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The NBA lockout is in full swing and no one should be surprised at all. The writing has been on the walls for the past two seasons and now that it is here everyone should bunker down because it’s going to be here for quite some time.
There are two sides to this argument. On one side you have the owners, who want to fix the system without actually fixing anything. On the other hand you have the players, who want everything to stay the same even though staying the same makes no sense at all. Unfortunately for fans, the lockout is only at its infant stages and the pointing of fingers and he said/she said will continue for a few more months.
To understand how the lockout will affect the Celtics you first have to understand the issues at hand with the lockout.
The first issue is the owners claiming they lost $340 million last season. This is the most important issue at hand for several reasons. The first reason is that this is poorly worded. The owners opened their books and when they did that, Billy King only confused people more by saying “if you don’t count interest and depreciation, you already lop off $250 million.” Back to the issue of it being poorly worded though. Instead of the owners saying they lost $340 million they should have said we lost money, plain and simple.
The number of $340 million can be picked apart way too easily, so just come out and say “listen we lost money last year”, which is an obvious fact. The problem though with this is that they also need to take some accountability. The NBA just had one of its most profitable seasons ever and yet somehow the owners lost money. Another thing to remember for the owners is that no one is going to feel bad for them because at the end of the day they are all rich. Not only that, but handing out such huge contracts to players the likes of Gilbert Arenas, Elton Brand and Rashard Lewis really doesn’t give them a leg to stand on. So they should quit with the boo woo campaign.
The next two big issues both involve the players. The owners feel the players get too much of the pie and also that guaranteed contracts are too long. The players currently get 57% of basketball related revenue. Meaning, if the league makes $5 billion, then the owners have to spend exactly 57% of that on salaries. The simple solution to this is a 50/50 split.
As for the guaranteed contracts, everyone’s in agreement on this one. The days where players coasted for five seasons only to have a breakout season in their last year are over. The Rashard Lewis’ and Charlie Villanueva’s of the world just cringed, but it will make for a better product because with less long-term deals that go south, the quality of player should improve. Now, every year is important to a player, not just his last season.
Now that we have squared away some of the bigger issues, let’s take a look at the last proposed deal. The owners are calling for a hard cap, which they call a “flex cap.” They have also proposed for the players to earn no less than $2 billion per season for the next 10 years. The owners target payroll would be $62 million, which would include some wiggle room in the form of Bird rights and other free agent exceptions.
So what does that mean for the Celtics?
Well it actually benefits them. How so? Well let’s say the owners do get their way and get a “flex cap.” Let’s say, though, that it’s $70 million instead of $62 million. As of right now, the Celtics only have nine players under contract for the upcoming season. Two of those players are Shaq and Rasheed Wallace (yes Sheed is set to make $6.7 million this year). As of right now, the 2011 Celtics payroll is $72 million. That would be $2 million over the cap I just created and they would still need to sign three more players to fill out their roster.
This, however, is not as bad as it sounds. Why? Because in all likelihood, that “flex cap” wouldn’t come into effect until year three of the new collective bargaining agreement. So the Celtics would be able to operate over the cap and pay a luxury tax for the first few seasons until the actual new cap comes into play. However, once that cap does come into play, it will be just like hockey, where teams are killing themselves and having fire sales to stay under it.
The Celtics are in good position to adapt no matter what new system is put in place. With Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’ Neal all in the final years of their contracts, the Celtics will be able to free up $37 million in salary. With guys like Dwight Howard set to be free agents after this season, an extra $37 million in salary will put the Celtics ahead of the curb. If you look past this season, the Celtics will only have Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley under contract.
There is no question the lockout is leaving many fans in a panic, with more questions than answers. For Celtic fans, fear not however, because they have the cap flexibility to stay competitive for years to come.
Now on a side note that no one has really explored, what if we lose the entire season? With Allen and Garnett set to be free agents, in all likelihood the Big Three will have already played their last games together.
See, the lockout proposes major questions for teams who operate well over the cap, like the Lakers. But what it hasn’t proposed to us yet is what happens to the older teams who only have one run left in them? You would have to think Danny Ainge, a GM who can be wild at times and will do whatever it takes to win, would only bring back Allen and Garnett if it were for hometown discounts. What happens when a team offers Allen a two-year deal worth $20 million? Will the Celtics match that? Probably not.
The Celtics’ biggest concern is not the hard cap or whether the league is losing money. Their problem isn’t even how to get under the cap (if there is a hard cap). Their problem will be trying to put the pieces back together if the season is altogether lost. That is a scenario that is very realistic.