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Advocates For A Hard Salary Cap Are Stooges For Ownership

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Sadly, but not surprisingly, multiple sportswriters have responded to star players forming super-teams in a few coastal cities, generally without getting the most money available to them — by advocating for a hard salary cap. As Burneko explains, this makes no sense at all for anyone except the owners:

But this insulation is only functional for as long as wised-up, GM-brained basketbloggers choose to do ownership’s work for it. They do this by advancing the idea that superstar players being permitted to seek salaries closer to their actual value amounts to a conspiracy between those players and the league’s richest franchises—on the phony basis that those franchises are the only ones that can afford to spend into the luxury tax to build actual functioning rosters around supermax salaries. If one such wised-up, GM-brained basketblogger wanted to be the most effective stooge possible for ownership, they could pitch the idea of a hard salary cap—in other words, the idea of paying the players less money. The specter of the richest big-city owners outspending the rest could be leveraged to sell an idea that benefits all of those owners, at the expense of the players.

The idea that a hard salary cap will create parity is almost too silly and baseless to engage with, especially because parity self-evidently is a less worthy goal than labor fairness, and one the owners themselves only care about insofar as they can use it as a cudgel against the interests of the people doing the NBA’s actual work. But if anything, the exact lesson of the past several summers of free agency ought to be that attempts at leveling the financial playing field between the mega-rich franchises in media capitals and the somewhat less obscenely rich franchises in the middle of the country just serve to exacerbate the very reasons the big coastal cities have more money to spend in the first place: They’re more appealing places to live and work, which is why so many people want to live and work in them. After all, nearly every superstar who changed teams this summer took somewhat less than the absolute largest possible payday in order to do so, for the sake of choosing where to spend the next chunk of their life.

From that perspective, yeah, the supermax isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. From another, it has laid a rhetorical basis for once again posing the players’ justified pursuit of fair salaries as antithetical to the interests of the sport. That’s the supermax working as intended, for the owners. With a little help from their friends, of course.

Sports have salary caps because 1)owners want to make more money, and 2)owners have more leverage in labor negotiations (and, indeed, it’s hardly an accident that the hard caps in the NFL and NHL came after union-busting tactics like using scab players and locking out entire seasons.) They have shit-all to do with competitive balance. But there’s never any shortage of people who instinctively side with the interests of the owners.

Although to be Scrupulously Fair the NCAA doesn’t pay players at all, and therefore you would never see a situation in which the same teams appear in the championship round over and over again.

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