New Reality Has NBA Superstars Shortchanging Themselves

Dirk Nowitzki
Kevin Jairaj USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knew Dirk Nowitzki was taking less money to make some cap room for former Rocket Chandler Parsons, but not at the bargain bin price of $25 million over three years. It’s such a generous reduction in salary that Dallas fans are proclaiming the German the king of Dallas sports. But people shouldn’t cheer just yet; Nowitzki is just one of many NBA superstars forced to shortchange themselves for the good of a new league reality.

Because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players like Nowitzki aren’t being altruistic, they’re being forced into a tight spot. As LeBron’s hunt for a max deal showed, either top players get paid accordingly or they lose accordingly when it comes to team competitiveness, fan admiration, and legacy building. In that respect, LeBron’s return to home was incredibly self-serving and brilliant. Of course Cleveland was his choice: it offered the perfect smokescreen for chasing a max deal without anyone calling him money-hungry, and, it ensured he’d squeeze onto a team with enough young stars and workable contracts to make it competitively pliable.

Carmelo Anthony wasn’t blessed with LeBron’s luck or wits. For him, it was take the money in NY and wallow in a basketball wasteland some more, do something similar in LA (essentially morphing into a younger version of Bryant), or, pull a Dirk and play in Chicago for a very reduced rate (something like $14-15 million per). Melo went with Choice 1, and in doing so, became  a victim of a system rigged against max players. He’ll get paid according to his monetary value but will cost himself team competitiveness, fan admiration, and scores of legacy points in the process.

It should be noted that players have choices. Dirk, for instance, turned down max deals from the Lakers and the Rockets. He wasn’t a man without choices when deciding to agree to what essentially will be a third of Kobe’s deal. But the current landscape also makes it so that the pool of available choices are reduced from the get-go. It’s like the mirage of choice consumers have at the supermarket. Sure, Nowitzki can go with Choice No. 1 but it’s just one of three that still play into the hand of Maverick owner Marc Cuban.

The NBA now has an environment where players must choose between a situation that will either allow them to thrive or get adequate pay.

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