Do you approve of Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City and joining up with a powerhouse team in the Golden State Warriors?
Regardless of your feelings about Durant’s personal decision, do you think it is a good thing for the NBA that players are able to do this?
Also, why the heck are we talking about this on a Green Bay Packers blog?
I promise that these things are connected to the Packers. Or at least they are because a sports columnist tried to connect Durant’s situation to the NFL using the Packers as a stand-in example for the small-market Thunder.
Former NFL general manager Jeff Diamond currently contributes to The Sporting News, and he has some very strong feelings about the NBA. In an article published on Tuesday, he used phrases like “rigging”, “bad for competitive balance,” and “jilted” to describe the situation and express his disdain for a league which has frequently seen elite players joining up with other elite players to form partnerships with the intent of obtaining a championship. All of that leads to his belief that he thinks the NBA needs to institute a sort of Franchise Tag, similar to that employed in the NFL.
And why does Diamond feel that this is necessary? Fundamentally, it’s because he that the power rest in the hands of the teams rather than the players themselves.
Linking this back to the Packers, here’s the whopper of an example that he used to illustrate what would happen with no tag in the NFL:
As a comparison, what if Aaron Rodgers decided he wanted to play with the best offensive line, best receiver and best running back and leave small market Green Bay when his contract expires in 2020? With no franchise tag protecting the Packers, what's to stop Jerry Jones from convincing Rodgers to come to a marquis franchise with fantastic marketing outreach and play behind a great Cowboys O-line and have Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott (if he pans out) in a super offensive machine?
The problems with this thought experiment are numerous. Sure, Rodgers could in theory be swayed to go to Dallas - with no “maximum” contracts like in the NBA, Jerry Jones could pay him as much as he wants to get him to move south to Texas. There’s one problem here: there’s a hard salary cap in the NFL, unlike the soft cap in the NBA, and Jones would still need to pay his 52 other players as well. This isn’t baseball, where salaries have escalated out of control because there is no cap at all.
Furthermore, Diamond calls the Cowboys a “marquis (sic) franchise with fantastic marketing outreach.” How can a team be a marquee franchise when it has not won a Super Bowl in over two decades and has made the playoffs just once in the last six? The Packers, by comparison, have made the playoffs in seven straight years, winning Super Bowl XLV. Then there’s the marketing piece; how many endorsements does Rodgers have while playing in that small market in Wisconsin? I’m fairly certain that the Packers’ and the NFL’s marketing arms have done just fine in getting Rodgers’ face out there*.
* Note: In bringing up the marketing angle, Diamond actually makes his comparison look a bit better, but he misrepresents the comparison in doing so. Durant should see little change in his marketability because the NBA tends to market its star players heavily, more so than its teams themselves. Rodgers also would see little change in his marketability if he went to Dallas, but that is in large part due to the Packers being one of the most marketable and most-followed teams in the NFL; they’re not your typical “small market” team, which is how Diamond seems to view them.
And I haven’t even touched on how the Packers’ roster compares to the Cowboys’ (pretty favorably, I would argue, on both sides of the ball).
If Diamond actually wanted to make a remotely reasonable comparison here, Andrew Luck would have been a better choice for a few reasons. For one, the Colts actually did use the Franchise Tag on Luck this offseason before agreeing to a huge long-term contract last week. Luck is the rare example of an elite* (*Note: and I’m using that word for the sake of argument here) quarterback even being Franchised at all. Secondly, Luck’s supporting cast is more suspect than the Packers’; his top weapons are not nearly as productive as Rodgers’ were the last time they were all healthy, so he benefit more from the players around him in Dallas than Rodgers would. Even with all of that said, using Luck would still be an apples to oranges comparison because of the difference in impact that a single football player can have on a team of 22 starters compared to the impact of one basketball player on a five-man squad.
Ultimately, this whole piece strikes me as a former sports executive sympathizing with other members of his former fraternity. Of course the Collective Bargaining Agreements are vastly different between the two leagues - the NFL skews the power massively towards the teams, while the NBA’s offers much more accommodation to its players - but that is the precedent that has been set and is what both parties agreed upon in each instance. NBA owners would likely be laughed away from the table by the players’ union if they proposed a Franchise Tag just like the NFLPA would be laughed away by the NFL’s owners for proposing fully guaranteed contracts.
Does this make the NBA’s free agency system “bogus,” as Diamond says? Or is it just not what he is comfortable with?
Sure, it is a reasonable question to ask if Durant’s decision (or LeBron’s before him) is a good thing or a bad thing for the NBA. But those answering that question should acknowledge their biases. Certainly for fans of the Thunder, this seems like a bad thing, and Cleveland fans hated it when LeBron James left for Miami a few years ago. Looking at this from Diamond’s perspective as a former executive, he is going to tend to sympathize with the Thunder’s basketball staff and front office, who were left powerless to stop Durant from leaving because of a system that’s just unfair since the big bad players have too much power.
Ultimately though, using Rodgers-to-Dallas as an example of what could happen in the NFL if there were no Franchise Tag is just a silly exercise.