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Thread: The payroll and competitive balance myth

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    Default The payroll and competitive balance myth

    http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/pos...e-balance-myth

    By Tom Haberstroh
    ESPN.com
    Archive



    David Stern believes that small markets can't compete, but the truth is all around him.

    If you followed NBA commissioner David Stern’s media tour last week, you probably heard him recite the following statement ad nauseum in one form or another:

    The Lakers have a payroll of $110 million while the Sacramento Kings only have a payroll of $45 million. This is a real competitive balance issue that desperately needs fixing.

    Stern is incredibly gifted when it comes to these things. He knows that the casual fan will look at those two figures and arrive at the tidy conclusion that the Kings simply cannot compete with the Lakers. I mean, look at that payroll disparity! Stern’s pitch is that the success of a team is directly tied to how much money they spend. And if you look at his example, how could you possibly disagree with him?

    But then you look at the standings.

    You notice that Stern did not sell the unfairness of payroll disparity by pitting the Orlando Magic against the Chicago Bulls. The Magic spent $110 million last season (the same as the Lakers) and the Bulls shelled out a lowly $55 million, or half as much as its Eastern conference foe. And the result? The poor Bulls won more games than any other team and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. The Magic? The nine-figure payroll bought them an embarrassing first-round exit.

    If you scan through team payrolls, you begin to see that money doesn’t decide games. If cash was king, then the Bulls wouldn’t have a chance against the Magic. If spending power ruled all, how do we explain the Utah Jazz and their $80 million payroll winning 16 fewer games than the Oklahoma City Thunder, who spent just $58 million? The Toronto Raptors boasted a higher payroll than the Miami Heat, so why did the Raps lose 60 games while the Heat came within two games of a title?

    The NBA has brought up the fact that the last four champions are big major market teams who spent a lot of money. While this is factually accurate, four consecutive years does not make a trend. Consider this: the previous five champions were smaller market teams (Spurs, Pistons and Heat). Evidently, the lesson changes as you slide the endpoints to make your argument. If we look over the past decade, the tally marks for titles between big market teams and small markets teams are equal at five.

    The NBA is a complicated place, but when you cut through the rhetoric and look at the track record of the league, this much is clear: payroll doesn’t matter nearly as much it seems.

    It’s about the draft, not dollars
    Want to win games? Win the draft first. There you’ll find the breeding ground for championship teams. Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by the Mavericks (in a draft-day trade). Tim Duncan was drafted by the Spurs. Kobe Bryant was drafted by the Lakers (in a draft-day trade). Michael Jordan was drafted by the Bulls. Dwyane Wade and the Heat, Hakeem and the Rockets, so on and so forth.

    There are some rare exceptions (e.g. the 2004 Pistons), but if you flip through through the title winners every season, you’ll find that the championship blueprint usually begins with hitting a home run on draft night.

    To see why this is the case, consider the paths of two conference finalists last season. Going forward, the Bulls and the Thunder have a leg up on just about every team in the NBA, not because they spend a lot (which they don’t), but because they drafted a superstar and don’t have pay him superstar money.

    Thanks to the rookie scale that keeps salaries artificially depressed for several years, the Thunder paid Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer, about a third of what the Jazz paid for Andrei Kirilenko last season. Similarly, the Bulls paid Derrick Rose, the league’s official MVP, about a third of what the Magic paid Gilbert Arenas, the league’s unofficial LVP.

    Paying Durant $6 million is an enormous competitive advantage on its own, but the real benefit here is that it frees up Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti to spend money elsewhere when he needs to. The opportunity cost of paying Arenas is that you forfeit the chance to use that money on other things (like a James Harden or a Serge Ibaka or a Russell Westbrook).

    This concept isn’t unique to NBA general managers. Do you pony up $30,000 for a fancy car or do you buy a slightly less fancy car and deposit the leftover cash into a savings account to help send your child to college? NBA teams face a similar choice when choosing to spend their money.

    With a soft cap on payroll, it becomes imperative to spend your money wisely, and if you study successful franchises, those who spend money wisely seem to be bargain shopping at the draft.

    The data reveals the truth
    So, a couple franchises got lucky with drafting superstars and now they happen to possess bright futures and tight budgets. Big whoop, you say.

