O'Neal, Duncan maximizing value?

The CBA has taken full effect five years after its inception and the league's elite players are being hit the hardest.

Updated: July 30, 2004, 10:39 AM ET
By Terry Brown | NBA Insider

The NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement, implemented in January 1999 after a lockout almost destroyed the entire season, expires after next season and according to the numbers, it's taking Shaquille O'Neal and the NBA's best players with it.

The players and owners have already begun meetings to discuss a new agreement. The primary issue is Commissioner David Stern's drive to constrict the maximum length of contracts. This action would, in effect, limit the amount of money the league's best players are receiving.

The players are saying they won't accept such an idea and another lockout could ensue. But a look at what's happened over the last six years, in comparison to the previous six, shows that players like O'Neal, one of six vice-presidents in the Players Union, have already lost a substantial amount of money.

In 1992, Larry Bird completed his final year in the NBA as the game's highest paid player. He made $7 million that year. By the end of the 1998 season, the last year before the CBA went into effect, the highest paid player was Michael Jordan. In the final year of his run with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan made $33.1 million.

In those six years, the salary of the highest paid player increased from $7 million to $33.1 million, or 372 percent.

At the end of the recently completed 2004 NBA season, the highest paid player, Kevin Garnett, made $28 million -- a $15.4 percent decrease from 1998. When the current CBA expires next year, no player will have made more money in a single season than Jordan did six years ago.

It is also ironic that Garnett would be the standard bearer at this time since it was his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves that instigated the CBA. Even though his deal began before the CBA came into effect, any extensions that followed were subject to the new rules that determined, among other things, the maximum amount a player's salary could be raised.

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett could actually be earning a higher salary.
So while players like Garnett and O'Neal ($24.7 million in 2004) continued to make a substantial amount of money, they still made less than they could have through free agency or contract extensions, had the CBA not existed.

Kobe Bryant ($13.5 million in 2004), Allen Iverson ($13.5) , Tim Duncan ($12.6 million) and Tracy McGrady ($13.2 million), signed contracts under CBA rules and made a significantly less amount of money than Garnett or O'Neal.

This point is magnified when looking at the sharp rise in the salaries of elite players, prior to the CBA.

After Bird made $7 million in 1992, David Robinson became the league's leading money maker at $5.7 million over the next two seasons. But in 1995, Magic Johnson pushed that number to $14.6 million. In 1996, Patrick Ewing made $18.7 million. In 1997, Jordan made $30.1 million. As mentioed, he made $33.1 million in 1998.

Salaries were rising exponentially until the CBA was implemented. In 1999, Ewing became the highest paid player at $18.5 million. In 2000, Shaq took over at $17.1. In 2001 thru 2004, Garnett became the highest paid player at salaries of $19.6 million, $22.4 million, $25.2 million and $28 million.

Those were the last of the free spending free agent deals. Since the CBA came into effect, players like Bryant, Duncan, Iverson and McGrady came up for renegotiation or free agency and had to play by the new rules. One can only imagine what Duncan could have commanded on the open market when he became a free agent in 1999.

In 1992, the salary cap (not under the current CBA) was $12.5 million, with the average salary at 950,000 and the average of the Top 10 paid players in the league at $3.6 million.

In 1998, the salary cap (now under the current CBA) was $26.9 million, with the average salary at $2.1 million and the average of the Top 10 paid players in the league at $14.6 million.

The salary cap increased 115.2 percent while the average salary increased 121 percent. The average of the Top 10 players in the league increased 305 percent.

But in 2004, the salary cap (still under the current CBA) was at $43.8 million, with the average salary at $3.8 million and the average of the Top 10 paid players in the league at $17 million.

In between 1998 and 2004, the salary cap increased 62.8 percent, while the average salary increased 80 percent and the average of the Top 10 paid players in the league increased only 16.4 percent.

The CBA has taken full effect five years after its implementation and the league's upper echelon players are being hit the hardest. The cap on individual salaries has placed guys like Zydrunas Ilgauskas on the same footing as Duncan. Keith Van Horn makes as much as McGrady. Penny Hardaway makes as much as Iverson. Ray Allen makes as much as Bryant.

In the current system, Dirk Nowitzki and Antawn Jamison earn the same amount. Nowitzki led the Dallas Mavericks in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks. Jamison came off the bench for the Mavs and will be playing for his third team in three seasons.

It is hard to feel sorry for someone who just made $28 million dollars like Garnett. But if the percentage increase from Bird to Jordan had been followed through to Garnett and Shaq, the highest paid player in 2004 would have made roughly $156 million dollars.

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