HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Fast starts by teams expected to struggle combined with awkwardly slow starts by teams expected to excel have turned the NBA standings upside-down.
Several of the league’s gold-plated outfits like the Nets, Knicks and Lakers are looking up at .500, while intentionally low-budget operations like the Suns and Sixers sit at or darn near the top of their respective divisions, at least here in the opening two weeks.
It’s all the more interesting when looking at this stage of the collective bargaining agreement. Ratified in December 2011, the CBA ushered in a new era of increased luxury tax penalties and the so-called repeater tax, deterrents designed to curb overspending and promote a level financial playing field across market sizes.
This is the third season under the new rules, but the first with the harsher luxury tax penalties in play — graduated tax hikes as opposed to the old dollar-for-dollar rate. We’ve seen numerous teams adjust how they spend to construct rosters that fall below the league’s luxury tax threshold ($71.7 million this season), to, one, avoid paying a tax and, two, to prevent the clock from starting on (or adding to) the repeater tax, which hammers a franchise with a hefty fine for crossing the luxury tax threshold in any four out of five seasons.
So this season we’re at something of a CBA crossroads. There are a handful of teams that have stripped their rosters to bare-bones salary levels (Sixers, Suns, Jazz) to clear out cap space for summer free-agent spending (and OK, maybe even better their chances for a high 2014 Draft pick). There are a few teams that are well into the luxury tax and are essentially locked there until large contracts expire (Lakers, Bulls, sort of the Knicks). And then there is the Brooklyn Nets, the one team that continues to pile on the payroll. Everybody else has pretty well adjusted and falls between the salary cap ($58.7 million) and the luxury tax threshold.
The Nets’ payroll is a stunning $102.2 million. It will ring up a tax bill around $85 million, a league record and larger than the total payroll of all but likely two teams — its own and its Big Apple neighbor, the Knicks ($87.9 million). The Suns’ payroll ranks 29th in the 30-team league at about $53 million, and the Sixers are last at about $40 million, actually well below the league’s minimum cap figure that was instituted in the CBA.
But as is often the case, it’s not always the highest rollers who finish first.
With that, let’s look at how the NBA conference standings (through Wednesday’s games) stack up — payroll vs. actual winning percentage (all team salaries are courtesy of ShamSports.com):
|Rank||East team payroll rank||East team win pct. (through Nov. 13)||West team payroll rank||West team win pct. (through Nov. 13)|
|No. 1||Brooklyn||Indiana||L.A. Lakers||San Antonio|
|No. 2||New York||Miami||L.A. Clippers||Portland|
|No. 3||Miami||Philadelphia||Oklahoma City||Oklahoma City|
|No. 4||Boston||Atlanta||Memphis||L.A. Clippers|
|No. 5||Washington||Charlotte||Golden State||Minnesota|
|No. 7||Toronto||Toronto||Dallas||Golden State|
|No. 9||Detroit||Orlando||New Orleans||Houston|
|No. 10||Cleveland||New York||Houston||Denver|
|No. 11||Charlotte||Cleveland||Portland||L.A. Lakers|
|No. 12||Orlando||Detroit||San Antonio||Memphis|
|No. 13||Milwaukee||Milwaukee||Sacramento||New Orleans|