    I’m with you. Just like I’m not satisfied with reducing a complicated topic to a line about the Lakers and Kings, pointing to the draft successes of the Thunder and the Bulls shouldn’t sit well with the rational reader.

    So let’s roll up our sleeves and dig deeper. Many people have claimed that the draft is incredibly important to long-term success but the trouble has been backing up that assertion with hard data. Before we can talk about the significance of the draft, we first must have the tools to accurately measure draft success and go beyond anecdotal evidence.

    To that end, it’s worth pulling up the draft value database behind the D.R.A.F.T. Initiative project from a couple years ago, which was an ESPN.com Insider series that analyzed the value of the NBA draft. The study tried to learn about the draft by tracking the career paths and production of every player drafted since 1989.

    One of the discoveries during that project was that the Spurs and Lakers were huge winners on draft day. Apparently, finding Tony Parker at No. 28, Manu Ginobili at the end of the second round and plucking Kobe and Andrew Bynum without picking in the single-digits helps lay down a dynasty foundation. But if you look at the list of the most efficient drafting teams (as in, making the most out of where they picked), you’ll notice that the best drafting teams tend to also be the best teams of the past decade. On the flipside, the basement-dwellers of recent times found themselves routinely striking out on the draft.

    Here is an updated chart of the best drafting teams and the worst drafting teams over the past decade, along with their winning percentage and dollars spent over that time. Also, it is color-coded to make visualizing the data easier (greater the number, greener the cell).

    What do we find? New Orleans, San Antonio and Cleveland have done the most with the draft over the past decade. The Hornets built a perennial playoff team on the cheap by picking Chris Paul at No. 4 and finding an All-Star at No. 18 in David West. They squeezed out 18.5 wins above what we’d expect from their draft slots over the years. The Spurs built a championship core out of their picks. And, yes, the Cavaliers may have lucked into LeBron James, but they also found Anderson Varejao at No. 30 and Carlos Boozer in the second round.

    More importantly, notice that four of the top six drafting teams have won a title this past decade while the other two have come very close to playing for the Larry O’Brien trophy.

    And the worst drafting teams? Yikes. The Clippers, Timberwolves, Wizards and Bobcats represent the doormats of the NBA and it’s no surprise that they’ve been drafting terribly as well. Many of these teams have been gift-wrapped prime opportunities to draft franchise players, and instead, they selected Adam Morrison and Jonny Flynn. Even drafting an MVP in Rose didn't completely erase all the misfires the Bulls made in the early 2000s.

    Now, the colors tell an important story. Strictly looking at the draft value and win percentage, you’ll notice lost of greens clustered together and reds clustered together. This hints that the two go pretty much hand in hand. If you draft efficiently, chances are you’ll be in good hands.

    But look at the third column of data which tells us how much money they’ve spent over that time. It’s subtle, but the pigments aren’t as closely connected.

    What we’re seeing is a strong tie between drafting efficiency and win percentage, but not so much for winning and payroll. In fact, draft efficiency alone explains 34 percent of the variability in a team’s record over the past decade. How much does payroll explain?

    Just 7 percent -- a tiny amount in comparison.

    Many economists have studied the issue of payroll and competitive balance. Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College who has written several books on sports economics, recently told the New York Times, “The statistical correlation between payroll and win percentage is practically nonexistent.” That 7 percent is what he’s talking about.

    What it means for competitive balance
    Of course, we knew all along that the draft is important, but now we see it as an absolutely critical ingredient to the championship recipe. If payroll predicted championships, then the Knicks would have a dynasty by now. Instead, they largely ignored the draft, sold the lottery picks to other teams and look what it got them: a blood-red cell in the winning percentage column.

    In order to be competitive in the NBA, you don’t necessarily need to have a lot of money, but you absolutely need to be smart with your money. And the smart money tends to be in the draft. When Stern says the system is broken because of the disparity in payroll, feel free to listen to the Lakers-Kings comparison but also note that the Thunder has been able to fast track success in a supposedly broken system.

    Stern strives for a hard cap (or a punitive luxury tax disguised as one) and claims his pursuit is for the good spirit of competitive balance, but a closer examination shows that payroll and winning are not directly correlated.

    What we've learned is that spending is cyclical. The smart organizations, like all businesses, try not to spend until they need to. As an example, the Boston Celtics' payroll the year before they formed their Big Three? It ranked 19th in the NBA. The year before that it was 21st. They lost over 100 games over those two seasons.

