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NBA AM: Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

It’s easy to look at player salaries and shake your head. But here are some things worth knowing.

Steve Kyler



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Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

It’s easy to look at the contracts some athletes sign and just shake your head in disgust. The numbers have gotten crazy and for some, the talent level of some players is hard to rationalize against their contract numbers.

While all of that may be true, especially to hard-working folks who work 9-to-5 jobs, there are some things about athlete contracts that are worth knowing.

They Do Not Keep It All

It’s easy to see things like three years and $100 million and get crazy, but the truth is players do not keep all of that money. As a good rule of thumb, players are usually losing 46 percent to taxes and fees. Players who live in the major markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, tend to lose a little more than that.

That’s not to imply that a player couldn’t live a full and luxurious life on the change left after taxes and fees. It’s just important to keep in perspective that players don’t get to keep all of the money.

Said differently, let’s take LeBron James’ new $30 million-a-year deal with the Cavaliers. He’s going to keep maybe $16.2 million of that. While that’s enough money for a couple of lifetimes for many, think about that number in the context of what James is. Isn’t he one of the most recognized faces and names in sports? Doesn’t he generate hundreds of millions in value for the Cavaliers and the NBA? Is $16.2 million really a lot in that context?

That’s before you get into the life-style issues that come with that much fame. By now, you have likely seen the social media picture of former Spurs forward Tim Duncan standing in line at the Old Navy.

Do you believe for a second that James can live a normal life? That he can just go to Chili’s with his kids and be just another person in the world?

It is easy to ignore the tremendous pressure and scrutiny some athletes have to live under. Look no further than the litany of trashy gossip websites and blogs that are ready to pounce on a guy for wearing the wrong shoes.

What’s all of that worth?

Revenue Is Shared at This Level

The NBA and the Players Association have a revenue sharing arrangement: 49 to 51 percent of Basketball Related Revenue is supposed to be paid to the players each year. This includes all salaries and benefits paid.

All of the mechanisms – including the salary cap, maximum contracts and the like – are designed to ensure that the players get their part of the revenue.

In order to meet that, guys have to be paid. It’s easy to get caught up in the number; $100 million to play basketball seems crazy. However, when you put it into the context of the NBA crossing over into the $6 billion-per-year range in revenue, the players’ share has to get closer to $3 billion.

Even using round figures, $3 billion in revenue spread evenly across the 450 possible roster sports (15 roster spots times 30 teams) is an average of $6.66 million per roster spot.

So when you re-compute to push the largest portion of revenue to the top 50 players, the numbers are going to get big, not because of greed on the players’ part, but just in the simple value of the pie the players get to share in.

The other part, and this is something the players’ side always brings up, is who are fans really paying money to see? Shouldn’t those players get the higher end of the pay scale?

There are some who like to suggest if players were taking less money, their teams could field better rosters. That may be true, but considering the NBA has a soft-cap salary system, the only time what a player earns impacts the roster is when teams want to add from the outside or an owner wants to avoid luxury tax.

NBA teams can keep their own players under the current system at any price they want. For example, the Golden State Warriors can keep Steph Curry as long as both sides want the marriage to continue. It has no bearing on what Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant or Draymond Green earn.

The system allows for that.

Careers Are Short

As Spurs great Tim Duncan and Lakers star Kobe Bryant call it a career, it’s easy to forget that it is really rare for players to have careers beyond 10 seasons. In fact, most players are lucky if they can get to six, seven or eight seasons.

Think about this one: Eight of the 30 players drafted in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft are already out of the league. Three of the remaining guys are playing for the NBA minimum right now or a low-level salary cap exception.

Think about this one: Yao Ming, who is a Hall of Famer, played just nine seasons in the NBA. That’s a very short career for a top overall pick.

While some players have transitioned into fruitful lives and careers after basketball, there is a reality that most players are not going to earn much once their career is over. So another factor to consider is that most players have a very short window to earn as much as they can before their career ends.

Inside the contract numbers, there are a lot of things that are easy to miss. There is no question that athletes pocket insane amounts of money, but to immediately throw out labels like greedy and selfish often overlooks that the environment dictates the value.

Players are a commodity, and good ones are a rare commodity at that. For some teams, landing an elite player is worth twice the price they pay in salary and that’s simply the nature of a market-based economy.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba and @CodyTaylorNBA .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.


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Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?

Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.

Shane Rhodes



The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.

With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.

It couldn’t get worse, could it?

Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.

In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.

The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.

Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.

The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.

Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.

Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?

If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.

Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.

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NBA Daily: Houston Has It All

Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.

Lang Greene



It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.

So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.

Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.

One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.

Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.

Floor Generalship

Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.

This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.

Small Ball Ready

Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.

At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.


When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.

Shooting, Versatility and Experience

All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.

Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.


Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.

With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race

Basketball Insiders



Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.

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The Strictly Speaking Podcast


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