There has never been a better time to be a free agent in the NBA. With the infusion of cash from the new television deal, the NBA salary cap has rocketed from $70 million to $94 million. Teams have never had so much money to spend on player salaries and we have already seen some eye watering contracts signed. Players like DeMar Derozan, Mike Conley and Bradley Beal have all signed deals worth well over $100 million, with Conley becoming the best paid player in NBA history.
Twitter has predictably erupted with indignation and outrage at the amounts these players are being paid. How is Timofey Mozgov, who barely played this season worth $64 million over 4 years to the Lakers? Andre Drummond will make $130 million over 5 seasons in Detroit, “but he can’t even hit a fucking free throw” come the incensed roars from the keyboard warriors out in the twitter-sphere.
Whether you agree with it or not, the contracts being handed out are basic result of the capitalist society we live in. NBA players are part of an organisation that makes a vast amount of money, as a result they are paid accordingly. There are very few people in this world who can do what even mid level NBA players do, so the vast riches of the league are spread between a relatively small pool of players. The other thing that has comprehensively been misunderstood is that the money you make is directly related to your talent or worth. This has never been true in sports, or in life. There will always be those who are overpaid for doing little and those who are underpaid and undervalued whilst playing vital roles.
The way that the NBA salary cap works means there will always be mid level players who are overpaid. Superstar players such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant can only take up a maximum of 30 or 35% of the cap, depending on how many years they have played in the league. At the other end of the spectrum rookies will usually sign fixed contracts which will take up les than 5% of the cap. When you combine this with the fact that NBA teams have to spend at least 90% of their salary cap this leaves a lot of money to be spent on the Mozgovs and Ryan Andersons of the world.
Is this really such a bad thing? Surely it is good that the bounty of the league is spread more evenly between players. The superstars in the league will make huge amounts through endorsements and are more likely to remain in the public eye long after their playing careers are over. For those who inhabit the rest of the league it is much less straightforward how they make a living once they are finished playing. A career in the NBA is a fragile thing which can be snatched away in a moment from men who have sacrificed a great deal to make it to the league. Do we really need to see LeBron James make the $50 or $60 million dollars a year that his talent deserves? It sounds dangerously like socialism, but I think not.
There has always been an unhealthy obsession with how much sports stars make. A tendency to criticise them for being overpaid and spoilt when they don’t achieve everything we expect. The simple fact is that the amount they are paid is a reflection of us as viewers. If you really find it so offensive how much NBA players or Premier League footballers are paid then stop watching them, viewing figures will fall and there will be less money in the sport, go watch lacrosse or field hockey so those athletes can start to make more. But the people who spit vitriol from behind their computer screens won’t so to be honest they can moan all they like but the players who entertain us will continue to get paid.