    The NBA might contend that the Celtics weren’t winning because they weren't spending. But we must be careful about confusing cause and effect here. It may also be the case that the Celtics weren’t spending because they weren’t winning. Why throw big money at free agents when it won't really move the needle for title contention? Perhaps it is better to keep costs low until you can swing a big trade or increase your chances to land a superstar in the draft (see: Thunder, Spurs, Bulls).

    Teams run into trouble by buying average players in a free agency market that usually comes with a "winner's curse" premium. If you spend money just to spend it, you find yourself in the in-between world that the Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors currently occupy. As we’ve seen time and time again, if you want to be competitive, follow the lead of most champions: build through the draft and be smarter with your cash.

    Of course, it helps to have more cash, which allows teams to be more flexible and spend when they need to spend. But if there’s a disparity of haves and have-nots in the NBA, the real disparity can be found in management, not dollars.
    Last edited by 90'sNBARocked; 10-26-2011 at 06:25 PM.
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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by 90'sNBARocked View Post
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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by kester99 View Post
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    I guess I totally don't understand this texting lingo.
    no, sometimes it wont allow you to post, so you have to post with a title and not the cut and pasted article, then go back and edit
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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    So in the end the Author is saying, get high draft pick. What is the easiest way to get one? Suck really bad for a couple of years. Yeah just what the NBA needs.
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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Some of the examples they use in hear especially when it comes to their "team draft so well" part. If I recall the spurs were able to get duncan cause they just tanked during the short season of the lockout season, got lucky in the draft and got duncan. The lakers drafting kobe is even more of a joke cause kobe had made it perfectly clear where he wanted to go and was unwilling to play for any other team and the lakers were perfectly happy with that situation.

    Them using the example of the bulls and the magic is no worse than the league using the kings and the lakers, because rose and noah are still on their rookie contracts I don't think the bulls' salary is going to get anywhere near the magics but it's not going to be quite as big of a dropoff as it is now. I know they go on later to talk about how the rookie scale is keeping contracs amounts depressed and yeah that's all well and good at the time but when those contracts run out then things start getting a tad bit more tedious.

    It seems like alot of the strategies that the person writing this article is trying to debase, is turning right around and using those same strategies to support their own claims.
    Last edited by TheDon; 10-27-2011 at 04:37 AM.

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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Another factor he fails to mention is that teams like the Magic start out with lower payrolls and find success, but then have to keep paying their role players more and more to continue that success. The Magic, once upon a time, had a relatively small payroll with Dwight on his rookie contract and Hedo only making eight or so million a year. It was after they lost in the finals that the spending got out of control.

    The same thing will probably happen to the Bulls when they have to re-sign Rose and Noah and Boozer's contract is in the high teens.

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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    There's always going to be a counterexample, especially if you rationalize away all the "ifs" (like "what if Kobe HADN'T threatened to hold out? What if the Bulls HADN'T hit the draft lottery from 10th pick?").

    The bottom line is you either have to be lucky or perfect to compete without lots of money. Money doesn't completely protect you from stupid but you can certainly recover quicker. Lack of money doesn't prevent smart, but it can make it hard to implement without luck.

    Let's make smart more important than money AND luck.
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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by BillS View Post
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    There's always going to be a counterexample, especially if you rationalize away all the "ifs" (like "what if Kobe HADN'T threatened to hold out?
    A little off the point of your post, but I think if anything has been learned from the Kobe draft fiasco, it is "Screw Kobe and players like him."

    If you have a top-tier player that you can draft that doesn't want to play for you, either force another team to trade with you to get the pick, or draft the player anyway. Then explain to the player that his future reputation is up to him. He can either play his butt off that would enable you to work out a trade beneficial to your team, or he can rot for 3-4 years waiting for the end of his contract.

    I think the days of the prima-dona draftee in the NBA should be over. Small market teams and low performing teams must take advantage of anything open to them to improve. If that means putting a draftee in his place, so be it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by beast23 View Post
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    If you have a top-tier player that you can draft that doesn't want to play for you, either force another team to trade with you to get the pick, or draft the player anyway
    Can a small market team that is in a position for a high draft pick afford to waste the pick and chance that the player does what he says he'll do? I say not just no, but "hell no".

