Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NBA Max Salary: Mo' Money, Mo' Problems for Stars and Haters

The new max salary provision from the tentative agreement between the NBA and the Players Association illustrates two key points: star players are underpaid and no other team will have three max players to compete with the Miami Heat.

Mo’ Money
According to a memo NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter sent to his Board of Directors, the tentative agreement between the NBPA and NBA included the following change for max salaries:
“Max Salary: A player finishing his rookie scale contract will be eligible to receive a maximum salary equal to 30% of the Cap (up from 25%) if he signs with his prior team and is either: 1st, 2nd or 3rd team All-NBA 2 times; an All-Star starter 2 times; or 1-time MVP.”
Mo’ Problems for Stars
It seems odd the NBA would allow fans and members of the media to dictate which players get the highest salaries in the league, since previous analysis at this blog showed the All-Star and All-NBA voting tends to favor older stars like Amare Stoudemire and Kobe Bryant. See the article Wade, LeBron and Bosh Were Appreciated but Hated.

This spreadsheet lists the players that would have qualified for max salaries after their rookie scale contracts expired.

Based on the criteria in the tentative agreement, only 12 players would have qualified for max salaries since the rookie scale contract was implemented in 1995: Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Yao Ming, Steve Francis, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.

The following players would not have qualified for max salaries despite two all-star appearances on their rookie scale contracts because they weren’t voted starters twice: Brandon Roy, Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett. Would KG have joined the Celtics earlier in his career if the Timberwolves didn’t pay him a max salary after his rookie contract expired?

This spreadsheet shows that 30 percent of the salary cap was worth an average of 10 wins since 1995.

Based on Wins Produced, 31 players produced 10 or more wins at least twice on rookie scale contracts since they were introduced in the 1995 collective bargaining agreement. See this spreadsheet for the stats.

The following 21 players would not have qualified for max salaries despite sufficient production on rookie scale contracts: Kevin Love, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Brandon Roy, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, David Lee, Emeka Okafor, Josh Childress, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala, Andris Biedrins, Al Jefferson, Chris Bosh, Richard Jefferson, Andrei Kirilenko, Elton Brand, Shawn Marion, Andre Miller, Paul Pierce and Arvydas Sabonis.

The only names on that list most fans and media members would probably consider max players are Roy, Williams, Bosh and Pierce. The problem is a max salary is not enough compensation for the production of most max players.

The article Heat Produced: Cost Efficiency showed the production of the Miami Heat’s three max players was worth $75 million last season, but under the new tentative agreement their max salaries would only be $52 million combined. Of course, the Heat wouldn’t be allowed to pay all Three Kings a max salary under the tentative agreement.

The article What If We Just Paid Players What They Were Worth? also shows that $17 million (which is 30 percent of the 2011 salary cap) does not fully compensate elite players for their production. For example, Rose’s production was worth nearly $22 million last season.

Mo’ Problems for Haters
Under the tentative agreement, none of the current free agents are max players. The only player from the 2007 draft class that qualified for a max salary next season is Durant. Horford and Noah’s production warranted a max salary but they don’t meet the tentative agreement’s criteria and perhaps that’s why their teams didn’t offer them max contracts.

Besides Rose, the only players on rookie-scale contracts with a shot at a max salary offer next summer is Westbrook if he makes another All-NBA team. If that happens, the Thunder, Heat and Celtics would be the only teams in the NBA with more than one max player on the roster until Chris Paul ends up on the Knicks.

Does that influence anyone’s 2012 Finals predictions?

Before any Knicks fans start dreaming about the Finals, know this - the Knicks signed the only max player whose production didn’t match their reputation: Carmelo. To make matters worse, Amare’s achievements on his rookie scale contract didn’t meet the new criteria for a max player and his production on his rookie contract didn’t meet the Wins Produced standard, either.

The Knicks won’t have a franchise player until they sign CP3.

As for the Heat, the 2007 draft class is the oldest group of max players still in their prime.

Yao and Stevie Franchise are no longer in the NBA. Vinsanity plays a very sane and safe game nowadays with the majority of his shots coming from 16 feet and out. Dirk may impress people with his playoff scoring totals, but the fact remains that his production’s declined from 16 wins produced in the last year of his rookie contract to 10 wins produced last season. Finally, the oldest max player in the NBA, the Big Fundamental, just got outclassed in the first round of the playoffs by Zach Randolph and the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.

The time is now for Wade, LeBron and Bosh. The only question facing is whether they can remain in their prime long enough to win “not five, not six, not seven...”

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