I am a very pragmatic person by nature. Most individuals, especially successful ones in the world of business, are a little bit crazy and lot bit intelligent. Not surprisingly, the smarter you are the more likely you are to have personality traits that are considered unusual.
So, as we watch Suns owner Robert Sarver seemingly gut the franchise of its hopes and dreams, presumably in the mold of pre-transformed Edward Lewis, I have wonder what he's really thinking. What's his plan? And my first inclination is that there's a some logic, some intelligence, going on here that we may not appreciate.
Here's my take on what's happening. You may not feel any better after reading this, in fact you might feel a little worse, but possibly a tiny bit sturdier in that lifeboat.
After all, despite Sarver's "best attempts to destroy the team", the Suns still have the NBA's 3rd or 4th best record since he's taken ownership. And their payroll has been in the top 1/3 of the league as well, with the Suns paying luxury tax in each of the past 5 years.
So what could Robert Sarver be thinking about?
Maybe this is all about the expiring CBA, the threats from team owners and David Stern regarding lower salaries and payroll-related expenditures and a likely resultant lockout.
1) Expiring CBA
The league's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires next summer. This contract between the league and its players is what drives the entire payroll structure of the league. It sets the rules on how much the players can make of the overall league revenue. Most teams lose money in the NBA unless they keep their payroll extremely low, or go deep into the playoffs. And most owners are okay with this, but they want to reduce the red ink to a smaller number.
2) Lower player salaries, in the next CBA
One of the biggest threats being lobbied by commissioner Stern and the owners is a drastic reduction in the max salary each player can make. Currently, players can max out at 25% of the team's overall salary cap ($16.224 million in 2009-2010). That is 1 player out of 13-15 on the roster (minimum = 12) making 1/4 of the overall cap. Seems high to me for a single player, unless that player is LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant. In the future, the owners want to cut the overall salary cap and that max number by 20% or more.
Existing contracts would likely (IMO, 99% likely) be grandfathered into the new CBA. Which means that a player making the "old" max might actually command 40% (a guess) of the new salary cap, which is even worse. That would leave just 60% of the money for the other 12 players!
3) Player Lockout, beginning summer 2011
In the event of a player lockout, teams are still required to pay guaranteed staff contracts I believe. This would include the coaching staff and front office people - anyone who signed a term-certain contract. Otherwise, we would not have heard this week that Gentry's 2011-2012 salary is only 50% guaranteed in case of lockout. In a businessman's mind, if there is 0 income (no basketball-related activity), then every penny out the door to staffers is a negative. You're paying them to stay home. Who can the coaches coach, after all? What can the GM do while the league is forcibly shut down?
So, let's put this all together.
Sarver sees a future with lower salary cap, lower "max" salaries, and a long lockout with 0 basketball revenue starting next summer.
In that landscape, it makes some sense that he would limit the length of guaranteed contracts to front office staff and coaches. it also makes sense that he's against offering Amare what might end up being 40+% of his alloted salary cap in the future. Teams in that position are unlikely to succeed, given that 1 or 2 players cannot win a lot of games by themselves.
Does that justify his handling of the team? No.
Does that explain why Kerr and Griffin suddenly left? No.
But does that explain why Sarver is trying to limit his guaranteed contracts to players, staff and coaches? Maybe a little. But then why aren't all the other teams acting the same way?
There are a couple though: Portland has fired second-in-command Tom Penn and is just about to let Kevin Pritchard go. And this morning, I read that Denver GM Mark Warkentein has requested permission to talk to the Suns about their GM position. He won Executive of the Year in 2009, but his contract is up later this summer and Denver has not extended him or #2 Rex Chapman. Is this a pattern?
Anyway, food for thought.