Last week the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association agreed on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement. If it is ratified by both sides next month, the league will be assured of labor peace for the next six years.
If you don't have a law degree or an ability to commit complex acronyms to memory it can be pretty hard to follow. So with the help of salary-cap guru/godfather Larry Coon, here's a simpler way to learn some of the new rules and how they can affect your favorite team or player.
Q: What's the most important new rule?
A: The NBA wants to slow down or even stop superstar players from leaving their teams in free agency. Since 2010, there's been a steady stream of huge names who have left as free agents, including LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Kevin Love also forced trades because they knew their teams were afraid they'd leave in free agency.
The league created a huge incentive for a select -- and we really do mean select -- group of franchise players to stay put. When Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer, the amount the Thunder and the Warriors could pay him was reasonably close over the first four years of a contract. The new rules will change that and give the "home" team a much larger advantage.
Q: Why would the players agree? Don't they want to be able to leave in free agency?
A: Because money. That's going to be a recurring theme here. The owners have agreed to increase the money players can get across the board. A good example is Stephen Curry. He is going to be a free agent next summer and under this new rule, the Warriors can pay him $209 million over five years. It could start at $36 million next year, which would be a record annual salary.
If he wanted to sign with another team, he could still get $133 million over four years. The starting salary for him on the max contract would be $30 million. That's a $76 million difference. 76 MILLION! What do you think Curry is going to do with that sort of economic option? Sorry, Charlotte, your dreams of Steph coming home will probably have to wait for, oh, about five years -- at least.
Last year Durant was offered the same $26.5 million starting salary by all the teams that pitched him. That's why this is being called the "Kevin Durant rule." It's a big difference.
Q: You said it was a select group of players, so who do you mean?
A: To get this type of premium deal you have to have played eight or nine years in the league and been on the All-NBA team this year or in two of the past three years, win the Defensive Player of the Year or have won the MVP in one of the past three years. You also have to re-sign with the team you played for since your rookie contract, although players traded during their rookie contracts still qualify. That's not a lot of players.
This might affect free agents like Curry and Blake Griffin this coming summer and perhaps players like Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins in 2018. It's a small group, but these are important players to their teams, and this time frame has been when most of the megastars have been leaving their teams. Also, the new rules mean superstars who meet these criteria can be offered extensions and the promise of this huge money before they even become free agents.
The life cycle of an NBA superstar will now look like this: After being drafted, he signs a four-year rookie contract. Before that contract ends he signs a four or five-year extension. Before that contract ends he signs a five-year extension. A superstar who wants to maximize his salary may not hit the open market until he's played 14 seasons in the league.
Q: So should Karl-Anthony Towns just buy a house in Minneapolis and assume he's there forever?
A: If you're a Wolves fan, that idea probably has you smiling. It's possible it could result in such a scenario with a star like Towns. But it also could lead to an unwanted side effect: young stars trying to force trades within their first four years in the league. That could happen for sure.
Q: What if you have multiple stars like the Warriors?
A: You can do this for two players on your roster. So if you're lucky enough to have two, you can keep them both.
But the rule's unofficial namesake, Kevin Durant, won't qualify with the Warriors because he's changed teams already. But Curry and either Klay Thompson or Draymond Green should be locks.
Q: So it feels like the Thunder got a pretty bad break. If these rules were around last year they might've been able to keep Durant and then also sign Westbrook and keep them both long term, right?
A: Yep, it's a major bummer for OKC. They've gotten pretty unlucky in how the rules have applied to them. To make it worse, they won't even have the new advantages when Westbrook can become a free agent in 2018 because he'll have played 10 years and other teams can offer him the same starting salary. Had the Thunder known this, they might not have signed him to an extension last summer when Durant left. Like I said, it's a major bummer.
Q: So will stars stop leaving in free agency? Don't you love the excitement of free agency in July?
A: The owners of most teams don't. This will probably slow the trend of big names changing teams. But it's hard to qualify for this, so it won't apply to that many players.
Q: Did any other players get raises?
A: Everybody got them. The players who get the least money, the guys on minimum contracts, got a 45 percent raise. So did all the players on rookie contracts, although their bumps are being phased in over three years. The players who were drafted over the past few years will get their salaries automatically boosted next year, too. That way they don't get penalized when the rookies in 2017 get the new salaries. Other mechanisms were built in to help middle-class players get more money. The mid-level exceptions were bumped by 45 percent starting next season, too.
Q: Did the old guys get anything?
A: Oh, yes. If you've been in the league at least 10 years, your minimum salary will now be $2.3 million, up from $1.4 million. And players like James, Paul, Anthony and Wade will really benefit because of a rule tweak. It used to be that you couldn't have a four or five-year contract if you turned 36 years old during the deal. Now that age limit has been increased to 38.
Q: What does that mean for Paul's free agency in 2017?
A: It means he can ask the Clippers for $50 million more than he could have if he had been a free agent last year. The Clippers don't have to give it to him, of course, but he is in a much better position to get a lot more guaranteed money. Being the union president can pay off .
Q: What about the guys in the middle?
A: NBA salaries are a zero-sum game: They get 51 percent of the revenue pie to split up among 450 or so players. So if the guys at the top are getting more, and the guys at the bottom are getting more, it means the middle class might get squeezed. This could be the beginning of a very top-heavy league, where the stars get the lion's share of the money. Some would say that's how it should be because stars drive the league. Others would say that's what happens when the union leaders are mostly superstars. Paul, James, Anthony and Curry are on the eight-person executive committee.
Q: Are there any other new rules to know about?
A: One you'll notice is that teams can now have two players who they can keep on their roster while letting them play in the D-League. These players will be on "two-way contracts" that will enable a team to control their rights and call them up to the parent team -- sort of like how it works in baseball. These players will get better D-League salaries and get paid NBA salaries when they're on the big team. Currently players on D-League teams can get called up by any team. The hope is this will keep more players from going overseas if they don't make a roster out of training camp or aren't drafted, allowing teams to develop their young players over the course of a season.