    So, they trade the pick to the only team willing to make a deal for the exact same reason, and forevermore that pick is known as a "smart" pick by the other team and proof that small market teams are actually too dumb to draft well.
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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by BillS View Post
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    Can a small market team that is in a position for a high draft pick afford to waste the pick and chance that the player does what he says he'll do? I say not just no, but "hell no".

    So, they trade the pick to the only team willing to make a deal for the exact same reason, and forevermore that pick is known as a "smart" pick by the other team and proof that small market teams are actually too dumb to draft well.
    As a team facing the draft, ESPECIALLY a small-market team, you do whatever will benefit your team the most. Period.

    For example, this year, we dumped our pick for Hill. It was deemed that would benefit us the most.

    You don't pass on a very good player just because the player says he doesn't want to play for you... unless there is a player nearly as good still available.

    Using your own logic, bypassing the player would only result in idiots like us sitting on message boards years later and dissing our teams for taking Player x while passing up better players in front of him.

    It works both ways.

    You ALWAYS take the best player. That is how you improve, whether you ultimately keep the player or trade him for other pieces that fit your puzzle.

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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    But you don't always take the best player if there are extenuating circumstances - injury, potential delay in eligibility, possibility of a wasted pick.

    It isn't the best player if he never sees the court.

    If I remember correctly, Kobe was drafted when the draft rights were still limited in term.
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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by BillS View Post
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    But you don't always take the best player if there are extenuating circumstances - injury, potential delay in eligibility, possibility of a wasted pick.

    It isn't the best player if he never sees the court.

    If I remember correctly, Kobe was drafted when the draft rights were still limited in term.
    Correct. He would have been able to sit out a year and then re-enter the draft.


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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    So, draft high, excel while the players are young and cheap, then hope to be able to pay one of them to stay while the rest leave for greener pastures.

    What good is it to get to good / elite status when there is a very realistic chance that larger markets will simply offer more than the smaller markets can in the longer term? The author of the article fails to take this into account because he uses statistical studies to substantiate his view while ignoring the changing landscape of a reality where players dictate to an extent where and with whom they play. The higher and softer the cap is, the easier it is for this to happen.

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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by Peck View Post
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    Correct. He would have been able to sit out a year and then re-enter the draft.
    Jesus. I didn't know about that part. What a horrible rule.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hicks View Post
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    Jesus. I didn't know about that part. What a horrible rule.
    In a way it still was in effect during the last CBA. As long has they haven't hired an agent or taken pro money (or whatever else the NCAA rules say) any player can withdraw from the draft and go back to college.


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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by Peck View Post
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    In a way it still was in effect during the last CBA. As long has they haven't hired an agent or taken pro money (or whatever else the NCAA rules say) any player can withdraw from the draft and go back to college.
    I think they changed what you could do after a certain deadline, though, and I know a team has longer rights to a player - especially if he plays somewhere else after the draft, like Europe - than they used to.
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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Once you stay in the draft past the deadline now-you're in. No going back.

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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by King Tuts Tomb View Post
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    Another factor he fails to mention is that teams like the Magic start out with lower payrolls and find success, but then have to keep paying their role players more and more to continue that success. The Magic, once upon a time, had a relatively small payroll with Dwight on his rookie contract and Hedo only making eight or so million a year. It was after they lost in the finals that the spending got out of control.

    The same thing will probably happen to the Bulls when they have to re-sign Rose and Noah and Boozer's contract is in the high teens.
    Totally agree with what you stated here.

    He also fails to mention that even if Kobe goes to the Lakers they are still crap without Shaq who took less money to be a Laker in the first place.

    With the championship team of the Dallas Mavs who did they draft who started for them this year. One guy I think in Dirk. Kudos for them for flipping a tractor into a Porshe but that still doesn't explain how they got Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry. Timely trades and FA signings matter just as much as drafting IMO.

    Lets not forget also the ability to write off a mistakes with money or to prey on weak finacial teams like the Bobcats. A system that supports smart spending and limits the affect of teams misses/mistakes makes for a better NBA.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BillS View Post
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    I think they changed what you could do after a certain deadline, though, and I know a team has longer rights to a player - especially if he plays somewhere else after the draft, like Europe - than they used to.
    Right, I neglected to say that there was a deadline to do this. Also in the last CBA a player like Bryant wouldn't have been able to do this as they have to be one year past their graduating (H.S.) class.


