Lockout accomplished little for NBA, Sixers

Charlotte's Kwame Brown could be a target of the Sixers, who are not likelyto get any of the better centers who might become available.
Charlotte's Kwame Brown could be a target of the Sixers, who are not likelyto get any of the better centers who might become available. (CHUCK BURTON / Associated Press)
Posted: December 04, 2011

After perhaps the biggest waste of time in professional sports history, the NBA lockout officially ended last week. And team owners, the ones who were so desperately losing control of the sport and needed to take drastic measures to help this league survive, gained . . . absolutely nothing.

OK, they got a little bit of a giveback on gross revenues. Instead of the players making 57 percent of all basketball-related income, they will now make only 50 percent.

The average fan doesn't know or care what that means. NBA millionaires will still be NBA millionaires and the Sixers still won't have enough money under the salary cap to improve their team.

See, the only chance the owners had here was to change that killer NBA salary-cap structure. And in that category, they gave it up like a school kid caught chewing gum.

Over at least the next six years of this new collective bargaining agreement, there will be no change to the basic NBA salary cap. It was and will continue to be a "soft" cap, where there is a ceiling number that isn't a ceiling at all, since owners can exceed that barrier when re-signing their own players. In fact, owners can exceed that number as far as they want, the only restriction being they will have to pay a tax to the league for going over a designated amount.

The NBA salary cap is now set at $58 million. The luxury tax number is $70 million. Thus, NBA teams can spend more than $58 million so long as they are signing their own players, but if their total team salary then exceeds $70 million, they will be taxed.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The owners of rich teams, the ones that consistently bang out their buildings and reap the huge off-court revenues - or the really crazy ones, such as Mark Cuban - just pay the tax willingly in order to keep their team together. Growing up in the school systems of Germany, Dirk Nowitzki didn't spend a lot of time on the Boston Tea Party. But certainly he can understand taxation with representation. In a new system that doesn't change much from the old system, player movement is still restricted and the bad and poor teams still can't get much better.

NBA owners screamed that they needed a system like the NFL, which has a hard salary cap, whereby teams cannot exceed a ceiling. And as multimillionaires, they had enough stack to outlast the players to achieve that end. Instead, threatened by the lost revenue of empty seats, not enough Bon Jovi concerts to book, and a few unsold hot dogs, they just caved.

So where does all this leave the Sixers? Sadly, in about the same position they were last year - behind franchises such as Miami, Chicago, Boston, and Orlando, at least, and therefore not close to being an Eastern Conference contender.

So with that in mind, let's discuss the fortunes of your pro basketball team.

Salary cap status. The Sixers are over the cap with a current payroll of about $68 million. That figure includes what the league terms "holds" on the salaries of their two restricted free agents, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes, who were given qualifying offers that will increase their salaries by about 200 percent.

If Young and Hawes receive offers from other teams, the Sixers can decline to match them. But that would only put their total payroll down to $56 million, only $2 million under the $58 million cap figure and they wouldn't be able to sign a marquee free agent with that.

The money they may commit to Young and Hawes, however, will put them dangerously close to the luxury-tax limit of $70 million. The Sixers can add a player under what the agreement calls a "midlevel exception," at a salary of $5 million. But that $5 million would put them into the luxury-tax bracket, and my sources, who are familiar with Sixers ownership's thinking, tell me that new Sixers owner Joshua Harris (and his cast of thousands) doesn't want to pay tax.

Which leads us to . . .

Elton Brand and amnesty. The new agreement allows a team to waive one of its contracts to get salary-cap relief - and the Sixers can get big relief by zipping Elton Brand, who is scheduled to make $17 million this year.

But Sixers coach Doug Collins loves Brand and feels he's essential for many of the wins Collins thinks he can get this year. On top of that, new owner Harris may find it slightly distasteful to pay Elton's contract as he plays for another team. But subtracting $17 million would put the Sixers payroll down to $51 million.

I wouldn't re-sign Hawes either (I don't need a 7-foot jump shooter, I need Kevin Love). That would lower the payroll to $45 million, about $14 million under the cap.

With that money, I would either sign Tyson Chandler, a hyperactive defensive center who would really help the Sixers get tougher, or I wouldn't do anything at all and save that money to take a run next year at Blake Griffin, who becomes a restricted free agent after this season.

Now, the Clippers would likely match any offer, but maybe they wouldn't. And if I can't get Griffin, I'd make restricted-free-agent-to-be Tyreke Evans an offer he couldn't refuse.

But here's the way the Sixers are likely to go.

Kwame Brown. Since the Sixers probably won't get Chandler, nor the other decent center out there, Memphis' Marc Gasol (no way the Grizzlies wouldn't re-sign him), they will sign Kwame Brown.

Yes, you read that right. My sources say the Sixers will likely pull amnesty on wasted money forward Andres Nocioni to create enough space from the luxury tax and sign Brown, the 7-foot center who has been more bust than boom. Collins likes him, and almost turned him into a player when Collins coached the Washington Wizards - Brown averaged 10 points and seven rebounds in 2003-04 - and thinks he can reach him here as a brawny relief man to Hawes.

I'm not so sure about that. Nor am I sure about . . .

The Sixers' "young core." Jrue Holiday is a good player. Is he a great one? Can he be as good in this league as, say, Deron Williams? I'm not seeing it.

Young is an in-between player with no definable skill set except as an energy guy off the bench. If he's not a starter at the three position in this league, then how much help can he really be in helping grow the Sixers into a contender?

I don't know what Evan Turner is yet. He shoots it like Tim Tebow throws it. I sure hope during this lockout shooting specialist Herb Magee had some kind of impact on Turner.

Lou Williams? By now, we're not going to see a heck of a lot more than a guy who can score occasionally but couldn't defend the hotshot player at the YMCA.

So, say hello to the NBA season, folks. There will be a new mascot, a few more bells and whistles in the arena, and again, a team that won't contend.

Let's go, Flyers.

Parting shot

For the first time in my life, I'm speechless about the Eagles. I wrote a column two weeks ago that Andy Reid must go. I refer you to that.


Mike Missanelli hosts a show from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 97.5-FM The Fanatic.

Contact him at mikemiss@975thefanatic.com.

 

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