Weekly NBA Fix 7-5-2014: Where Freedom Isn’t Really Free

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Meet the bad guys of the NBA, superstar players who might have the audacity to actually want to get paid what the CBA says they can earn. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Weekly NBA Fix for Saturday, July 5, the fifth day of the NBA’s dark period when teams can negotiate with free agents and agree to trades that won’t be official for several more days.

The machinations of free agency in the NBA have gone in a strange direction for the cream of the crop.

There is pressure being leveled upon LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and other top-tier players to take less money than they are entitled to.

That pressure is coming from fans, of course, who love to crush superstar athletes for behaving the same way they would if presented an opportunity to freely (or at least somewhat freely) negotiate for their services.

And that pressure is coming from teams. Miami Heat president Pat Riley threw down the gauntlet with his Godfather-esque press conference the week before the free agency negotiating period began, basically sending the message to James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that they were welcome to stay in South Beach … but only for less than the full amount they could earn.

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson has engaged in the same tactic with Anthony, in essence telling his erstwhile superstar that, while he understands that he can get $130 million, it’s in his best interest to not actually take $130 million.

You know, for the betterment of the team.

It all stems from the agreement that ended the lockout three years ago, when players agreed to cut their share of basketball revenues from 57 percent to 50 percent. What did the players give up in real dollars?

According to reports, the owners are taking in roughly $350 million more per season than they would have been under the terms of the old collective bargaining agreement.

With there being a 10-year CBA, that’s $3.5 billion that the players will never see.

At the same time, life as an NBA owner is good. Herb Kohl sold the Milwaukee Bucks for a record $550 million … the Bucks. You know, that franchise that was last remotely relevant more than a decade ago.

Then came the whopper—Steve Ballmer’s $2 billion (yes, billion with a “B”) offer for the Los Angeles Clippers.

In less than a month, the value of every owner’s franchise essentially quadrupled. Terrific business model if you can find it.

So you’d have to be willing to forgive the players if, you know, they’re less than concerned about poor Mr. Owner having to feed his Chinese shar-pei dry dog food because of the luxury tax payments that will be due to the NBA.

Or at least you’d think you’d have to be willing to forgive the players for that.

But fans won’t. If Anthony agrees to anything close to a max deal, particularly with the Knicks, he’ll get smoked on social media—and, interestingly enough, mainstream media—for it.

One agent told the Sporting News that it’s a logical fallacy that fans are buying.

“It’s just ridiculous. There is this whole brainwashing thing going on and teams are selling it to their fans that this player or that player should take less, that they would not take their money if they truly cared about winning. That’s B.S. If you want to win, you’re the owner, go over the tax line.

“This is the CBA you wanted, this is what the owners wanted. Why does the money come out of the players’ pockets? The players just gave back a huge amount in the CBA. But, no, that’s the brainwashing—that the players are the bad guys if they try to get what the CBA says they should get.”

So before you start throwing stones at Superstar A or Star B for trying to maximize their earnings, imagine this scenario:

Your employer calls you in and tells you how great you’ve been doing and how you’re an indispensible part of the business’ success. And in order for the business to remain successful and for the employer to be able to surround you with quality co-workers, all he needs for you to do is to agree to take 30 percent less than you’re worth.

Sound like a deal you’d make?

I didn’t think so.

With the dark period in full swing, here’s a division-by-division look at what’s making news around the NBA.

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