Salary caps are instituted to bring parity in sports because they level the playing field. In the NBA though, it seems like the salary cap has not been serving its purpose because of the fact that smaller markets have lost the ability to start bidding wars for high-profile free agents to attract them to their destination.
Every team has to have the same maximum offer for players because of the salary cap rules. So when the money is the same across the board, a free agent is going to look at other determining factors such as the team’s talent, city, glamour, nightlife, and climate. Because of this, a city like Indianapolis is at a major disadvantage when compared to the New Yorks and Los Angeleses of the world.
The big fish on the market are choosing to go to the glamorous cities. If the pay is the same across the board, they’re going to decide to play in larger markets with more flash.
Although the salary cap does prevent teams that are more financially robust from recklessly spending money on star players, it also has made free agency a popularity contest in the sense that the flashier cities tend to land the best players on the market.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh went to Miami, Carmelo Anthony forced his way to New York, Deron Williams has said that he only wants to play in either Brooklyn or Dallas, Chris Paul is in LA, and Dwight Howard is trying to get out of Orlando desperately.
While it’s absolutely fine for a player to choose where he wants to work (they are free agents after all), the fact that small and mid market teams don’t have the luring power that flashier cities have makes the whole process seem unfair.
For instance, the Houston Rockets currently are trying everything in their power to acquire Dwight Howard. They have several players like Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry that they may be willing to package along with a plethora of draft picks for the center.
However, even if they land him, sources say that Howard would most likely not sign an extension with the Rockets if he was traded there.
There’s nothing wrong with Dwight not wanting to play in Houston. That’s his personal preference. However, if the Rockets shelled out everything they had for him, then there’s a good chance that Dwight might have a change of heart and be willing to play there.
One can easily make an argument that the larger market teams would be able to outbid the small market teams for star players so inequity would still be prevalent in basketball. While this is true to some extent, in situations like the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, a team like Houston, which isn’t exactly a small-market, could shell out some big dollars at Howard in order to sway him to the team.
Meanwhile, a team like the Lakers or the Heat who already have plenty of money committed on players would avoid the bidding war so they won’t have to pay a luxury tax, like the one baseball has.
This might be the one and only instance where baseball’s system is more equitable than basketball’s or hockey’s. For instance, several years ago in baseball, the Washington Nationals, who have been abysmal for the last two decades, overpaid to land Jayson Werth. That was the way they lured him to DC. Now, they find themselves at the top of the NL East, albeit it isn’t because of Werth. The point is, money talks, even when the Yankees or Red Sox aren’t the ones giving it.
With a greater amount of stars dictating where they want to play in the NBA, the salary cap is starting to show some of its flaws.
A cap does not sway a high-profile free agent from bolting a small market and going to the Lakers or Bulls. It only deters the Pacers and Grizzlies of the world from getting involved in these bidding wars.
At the end of the day, the salary cap is preferable over the luxury tax system in terms of equity and parity. The NHL and NFL have different champions seemingly every year and there is a high level of parity in those leagues. In the NBA, though, it’s different because the league is star-driven.
Two or three players can take a team from the cellar to the top so one transaction can really make or break a team’s season.
It’ll be interesting to see how the new salary cap system works out once it kicks in.
Will large market teams decide to not spend as much and back away from paying superstar players because of the exorbitant salary caps?
That remains to be seen. But hopefully for the NBA, a league that has been seeking parity for years, the new salary cap does what it was intended to do and bring some more leverage to the little guy.