NY TIMES: Harden Trade was designed by David Stern
In the darkest, dreariest hours of last year’s N.B.A. lockout, when the rhetoric had gone cold and faces had turned numb, league officials clung tightly to two goals: lower costs and competitive balance.
These points were repeated daily, almost comically, like an annoying pop song on a perpetual loop. “Competitive balance” was the “Call Me Maybe” of the lockout playlist, eliciting groans with every listen. To skeptics, the parity mantra sounded like a flimsy pretense for slashing player salaries.
But the N.B.A. ultimately got what it wanted. And the stunning trade that sent James Harden — the reigning sixth man of the year — to Houston from Oklahoma City late Saturday night is vivid proof.
However one may view the trade — with anger, anguish, outrage or puzzlement — it is a victory for Commissioner David Stern’s vision, of a league in which no team can horde talent, at least not for very long, and not without steep financial penalties.
Harden, 23, was sent away because keeping him would have brought tens of millions in luxury-tax penalties in future seasons. More specifically, the Thunder had to trade Harden, a rising star, because they already have two expensive stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and two high-priced role players, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.
Those four core players will earn $53.6 million in 2013-14 — just $4.4 million less than the current salary cap. Harden is reportedly seeking a maximum extension worth $60 million over four years.
Paying them all would have meant a crushing tax bill under the N.B.A.’s new system. And that is exactly what Stern and the owners intended. What they really were seeking last fall was a redistribution of talent, a system in which, as Stern infamously said, franchises were “ultimately going to share in players.”
So here is the simple math: Oklahoma City had three stars. Houston had none. Subtracting Harden made the Thunder a little weaker and adding him made the Rockets a little stronger.
Is that parity? Not exactly. Does “sharing” Harden with the Rockets promote competitive balance? Sort of. Houston now has a viable franchise player, whereas two days ago it did not. In a league ruled by stars (and really, there are not enough to go around) one more team now has a ray of hope.
(The greatest beneficiary, of course, may be the Los Angeles Lakers, who just saw their toughest rivals in the West give up their third-best player.)
Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has been chasing superstars for two years, contorting his payroll and his roster in an attempt to land Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, in the firm belief that one player can change a team’s fate. He called Harden “the foundational, franchise-type player we have been seeking.”
That it came at the Thunder’s expense is unfortunate, mostly for Thunder fans, but also for the league’s image.
Oklahoma City has been hailed, rightly, as a model franchise, spending wisely and drafting shrewdly to become a title contender. General Manager Sam Presti is among the league’s brightest executives, but the punitive new luxury-tax system trumps even the sharpest minds.
A system that forces a small-market wonder to give up a star player — to a team in a much larger market, no less — seems cruel and counterproductive. It looks even worse coming just two months after the Lakers created one of the greatest quartets ever, adding Howard to a lineup featuring Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.
At a glance, the system is failing miserably. The glamour team got stronger, shrugging off tens of millions in luxury-tax payments that are more than offset by a rich new television deal.
But the Lakers’ window for success is narrow, with Bryant and Nash in their twilight. This high-priced fantasy lineup is temporary. Even the Lakers would flinch at paying a $50 million annual tax bill in perpetuity.
Still, one imagines that the same Thunder lineup might survive, intact, in a larger, richer market. And that is where the N.B.A.’s model still fails. It is why the owners pushed instead for a true hard salary cap, which would have punished all teams — rich and poor, big market and small market — equally, by forcing general managers “to make difficult decisions,” as the deputy commissioner Adam Silver put it last spring.
Negotiations produce compromises, however, and this compromise produced a system in which Los Angeles and New York still have distinct advantages over Oklahoma City and Charlotte, and where a 23-year-old potential All-Star is now “shared” with Houston.
The Thunder did well in the trade, obtaining a veteran scorer, Kevin Martin, a promising rookie, Jeremy Lamb, and two first-round picks in the 2013 draft. Given their draft record, Presti and his staff will surely find another gem or two.
