team absorbs the entire cap hit).  Maybe make the cap number HALF of the yearly salary?  Sounds fair?  The NBA already has a stipulation over guys who reach Kobe's age that they can only sign 2-year deals.

So Kobe has played 17 years in the league (at least 13) with all of them as a Laker (at least the last 10).  He signed a deal starting next year that would pay him $23.5M.  Under my proposal, the cap number would be $11.8M and allow LA the other $11.8M to sign other players.  We get to reward a franchise guy and it doesn't totally hinder the organization from bringing on new guys.

Right now, that rule would apply to Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker.  Manu Ginobili, Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade are near that mark.  

To use a better example, say Wade plays another five years in Miami.  Wade should be able to sign a nice contract that is worthy of his stature for the Heat that doesn't bog the franchise's ability to build a team ... especially if The Big Three has been a memory.  

Even a guy like Haslem, who has stayed with the same franchise.  I know it is much more rare now, but a lot of franchises used to have that long-time steady veteran with the franchise.  I'm thinking of a guy like Dell Curry, who played 10 seasons with the Charlotte Hornets but the franchise didn't resign him and he signed with the Bucks (Curry wouldn't yet qualify for this exception because he only had 12 years of NBA service at the time.  But stick with me as I'm assuming the Hornets would have gotten him to stick around).  Curry isn't an NBA legend, but to Charlotte Hornet fans he is one of the greatest players they had.

Maybe I don't have everything thought out on this, but it's a start.  To me, I like seeing guys like Kobe, Duncan and Dirk play out their entire careers with the same team and not let cap space be the reason it doesn't happen.

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