Running up against the luxury tax has never been for the faint of heart. Part of the result of the 2011 lockout is the implementation of far stiffer cap penalties. The No. 2, No. 6, No. 11, No. 14, No. 16, No. 21, No. 22, No. 28 and No. 30 picks are widely known to be available. More picks no doubt await offers of simple salary dumps (Magic/Grizzlies, we're looking at you) and in what is commonly acknowledged to be a deep draft, one can't help but wonder why so many selections are up in the air.
Three of those teams (the Trail Blazers, Rockets and Celtics) hold two of those first round picks apiece. Two, Portland and Houston, both have plenty of rookie deals already on the books while the Thunder are facing a dire cap situation in the not-so-distant future. The Warriors have four draft picks, etc.
In the NFL, many believe the recent implementation of the rookie wage scale (following their newly negotiated CBA) has made draft picks even more valuable. Tough to deny. The word 'punitive' gets tossed around quite a bit when considering the new luxury tax penalties in the NBA. Again, a perception tough to deny, and it looking like draft picks in the latter half of the first round are going to suffer a devaluation in the future, as well.
Weren't they pretty easy to come by already?
Well, comparatively. But the days of
the Mavericks "teams" chucking $3 million at a playoff hell team may be over. In that it should now cost less...and that $3 million should consequently buy you more. So maybe those days are more here than ever.
Some of the draft picks available this off-season are due, partially, to significant youth already on the roster. Not every team disregards balancing the age of the roster in the name of volume over precision. But there has to be more to it when it comes to the devaluation of these picks.
They are guaranteed salary for playoff teams that have better places to spend that money. Sure, those teams need capable youth just like everyone else. The latter first round yields plenty of NBA talent.
Perhaps you're familiar with Rook's thoughts on the 'rebuilding versus reloading' school of thought. Perhaps not.
It's really quite simple. Teams with 'Big 3' talent will be able to attract meaningful skillsets (read: late first round talent) WITHOUT guaranteeing money and years to unproven players. If there's a player in the first round they would like to target, they can simply buy a pick. They can dump their own pick easily enough with a little unwanted salary to the lesser teams of the NBA panning for gold.
The formation of top heavy rosters means that players looking to compete for championships will take less than they're worth while non-Big 3 teams have to pay market value or higher. Did this trend already exist? Of course, but the question here is will the new salary cap penalties end up reinforcing an NBA class system they are designed to prevent?
Playoff teams bumping up against the salary cap without a Big 3 are stuck in playoff hell. So what can a team like the Grizzlies do if they aren't this generation's iteration of the 2003/04 Detroit Pistons? Can they reload? Or will their returns, should they choose to break up their team, be measured in draft assets? So what if they are?
Memphis has a lot of run left. Even if they choose to flip Rudy Gay for the #2 pick...could that really herald a two-class system? The Grizzlies grew their own star and overpaid to retain him. They acquired other assets via luck?/skill? (Zach Randolph?), farsightedness? (Marc Gasol) etc. The team came about as a result of the front-office making basketball decisions far away from the scent of collusion.
You may object to the word 'collusion'. To collude is to act together secretly to achieve deceitful purpose. If the intent is to create parity; a league where any team can rise, then it's simple enough to say LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh colluded in an attempt to subvert parity. Opposite that, it's simple enough to say Pat Riley created a cap hole big enough for all three stars to step into and sold that like a madman. Then they agreed to it, free-market capitalism and vision at its finest. But even if they had 'subverted parity' (whatever that's supposed to mean), was it wrong? If exceptional people compromise to create a product so superior it cannot be matched, isn't that teamwork at the highest level? It's not cowardice, is it? That debate runs deep and will not be answered today. Today is for consequences.
Returning to the point of the paragraph antedating that last, if the Grizzlies are a playoff hell team; salary cap-choked, talented roster, unable to become a constant threat to make the conference finals at least (and the day is still young), is it still possible for non-Big 3 teams to compete? Will it have to be the OKC 'model' or bust in order for a non-destination franchise to score a title? I don't know.
But when I consider the trend of the declining value of first round picks to their respective teams I look to the salary cap penalties. Destination teams can afford value disproportionate to the magnitude of their contracts while paying the exorbitant luxury tax when necessary. Their first round picks are highly expendable to grease the trade machine as they continue to reload.
Non-destination teams are stuck paying market value...or worse. The luxury tax is a deadline in its oldest sense. Their first round picks grease the trade machine in order to dump salary because they have to pay the aforementioned market value. Talent costs more to these second-class teams. These farm teams. Because players just want to win championships, right? They'll see the writing on the wall. They don't have to Google any farther than 'NBA Championships'. The Big 3 in Miami were anointed to win 'not one...', right?
If you find yourself wondering why first round picks suddenly seem cheaper, remember: it's not a coincidence, it's a portent.