A notable development in training camp this season is the number of players in contract years who are griping about their lack of financial security. Jamal Crawford, Aaron Brooks, and Kenyon Martin have all publicly expressed anxiety, which is understandable given the prospect of a more stringent CBA. A nice, long, guaranteed contract extension would go a long way towards securing peace of mind.
On the flip side, Kendrick Perkins, Jeff Green, and Caron Butler (among others) continue to take their financial uncertainty in stride. Perkins' attitude, especially, is refreshingly optimistic:
"Really, you just put that focus [on contracts] into that therapy. The rest is going to take care of itself. Shoot, I came up on a bad year . . . as far as the lockout coming up. So it ain’t hard. I’m pretty good with saving my money. I come from nothing, so it ain’t like it’s a big problem.’’
Incredibly, Perkins ($4 million), who makes roughly four times less than Kenyon Martin ($16 million), somehow seems much more at ease. Financial security seems to be in the eye of the individual baller.
What's clear from this is that different players approach their contract seasons in very diverse ways. Moreover, these discrepancies in mindset translate into different types of behavior on the court. A fascinating excerpt from Butler's recent blog posting illustrates this dichotomy:
"Myself, I’m going to be in a contract season this year. Sometimes you see players change their game a little bit when they are going to become free agents because they try too hard to showcase their skills. I don’t think that’s going to happen here. This is a veteran team where we mostly have collective goals. Obviously, the title is the goal for us. I’m just going to be who I am. I’m hoping to have a monster season and that, for me, means winning a lot of games. If that happens, everything else will be taken care of.
If every NBA player could somehow put the team over self, as Butler, Perkins, and Green say they will, the NBA wouldn't be in such a state. Economic conditions aside, part of the reason why NBA owners are so hell-bent on changing the CBA is due to years of pent-up frustration from pouring millions after millions into the likes of Baron Davis, Eddy Curry, Marko Jaric, and Dan Gadzuric with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Mutual trust is key in a system where employers provide blanket financial security to their employees. When players fail to reciprocate their contractual generosity with high levels of preparation and hard work, resentment slowly replaces good faith. Burned one time, owners become more wary the next. Eventually, hope in the system is lost entirely, which is where we are today.
Before the player's union and ownership meet next February to resume labor talks, deep introspection would serve both sides well. Rather than just point fingers across the table, contemplating one's own role in this mess might have more positive long-run impacts than any one change in policy. While owners deserve their share of the blame, basketball mercenaries have also played their part.
Ultimately, if the owners win (with a hard cap and shorter contract lengths), hard working NBA players of the future may never experience the peace of mind that current NBA contracts provide today. If that happens, players should confront some of their own to take responsibility in ruining a good thing for everyone else.
Ken writes for NBA-Analytiks www.nba-analytiks.com