The NBA and the players were able to get a new collective bargaining agreement done with a relative minimum of fussing or fighting, and the reason is simple: The NBA is raking it in. Buoyed in large part by a $24 billion television contract that kicked in this summer, there is simply so much money flowing in that that the union didn’t feel it necessary to fight the current, owner-friendly split in basketball-related income. There’s plenty of cash to go around, and an even bigger slice of it is about to go to the NBA’s superstars.
LeBron James has been content to sign a series of short-term deals (Kevin Durant, too, inked a one-year contract this summer) with exactly this CBA in mind. The previous agreement wasn’t exactly friendly to the best of the best, those players with a decade of service and still at the tops of their games. Their maximum contracts were limited by what was called the “Over 36" clause, which penalized any team from signing players to four- and five-year deals that would take them past age 36. (The thinking was that teams would sign older players who had no intentions of playing out the lengths of those deals, and those players’ retirements would circumvent the salary cap.)
What teams had to do was take the salaries of those over 36 seasons and apply it to the front of the deal. That wouldn’t work for max guys, because league rules prevent any player from earning more than the max in any given season. So someone like LeBron, who will turn 32 this month, and has more than the requisite 10 years of service to be eligible for the maximum salary equalling 35 percent of the salary cap, could not have signed a five-year, max contract under the old CBA.
Well, in David Aldridge’s (excellent) breakdown of the new CBA, we learn that the “Over 36" clause is out. It’s the “Over 38" clause now.
Such huge deals for vets with that much service time have been next to impossible to create in recent years because of the so-called “Over 36” rule, which was put in place to keep teams from signing older players to long contracts they would never reach the end of in order to ease the financial burden on the team.
The current rules takes the salary of a player 36 or older and applies it to previous seasons’ salary caps—in essence, forcing the team to pay for those over 36 years before they occur. The new CBA, however, will turn “Over 36” contracts into “Over 38” contracts, allowing teams to sign older players to longer deals.
This always felt inevitable, if just because of the guys who were at that bargaining table. LeBron is the first vice president of the NBPA; Chris Paul, who will now also be eligible for a five-year max deal that would take him past age 36 (but not age 38), is the union’s president.
And the money will indeed be big. The exact numbers are tricky, because the new deals’ annual salaries will be tied to the cap and will increase each year, but Aldridge’s napkin math says it’ll start at $36 million next season for vets with at least 10 years’ service, and amount to about $210 million over five years.