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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by Peck View Post
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    Right, I neglected to say that there was a deadline to do this. Also in the last CBA a player like Bryant wouldn't have been able to do this as they have to be one year past their graduating (H.S.) class.
    It is correct that Kobe was drafted under different rules.

    Now, as Kstat states, once the deadline has passed, you are in. And once drafted, your rights remain with the team that drafted you, no matter how long it takes you to realize that you want to be an NBA player.

    I still believe that under such rules, you draft the best available player. However, there is one situation that must be considered. If the best available player is a European player and he doesn't want to play for you, then I suppose you must be open to the fact that he will choose to play out of the country rather than sign with your team. I believe this would not be the case for almost all American players.

    I would never give in to the demands of a top-tier, yet to be drafted American player. And, any player with an ounce of intellect will publicly keep his mouth shut if for no other reason than he will wreck his rep in the eyes of the fans. Instead, his agent will encourage him to work with his team behind the scenes to seek a trade. The team will ultimately still reap a greater benefit than by drafting a lesser player.

    In other words, rookies are just that. Rookies. They should keep their mouths shut and just play the darn game. EARN their way on the court, and rewards and what they want will eventually come their way.

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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by beast23 View Post
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    It is correct that Kobe was drafted under different rules.

    Now, as Kstat states, once the deadline has passed, you are in. And once drafted, your rights remain with the team that drafted you, no matter how long it takes you to realize that you want to be an NBA player.

    I still believe that under such rules, you draft the best available player. However, there is one situation that must be considered. If the best available player is a European player and he doesn't want to play for you, then I suppose you must be open to the fact that he will choose to play out of the country rather than sign with your team. I believe this would not be the case for almost all American players.

    I would never give in to the demands of a top-tier, yet to be drafted American player. And, any player with an ounce of intellect will publicly keep his mouth shut if for no other reason than he will wreck his rep in the eyes of the fans. Instead, his agent will encourage him to work with his team behind the scenes to seek a trade. The team will ultimately still reap a greater benefit than by drafting a lesser player.

    In other words, rookies are just that. Rookies. They should keep their mouths shut and just play the darn game. EARN their way on the court, and rewards and what they want will eventually come their way.
    you mean like larry bird ?
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    Quote Originally Posted by able View Post
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    you mean like larry bird ?
    How so?

    Bird merely told the Pacers that he would not play until after he completed his senior season. In other words, they would be drafting for a year away and not for the coming season. Unfortunately, the Pacers felt they needed a player that could help them win immediately, not a year from then.

    Also, Bird was drafted under different rules as well.

    Or am I totally dense and not appreciating your meaning?

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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Well it was with a wink but ok; LB made it clear to the Pacers he would not play for them, not even IF they were patient, he had a deal with the Celtics.

    Nothing else to it, Pacers could have drafted him, but didn't, for obvious reasons.
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  29. #24
    The Doctor's In The House TheDon's Avatar
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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by Gamble1 View Post
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    Totally agree with what you stated here.

    He also fails to mention that even if Kobe goes to the Lakers they are still crap without Shaq who took less money to be a Laker in the first place.

    With the championship team of the Dallas Mavs who did they draft who started for them this year. One guy I think in Dirk. Kudos for them for flipping a tractor into a Porshe but that still doesn't explain how they got Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry. Timely trades and FA signings matter just as much as drafting IMO.

    Lets not forget also the ability to write off a mistakes with money or to prey on weak finacial teams like the Bobcats. A system that supports smart spending and limits the affect of teams misses/mistakes makes for a better NBA.
    Right it's also scary to think that with the other player they got in that trade they were able to turn eventually into steve nash. If they would have been patient with that they probably wouldn't have had to worry about getting Kidd.

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    Default Re: The payroll and competitive balance myth

    Quote Originally Posted by able View Post
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    Well it was with a wink but ok; LB made it clear to the Pacers he would not play for them, not even IF they were patient, he had a deal with the Celtics.

    Nothing else to it, Pacers could have drafted him, but didn't, for obvious reasons.
    That is the exact opposite of what I've read.

    I recall reading he and Slick met and shared some beers and realized it couldn't work because Slick couldn't afford to wait a year.

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