The NBA's salary structure leads to a lot of weird discrepancies in how players are paid. LeBron James can be the best player in the league and one of the all-time greats, but still not make much more in salary than players who struggle to get their teams to the playoffs. It's an arrangement that boosts the NBA's middle-class, but depresses the salaries of the NBA's stars.
LeBron James seems to have noticed this. Hours after it was announced Steph Curry would sign a five-year, $201 million extension with the Golden State Warriors, King James decided he would weigh in on the topic.
For guys like Curry and LeBron, they don't feel this sort of pain too deeply, because endorsement deals keep their pockets plenty tight with cash. But if there was no limit on what teams could pay their players, they would be raking in way more per year than they're already making, which is sort of crazy to think about.
The game's best players are left to hope jumps in the league's salary cap will come, because the salary percentages are all derived from there. The other side effect of the max contract is that it helps limit player movement; with teams unable to offer more money to free agents, the incumbent team always has the advantage of offering an extra year. This can be good or bad depending on your perspective, but it's another subtle form of controlling a player's path from the beginning of his career to the end.
For once, the reaction to LeBron's claim was overwhelmingly positive, with many NBA fans supporting his vision of a league where stars can make what they're truly "worth."
Yeah, LeBron is never taking a discount for a billionaire ever again. https://t.co/cZUA5qkEIu— Carter Rodríguez (@Carter_Shade) July 1, 2017
LeBron keeping it real. Looking forward to his potential future as an NBA owner. https://t.co/9JC2qr12w1— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) July 1, 2017
Imagine LeBron on a truly open market. Or Curry. Or Durant. Superstars are all underpaid as hell. https://t.co/TvygK0Eh13— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) July 1, 2017
LeBron is right, though max salaries, the salary cap & luxury tax were all collectively bargained by the NBPA, of which LeBron is First VP. https://t.co/GTASVHGuAC— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) July 1, 2017
Agree 1000%. Which is why it's baffling NBAPA leadership peacefully negotiated a labor pact that does exactly that. https://t.co/4GaFqSB0hi— Ric Bucher (@RicBucher) July 1, 2017
Louder for the haters in the back https://t.co/uFXdVKcP1a— Zito (@_Zeets) July 1, 2017
LEBRON FIGHTS FOR THE WORKING MAN https://t.co/RkIWmoda62— process truster (@NaturallyKatz) July 1, 2017
Any change to the NBA's salary structure would have a sizable impact on how the league functions, but players of a lesser caliber would feel a very real drop-off if things were to change. If you thought teams hoarded cap space before, imagine what they would do if they could offer someone like LeBron James anything they wanted. Free agents below the top tier would have a difficult path to big contracts, and it would only get worse for players the further down the ladder you go.
The league is locked into their current collective bargaining agreement until at least the 2022-23 season, so don't expect any changes to how salaries work before then. Just remember that when LeBron wants something to happen, he tends to get it done.
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