Lockout Déjà Vu is the Saddest Kind

Mar 28, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (34) reacts from the bench area during the first half against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

With so many mind-boggling deals coming over the wire and the curious thrill of NBA free agency season in full swing, I feel the tug of a troubling sense of déjà vu coming from a whispering pessimist on my right shoulder.

Names and numbers like Enes Kanter and $70 million; Reggie Jackson…$80 million; Omer Asik…$60 million, only intensify this sense of dread.

The optimist on my left shoulder shouts “But the cap’s going up! This is basically monopoly money NBA teams are dealing with!”

But does the catapulting cap actually matter?

Or are the new TV contracts just giving desperate-to-compete owners a longer rope with which to hang themselves?

Back in 2011, the year of the last NBA lockout, one of the key concessions of the resulting CBA was an Amnesty clause, the NBA’s own version of a bailout. Owners from 21 NBA teams who had spent big bucks on bad long term contracts breathed a sigh of relief. They amnestied guys like Baron Davis, Gilbert Arenas and Carlos Boozer, and presumably vowed never to make those kinds of mistakes again.

Color me cynical but deals like Kanter’s reek of history repeating.

Do you realize he will make $17 million next season, the same amount as Russell Westbrook? OKC already has a crowded frontcourt and all the scoring it needs, and they spend this much on a guy who will be a liability come playoff crunch time due to his horrid defense? I get it, NBA teams are desperate to stay competitive in the ravenous free agent market and are under intense pressure to match restricted free agent offer sheets. But it’s going to be awkward seeing that $70 million parked firmly on the bench late in playoff games.

Like most NBA fans I’m giddy when I think about my favorite team having more money to fit the last pieces of the puzzle into their cap room or the next prized superstar free agent. But inflation is very real and very sobering. If Kanter commands $70M what’s it going to take OKC to re-sign Durant next year? In a true free market Kanter’s price tag makes KD worth close to a billion by comparison. Of course this market ain’t free, but KD’s looming max deal will still have the Thunder’s cap sheet swelling to its limits (should he choose to stay there). And as we’ve seen already, once one role guy gets a max deal the dominos start to fall as the market sets. What’s to stop your favorite team’s GM from following the precedents?

The point is you could make the salary cap $500 million, but if you’re going to turn around and make role players 6-figure earners, we’re back in the same place we were in 2011…and 2005…and 1999. There are already rumors about an impending lockout in 2017, a threat that seems more real with each new bad, bloated contract.

A rising tide lifts all boats, and the weight of those overpriced dinghies threatens to crush NBA owners in their beachfront mansions.

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