LOS ANGELES -- The rich got richer Tuesday, as the Los Angeles Lakers, the team with the NBA's highest payroll, handed out superbly sparkling rings to represent the 16th championship in franchise history.
Unlike the rings, the outlook for keeping the Lakers' roster intact for next season -- if the new collective bargaining agreement includes a hard salary cap -- is far gloomier.
Last month Washington Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis said he expected the league to adopt a hard cap system when the new CBA is ironed out and was summarily fined $100,000 by the NBA for "unauthorized public comments" about the negotiations.
NBA commissioner David Stern said last week that the league is seeking a decrease in total player salaries by about $750 million to $800 million, or an approximate 33 percent rollback overall.
Should a hard cap go into effect, this Lakers team that is trying to reach its fourth Finals in four years while capturing a three-peat championship could end up being broken up not by the free agency, retirement or player rifts that have been the demise of dynasties in the past, but instead by league-mandated salary restructuring.
With more than $92 million in salary committed to 13 players next season, the Lakers would owe more than $22 million in luxury tax under the current threshold of $70.3 million.
A hard cap could not only require the league to decrease salaries by a set percentage, but also force the Lakers to release additional players to get under whatever the hard number is set at.
"[The hard cap is] an interesting detail," Stern told ESPNLosAngeles.com after addressing the media about the state of the league during his pregame comments. "Check out the NHL, see what they did -- [they rolled back salaries] and they cut players."
When asked whether the owners of teams like the Lakers and Boston Celtics, who have built championship-contending teams by committing to salaries well into the luxury tax, have disagreed with the owners of small-market teams with lower payrolls over the implementation of a hard cap, Stern said, "You know, that's why I have white hair. It's a detail that has not been worked out yet ... at all."
Summing up the negotiations that lie ahead before the current CBA expires June 30, Stern said, "We're walking through this particular minefield and it's there and we're going to have to resolve it. I don't know exactly how we're going to do it, but we've done harder things before and we're committed to doing it."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.