The NBA has reached a point that seems as though, if you have a pulse and you play in the NBA then you will likely get a contract that decades ago, superstar players would have gushed over.
Now I will admit, the title tells only part of the story. We certainly can look at the upcoming TV deal salary bump as a factor in the recent impact of players getting big money, but there is another side to this as well.
Ken Berger of CBS Sports did such an excellent job of explaining the recent trends of salary in this article, but there was a part in the article that stuck out to me:
But from some agents and union officials came a "be careful what you wish for" warning that wasn't heeded.
"When you set a max, it's a clear invitation to not only the Michael Jordans but also the Vin Bakers of the world to say, 'I'm somewhere on the high end of the spectrum, but I'm going to feel disrespected if I don't get the max,' " a person who was involved in negotiating the 1999 collective bargaining agreement told CBSSports.com. "It's going to be a high-water mark, and everyone's going to be seeking that level. You knew that players who weren't necessarily deserving were going to get it."
I will take this point a step forward though. Not only do you have people striving to get max deals (i.e. Bradley Beal), but you have teams who saw the success of the Miami Heat's Big 3 and are attempting to replicate it. It's almost as if teams are saying to themselves, if we can get 3 or maybe even 4 max level players then we can contend for championships.
Here's the issue with this thinking. Just as the article mentions, most of these players are not very deserving of these max deals, very few players can combine together and match the talent that Dwyane Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh possess and they also don't possess a front office mastermind like Pat Riley who knows how to put pieces around talent to pull it off.
With teams not completely understanding this dynamic, they continue to overspend on less talented players thinking they too can create this same success. Currently the Cleveland Cavaliers are attempting to create their own version of this with a familiar centerpiece, Lebron James, in the pipeline. There is no doubt that their rendition of it, at least, initially has given them great success, but it has also created a situation where because of their success a player like Tristan Thompson, who is a great player but in no way a star player, is convinced he is a max player based on the role he played on the Eastern Conference Champions. The reality is they are very likely to have to pay Thompson a max contract as a role player coming off the bench. The success of the Heat is putting emphasis on players who have been one of the best 3 or 4 players on a team, but it doesn't even begin to put in consideration how great the other two or three player maybe in comparison.
Let's be honest, if you are starting a team and you had to choose, Tristan Thompson is at best the 4th person you would pick off that roster and he is likely to be relegated to a 6th man role with Kevin Love being healthy next year. Is this what successful teams want to see in the future?
How about we look at Enes Kanter who just signed an offer sheet with the Portland Trail Blazers that is the value of a maximum deal? We can argue the reasoning behind the offer. Maybe Portland is trying to give him a deal that they feel would be the only way to pry him away from OKC, or maybe they feel like OKC will match regardless and perhaps giving him a maximum offer will in effect, cause OKC to pay an exorbitant amount in luxury taxes. Whatever the reasoning is, he is on his way to receiving a max deal and he has great deficiencies in his game that makes him a complete liability on the defensive end of the court. I certainly understand the need for Portland to get a scoring big man to replace LaMarcus Aldridge, but does it truly make sense to overpay an extremely unproven big man who has not even played a single playoff game in his career and is likely not going to be an all-star at any point in his career just to remain mediocre?
It's true that teams have become enamored with the idea of picking up two or three stars that is a clear example of it, and it not only comes with a risk of not receiving adequate talent, but it's also runs the risk of not even receiving talent, ask the Lakers and Knicks how their plans of adding "max" players next to their star players has worked?
Bottom line, it's a risky construct that paid off for the Miami Heat but is much more challenging than most teams realize. The concern is why teams, especially rebuilding teams cannot resist the notion of overpaying above average, but not quite a star-type of players? If there weren't desperate teams out there trying to re-invent Miami's success then perhaps player like Wesley Matthews or Greg Monroe would not be so bold to ask for large contracts that they are clearly not very deserving of.
My concern is when we see Bradley Beal (who let's be honest hasn't done anything YET to warrant one) asking for a max deal, what is the NBA going to do that is going to prevent players like Otto Porter or Kelly Oubre Jr. who either contribute greatly to a contending team and/or who puts up great statistical numbers for the season assuming this team has some success in the next two or three years? Are we just going to continue this cycle of putting out bad contracts out of desperation or are we finally going to have teams who will be more fiscally responsible and see teams making tough decisions to replace great role players who maybe miscasting themselves as stars?