The head of the NBA Players Association, Michele Roberts, has read and heard the resurgence of opinions that blame the current state of the NBA—one in which the Warriors are an invincible superteam, DeMarcus Cousins can be had for the mid-level exception, and solid free agents can’t get reasonable offers—on the union’s decision to see the salary cap increased by $24 million in the summer of 2016, rather than have the cap increase incrementally over a few seasons. Roberts would like everyone to take those opinions and stuff them.
In an email to Kevin Draper, Roberts fired back at anyone looking to blame her or the players for how things have played out since 2016:
“Frankly, I have been amused by the chatter suggesting that smoothing — or more accurately the failure to smooth — has now become some folks’ boogeyman de jure,” Roberts said in an email. “While we haven’t yet blamed it for the assassination of MLK, some are now suggesting that it is responsible for all that is presumably wrong with today’s NBA.”
“Needless to say, I beg to differ.”
Roberts went on to argue in subsequent emails that the idea of agreeing to an artificially deflated salary cap “offends to our core,” and that it is always the union’s responsibility to secure as much money for its members as possible.
Roberts isn’t wrong about that, and neither are people who want to argue that the cap spike had some bad, unintended consequences on the league. It’s true that no union worth its salt should ever allow management to artificially depress payroll; it’s also true that the cap spike is what allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant and build a super team, and left a number of teams forced to sit out free agency because they are saddled with ill-conceived, long-term contracts that were signed in the post-cap spike summer.
The problem here isn’t that the players union showed a lack of foresight, or that GMs were too stupid not to throw big four-year deals at the likes of Evan Turner and Timofey Mozgov, or that the Warriors are still reaping the rewards of some fortunate timing. Those are all problems, but they are not the problem, which is that the NBA is still a salary-capped league.
In her emails to the Times, Roberts pointed out that accepting the cap-smoothing plan would have screwed over a lot of players who were already planning to hit free agency in the summer of 2016 with the boon of the cap spike in mind. That’s true, and so is the fact that some players who have hit free agency this summer are being screwed over because of the big contracts that were handed out two years ago. The point is that as long as there is a salary cap, a mechanism that works every day to artificially depress payroll and distort the free-agent market, some segment of the union is going to be getting a raw deal. The best anyone can really hope for is to hit free agency at a time when the circumstances have cycled in their favor, and that’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.