2010 NBA Finals: Where Massive Payrolls Happen

Stephen Brotherston@@ProBballNBAAnalyst IMay 31, 2010

BOSTON - MAY 28:  Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics reacts after the Celtics won 96-84 against the Orlando Magic in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 28, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The utter disappointment of watching two teams that have purchased their way into the NBA Finals yet again is beginning to sink in.  A Magic-Suns Finals would have at least provided some variety.

The LA Lakers rode their league-leading $91 million payroll to first place in the West and the Western Conference championship for the third season in a row.  Since saving the Memphis Grizzlies from Pau Gasol’s big contract, the Lakers have owned the West.

Why couldn’t someone have saved us from the utterly predictable arrival of the Lakers in the NBA Finals yet again?

The Boston Celtics have the third highest payroll in the NBA at over $86 million—Mark Cuban of Dallas barely managed to out-spend them by a few hundred thousand dollars.

Boston purchased their place in league history two finals ago when they acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen as Minnesota and Seattle dumped those two huge contracts.

After winning it all in 2008, Boston became beatable when Garnett missed last year’s playoffs.  It looked like injuries were going to keep the Celtics from going deep again this season.  But the team got healthy, and that All-Star-laden roster was just as good as in 2008.

At least Boston’s arrival in the Finals was not a sure thing at the start of the playoffs.

In fairness, a Magic-Suns matchup would also have been between teams that were willing to spend this past season.

In fact, the teams with the 11 highest payrolls all made the NBA playoffs, except the Knicks.  The only other teams with payrolls exceeding $70 million that failed to make the postseason were Washington (needs no explanation) and New Orleans.

An NBA fan of a team not spending luxury tax dollars only has three things: the incompetent New York Knicks organization to make themselves feel better about their team’s approach, the success of an Atlanta or Oklahoma that have built through the draft and trades but will not likely be able to hold on to all of their players, and the blind luck of a team like Milwaukee that comes through with an unexpected playoff appearance.

Repeating the success of the frugal Detroit Pistons franchise is not the norm.  In today’s NBA, frugal equals mediocre or worse.

The NBA playoffs are now the battle of the buck, where the team that spends the most has the best chance of moving on—and it takes big bucks to give your team a shot at the Conference Finals.

In the first round of the playoffs, the winners were:

LAL $91m vs. OKC $58m > LAL

DAL $87m vs. SAS $79m > SAS

PHX $75m vs. POR $55m > PHX

DEN $75m vs. UTA $75m > UTA

CLE $84m vs. CHI $70m > CLE

ORL $82m vs. CHA $69m > ORL

ATL $66m vs. MIL $67m > ATL

BOS $86m vs. MIA $74m > BOS

Only one non-luxury tax team survived the first round of this year’s playoffs.  That was, arguably, in large part due to the fact that they played another non-tax team. Only Dallas managed to lose in the first round while significantly out-spending their opponent.

In the second round, the battle of the big spenders continued.

LAL $91m vs. UTA $75m > LAL

PHX $75m vs. SAS $79m > PHX

BOS $86m vs. CLE $84m > BOS

ORL $82m vs. ATL $66m > ORL

Not surprisingly, Orlando swept both their early series against the low payroll opposition.  Atlanta just didn’t have enough to compete with the high-spending Magic.

A healthy Boston proved to be too much for the Cavaliers—maybe the Cavs owner should have spent more last summer?

The only slight “upset” was the Suns beating their long-term and slightly better funded nemesis.

The Conference Finals confirmed that bankroll and dollars well spent will get you to the Finals.

BOS $86m vs. ORL $82m > BOS

LAL $91m vs. PHX $75m > LAL

The Lakers never faced a challenger that came within $15 million of their payroll.  The standard line in every Lakers series was how would their opponent match up with the Lakers' depth?  It’s tough to match up with another team’s depth when they literally have one more max player on their team than you do.

Boston was challenged.  Both Cleveland and Orlando have payrolls that are close to what Boston spent.  Boston’s advantage was the All-Star level play of the inexpensive Rajon Rondo.

The NBA Finals have come down to this.

LAL $91m vs. BOS $86m

Let all those teams who successfully stayed below the luxury tax level take note. In the NBA, it takes money to build championships.


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