Without question, the NBA is a millionaire's club. But the prospect of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is creating fear that the good times and glorious contracts are soon coming to an end. In anticipation, multiple players have asked their agents to restructure their deals to gain long-term security. Lost in this cloud of ambiguity is the fact that new CBA will impact different portions of the income distribution differentially.
If economics has taught us anything over the years, it is that capital will flow to where it's valued the most. Owners, while incompetent (at times), are not crazy—they know which side butters their bread. Superstars are the ones who get fans to buy season tickets, jerseys, and watch their teams on cable. As a result, superstars, like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade, will still be swimming in tens of millions of dollars in NBA salary under the new agreement.
Even if they do take some sort of a salary hit, superstars still have the luxury of substituting any shortfall in labor income with advertising and other sources of non-salaried income. But last time I checked, there was no little Nike Jamal Crawford puppet, no Samuel Dalembert shoe tour, Peja Stojakovic book signing, or Kenyon Martin movie. With smaller budgets to work with after signing their superstars, owners will surely work harder to find cheaper alternatives to overpriced role players. The Miami model of filling out the roster with capable, yet inexpensive veterans may become the rule rather than the exception. After all, while a Derrick Rose is irreplaceable, there are relatively more Kyle Korver substitutes—shooters that can space the floor.
That LeBron, DWade, Melo, and CP3 showed up to the recent owners/union meeting is probably neutral at best, but detrimental at worst for the future income of the average NBA player. The role player has far more to lose (as a percentage of lifetime earnings) than their superstar counterparts. If the bargaining turns to a lockout next season, the superstars will have the biggest incentives to cave first. Their place in the income distribution is more or less secure. Whereas for the J.R. Smith's of the NBA, the days of being paid six times their minimum salary may soon be over.
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