Salvation nears as the NFL’s labor dispute enters the 2 minute warning towards saving its pre-season. Unfortunately, the NBA lockout is beginning to resemble World War III as the many factions of players, owners, small market owners and fans hunker into the trenches of negotiations. While the NFL squabbles over a $9 billion dollar pie, the NBA and it’s third world league(in comparison, of course) are debating how to split a $4.5 billion pie.  Whenever, the NBA’s labor dispute ends, the league will look more different than Lil’ John’s development between high school and the East Side Boyz. Here are 10 changes that could be implemented into the NBA’s next collective bargaining agreement.

10. Franchise Tag: The NFL has utilized the franchise tag, since 1993, however, if the owners have their way, the franchise tag could permanently alter the NBA’s free agent landscape. Of course, there is always the possibility that a potential franchise tag could lead to players signing for a year fewer than they would normally, knowing they will receive a franchise tag at the conclusion of their contract. As tempting an idea as it is for owners, who’d like to keep their stars for an extra year or so, the players association will shoot this idea down quicker than a Roy Williams’ marriage proposal.

9. Restricted Free Agency: If the owners and players end up making compromises, restricted free agency ,which gives a player’s original team the right to keep the player by matching an offer sheet the player signs with another team, could be a relic of the past. Essentially, this would loosen the grip, franchises have on retaining 1st round rookies in the fourth year of their rookie contracts. Therefore, a young star like Blake Griffin, would be free to jump ship in free agency while the Clippers would be powerless to do anything but restart their rebuilding process.

8. Buyout System: Currently NBA contracts are as binding as a John Cena headlock. To be clear, the NBA does allow teams to buyout players, however, their contracts still count 100% against the cap until for the remainder of their contract. Some sort of buyout system into the next collective bargaining agreement would allow teams a way to rid themselves of onerous contracts without giving owners the carte blanche to release players without compensation as the NFL’s system allows.

7./6. Contract Length/Size: The length and size of contracts are interrelated. Between 2001 and 2010, NBA salary growth outpaced revenue growth by $110 million. In the next collective bargaining agreement, the owners and the league are seeking a 30-40 percent reduction in salaries. In addition, the NBA currently allows players to sign a maximum of six years contract, if they re-sign with their own team and five years if they sign with a new team. That number may decrease in the next CBA if the owners have their way. Shorter contracts would lessen the impact of bad contracts like Detroit’s Charlie Villanueva and spur more player movement.

The owners are talking tough on this issue. One team executive told, “If they don’t like the new max contracts, LeBron can play football, where he will make less than the new max, Wade can be a fashion model or whatever. They won’t make squat and no one will remember who they are in a few years.”

The implications are that in the next collective bargaining agreement, the maximum length of contracts will be decreased from six years for players re-signing with their own team to five years. For other free agents, the maximum length would likely be decreased to four years. By decreasing the maximum contract amounts, teams can dispense, it will also lower the asking price of middle tier contracts as well.

5. Hard Cap: Unlike a soft cap, which allows teams to exceed the salary cap through several types of exceptions, a hard cap cannot be exceeded for any reason. However, an NFL-like hard cap would essentially spell the end of guaranteed contracts in the NBA. While the idea of a hard cap was thrown around like Vince Carter’s expiring contract, early in labor negotiations, it’s died down in recent weeks, in favor of a flex cap.

4. Flex Cap: A flex cap would set a median cap but if the total aggregate salaries exceeds that amount, the players would be obligated to make up the difference unlike the current collective bargaining agreement where the players bear no responsibility for teams over the cap. Although, teams would maintain Bird Rights(which allows teams to re-sign their own players even if they are over the cap)and mid-level exceptions(Which allows teams to sign one free agent per year to a contract equal to the average NBA salary, even if the team is over the salary cap already) there would be a hard cap ceiling set somewhere above the flex cap. The owners reportedly requested a cap set at around $60 million. That will never happen as it will force salaries for middle tier players to plummet dramatically. A flex cap would likely have to be set at around $70 million for the players to even sniff at this option.

3. Revenue Sharing: Unlike the NFL’s labor dispute, the NBA’s labor battle will also pit small market owners against large market owners. While the NFL shares 70 percent of all “football related income” the NBA only shares 25%. That has been the difference between the NFL’s age of parity and the NBA’s disparity between small markets and large markets. The NBA instituted the luxury tax in 1999 with the hope of preventing large market teams from buying championships by forcing teams to pay an extra dollar to the league for every dollar that goes over the luxury tax threshold. Unfortunately, it hasn’t deterred teams from reularly shattering the luxury tax threshold by paying big money to players.

Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trailblazers and the 21st richest person in the world encapsulated the revenue sharing dilemma in his recent biography which was reviewed by Blazers Edge.

“We’re doing just about everything right, but we’re still losing money,” Allen writes. And, due to contract extensions for Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers won’t be turning a profit anytime soon, a fact that speaks volumes about the plight of smaller-market franchises in the NBA. He points out that the NBA has yet to address the “big market / small market discrepancy” in revenue generating potential and says that in his perfect world the NBA would be a place where the most successful NBA teams wouldn’t necessarily be those with the biggest local television markets or corporate-suite bases.

2. NBA Age Limit: This solution would arguably alter the future of college basketball more than it would the NBA. Currently, the NBAs age limit is set at 19 years old. While the players association would like to abolish the age limit, the owners would like to lower the age limit to 20 years. Hopefully, the Bridge to Compromise leads to Major League Baseball’s draft eligibility system., which allows high school players to be drafted. However, if they decide to continue with their amateur careers in college, they are ineligible to re-enter the draft until their junior seasons or their 21st birthday.

This system would allow the most elite high school athletes to jump straight to the pros while allowing NBA scouts to evaluate late bloomers and other prospects through their junior campaigns.

1.  50% Guaranteed Contracts/Performance Based Incentives: Along with contract length, guaranteed contracts in the NBA have made the league stagnant and stuck franchises in losing situations for years once their signings don’t pan out. Contracts such as Milwaukee and Michael Redd or Orlando and Gilbert Arenas stand out. Argue what you want about the NFL’s non-guaranteed contracts, it has made the league a real meritocracy where players earn what their worth. Outside of Albert Haynesworth, the NBA’s equivalent of Eddy Curry, there are no backup quarterbacks making $100 million based off of a contract signed half a decade ago. The NBA will never allow owners to completely nullify terrible contracts but there is a middle ground that I’ve yet to hear considered. While the owners are part to blame for shelling out superstar buck to players like Joe Johnson and Rashard Lewis.
The NBA could guarantee the years on contracts while still having a deterrent from having players like Lewis eating up $18 million of cap space, while averaging 12 points per game on a lottery team, by inserting contract incentives which should be activated after certain statistical markers or wins. Obviously, the incentives shouldn’t be unattainable markers but they should at least be individually engineered to ensure a player is living up to his contract. Whatever incentives aren’t reached would be wiped off the cap for the next season. Overall, in this scenario contracts should remain guaranteed but would also be driven by performance based incentives.

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