You may have heard a trope running around these parts. The new CBA is restrictive. Superteams are dead.
Such thoughts were floated in Adrian Wojnarowski's latest Yahoo! column:
"The max contract system makes James the most underpaid athlete on the planet, and soon it will do something else, too: It makes most precarious his future with the Miami Heat."
While I agree that the new CBA will make exceeding the luxury tax a near non-starter, consider how we got to this Miami Heat scenario in the first place. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all decided to take a pay cut to play for the Heat.
If this happened before, why can't it happen again? As Andrew Han of Clipperblog points out, it can:
Something people fail to realize about 3 max contracts is that it still leaves 25% under the luxury tax line.— Andrew Han (@andrewthehan) January 31, 2013
Wojnarowski pointed out that the Thunder parted with James Harden and the Grizzlies parted with Rudy Gay. True, these decisions were probably financially motivated, but they didn't necessarily represent a rejection of the "big three" strategy.
Take the Thunder, for example (Seattle fans are thinking, "Gladly!"). They could very well have had a "big three" in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Or, they could have had that dynamic with Durant, Harden and Serge Ibaka.
OKC essentially chose Westbrook over Harden because the two had overlapping skill sets. This was less a repudiation of the big three system and more an admission that Serge Ibaka deserved an eight-digit per year salary.
As for the Memphis Grizzlies, Rudy Gay stunk this year. I'm not certain as to why many basketball pundits missed this, but he's been dragging his team's offense down.
That's the kind of a figure a "scorer" can put up when he possesses a shaky three-point shot, questionable driving ability and little court vision by which to keep defenses honest. Unloading Rudy is less a fire sale move than a decision made for "basketball reasons," as David Stern might say.
The challenge for the Heat is less whether they can pay everybody to stay in one place and more if they want to do so. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James don't fit perfectly together, but they transcend that issue due to their incredible talent.
As D-Wade ages, the Heat might not want to see what happens when his talent wanes. It's one thing to surround Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James with a thin roster when all are in their primes. It's another when one of the guys is on the career downslope.
The onerous penalties involved in exceeding the luxury tax hinder the pursuit of what the tax is named for. Teams will only go "super" if they believe that three equals a perfect construct, one that can withstand a thin complimentary roster.
In an era where off-court earnings can equal and surpass on-court earnings, NBA superstars may also choose to take paycuts when the time is right. The new CBA won't kill superteams; it just makes such a roster harder to pull off.