But it is tough to replace a talent like Harden. And tougher still to invoke “competitive balance” as the rationale for a 149-day lockout.
ESPN'S STEIN says this about the trade:
Stein: The Lakers and Spurs are unreservedly thrilled right now. They will surely presume that OKC, as presently constituted, is out of the title mix at least for this season. They'll be toasting the Thunder -- instead of doing what we suggested in Question No. 2 about riding out this drama until July if extension terms couldn't be struck -- for deciding to break up the reigning
NBA James Harden deal: Good move? - ESPN
This is an excellent article. The tax as currently imposed solves nothing.
In my opinion, there should be an absolute ceiling on what a team's total salary to it's players can be to make it fair. That ceiling should be based on what small market teams can pay to survive. Even to impose any kind of tax at any level below that ceiling is unfair to small market teams because large market teams are hurt less by it.
With an absolute ceiling, when a player is negotiating a new contract and you divide his intended salary by 15 (the number of players allowed per team), it becomes glaringly obvious to both the team and the player as to how much of this ceiling would be taken up by his contract and both the player and the team would have a clear understanding of how much that salary effects the team's ability to put together a championship team.
The term "salary tax" should never be part of the NBA vocabulary.
I think the new system is working perfectly. It just doesn't start working for the LA's and NYC's and Chicago's for a couple of seasons. When in full effect, those teams (along with miami) won't be able to hoard expensive players either.
Teams like the Spurs who value loyalty and team chemistry benefit the most. I find the article to be short sighted at best.
This is exactly what is supposed to happen. A player must either get on board with the team concept and take less money, or go to a team that isn't already loaded with stars. Harden must think he is the #1 or #2 guard in the league. Well, now he has to prove it. It will take a couple of years, but players will start realizing that they don't deserve max money unless they are the best player on their team, and one of the top 3 or 4 in their position in the league. Houston is gambling that Harden is while OKC know's that he isn't (at least for them).
A couple of other things. . . Nash is Old and Bynum is better than Howard.
It is a Myth that the Lakers are title favorites. We will beat them every day!
In order for the Spurs to win it all, now, the coach himself has to evolve too.
Spurs have a shot at this season.
There is something wrong with a system where players need to be traded to avoid taxes. There should be revenue sharing so teams don't lose money in a way that is unrelated to payroll.
I'm calling BS on the idea that this was a direct result of the new CBA. They're already paying max to near-max on 3 guys in Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka (he's only making 2.2 mil this year, 12.25 million starting next season). Perkins was extended with 8-9 million per. Even under the old CBA OKC would have a tough time signing Harden to a contract. It's the same reason why the best the Spurs in the past were limited to trying to fit cheaper pieces around the big 3, and our Big 3 made less money than theirs will with the possible exception of Duncan's contracts.
Remember also, as one of my Twitterati pointed out late Saturday, the Rockets are starting a new regional sports network this year in partnership with MLB's Astros. And, just as with the Lakers' new deal with Time Warner Cable SportsNet (though not nearly as lucrative a deal as L.A.'s $2 billion to $4 billion windfall from TWC), the Rockets will be getting massive injections of cable TV money over the next few years, which should help soften the blow of a big payroll. (And, there continues to be no reason they couldn't trade either Lin or Asik before their poison-pill years kick in to a team looking for an expiring contract.) But they've got a star, a legitimate big-time player to build around. Harden will get his money and his chance to prove he is a superstar in his own right, not just a satellite spinning around the Durant/Westbrook planet. Be careful what you wish for. Unless you wish for $25 million more, guaranteed, and a starting spot at two guard. Then, it could totally be OK.
Presti's vision -- even after Harden deal -- keeps OKC stable | NBA.com
The newer guys didn't perform in playoffs. Pop went with the guys who did. Wasn't enough. Quit blaming the coach who is acknowledged by league gms as the best.
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