Tuesday, July 5, 2011

CBA: Collective Bargaining Anthropology

For tens of thousands of years, the total population of the world grew slowly. Around 10,000 years ago there were about 5 million people on the whole earth, or as many people as currently live in Colorado. And then came perhaps the most fundamental transformation in human history: the agricultural revolution, the shift from hunting and gathering to agricultural settlements. Since then world population has boomed to 7 billion, with no sign of abatement.

Every year scientists and farmers develop ever more efficient ways of growing food. Every year there is more than enough food grown to feed every human being, yet there are still hundreds of millions of malnourished and starving. So what gives? Is the food transportation system inefficient? Do developed countries consume more than their fair of food resources? There is probably a little bit of both going on, but the main reason is also the simplest: it is a part of human nature.

After an increase in food yield people don’t suddenly stop making babies. In fact, where the supply of food booms there is invariably an increase in the amount of babies born, because there are new resources for those babies. An increase in world population quickly consumes that surplus of food, forcing scientists and farmers to grow more food more efficiently. And they do. And then people make more babies.

I assure you that this is relevant to the current CBA proceedings. The NBA operates in an environment where many (most? all?) laws of human nature apply. If we have seen something time and time again in nature, it is unlikely that the same thing won't play out in the NBA. The key difference between the NBA and nature (well, besides the million other more obvious differences) is that the NBA has an opportunity to play God and modify its environment.

Almost every year (barring a recession) the NBA salary cap increases. In theory this is a good thing for teams. It gives them more money to spend on players. If a team is over the cap, it is possible that this increase will bring them under the cap. Even though the cap always grows though, there hasn’t been an overall decrease in teams having payrolls above it. Owners don’t treat the increase in cap space as a way to rebalance their roster and payroll, but as an opportunity to sign a new players, fiscal prudence be damned.

There are many, many overpaid players in the NBA. Some of them are the usual suspects (Darko Milicic, Charlie Villanueva, Vladimir Radmanovic) and some are pretty good players (Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko) who are just paid too much. There isn’t a common denominator among overpaid players. All ages, positions, and most teams, are represented on the above list. Even the uncertainty surrounding the form that the new CBA will take—-though most knowledgeable observers believe it will be much more restrictive than the newly-expired CBA—-hasn’t prevented teams from making stupid offers: the $30 million over the salary cap Portland Trailblazers just offered Greg “3 knee surgeries before 23” Oden an $8.8 million qualifying offer. It seems nothing can stop owners from giving out poor contracts.

The owners claim that the NBA lost a huge amount of money last year. The knee jerk reaction is to scream “STOP GIVING Players LIKE JAMAL CRAWFORD $11 MILLION CONTRACTS!” as loudly as you can, but that would just waste your breath. We can talk all we want about owners spending their money more wisely, but it is never going to happen. Never. Going. To Happen.

And thus, on at least one key issue regarding the new CBA, I am coming down on the owner’s side. The National Basketball Association needs the basketball equivalent of China's one-child policy: a hard salary cap and reduced length of player contracts. As humans we have yet to find a way to grow our population without outstripping our resource production. The NBA has the same problem, but they are allowed to play God and modify their environment. History has proven that the owners cannot restrain themselves from throwing money down the drain (AKA Desanga Diop), so restraint must be forced upon them.

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