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NBA Payroll Playpen and Cohanomics

Like many other longtime Warrior fans I've been mouthing off for years about how it's so depressing that the Warriors are such a cheap, poorly run organization that isn't the least bit committed to winning or putting out the best possible product on the court. I often say the Warriors don't make sense, they just make cents for Cohan and company. The Warriors play in a big market and are the only one of the major 3 sports to not have to share the wealth with another franchise (i.e. 49ers and Raiders, A's and Giants) in the Bay Area. Throw in the Bay Area's infatuation with hoops and you have a product, no matter how terrible or cheaply assembled, will be big box office hit sure to fatten any tax evading billionaire's wallet.

At a preseason game earlier this season Hash and I were chilling at the Roaracle about an hour before tip off and he broke down Cohanomics to me by pointing out the steady increase of frosty, foamy beverage costs the past 3 years. I myself stick to that overpriced sweet and tangy lemonade, but I have to say I really feel for my man. Likewise I really feel for the best fans on the planet who continually shell out the green and have such unmatched support and love for their hoops team that it requires a decibel meter on ESPN telecasts at the Roaracle for an organization that hasn't exactly returned the favor the past decade plus.

But maybe I'm just another one of those Warrior fans still traumatized from those 12 years of mismanagement. Maybe I'm wrong and the Warriors really are trying to shell out the funds to put a winner on the court this season that will improve on last year's unBELIEVABLE run. Maybe I'm just another whining fan/ consumer. You know I have been wrong once in my life before!

So let's take a look at the payrolls and cap room from all the 30 teams in the NBA:

  1. Dallas Mavericks Payroll: $95,604,543 Cap Room: $-39,974,543
  2. New York Knicks Payroll: $95,394,773 Cap Room: $-39,764,773
  3. Denver Nuggets Payroll: $83,816,899 Cap Room: $-28,186,899
  4. Miami Heat Payroll: $75,015,603 Cap Room: $-19,385,603
  5. Boston Celtics Payroll: $74,233,753 Cap Room: $-18,603,753
  6. Philadelphia 76ers Payroll: $73,411,391 Cap Room: $-17,781,391
  7. Portland Trail Blazers Payroll: $71,471,949 Cap Room: $-15,841,949
  8. LA Lakers Payroll: $70,959,905 Cap Room: $-15,329,905
  9. Phoenix Suns Payroll: $70,843,875 Cap Room: $-15,213,875
  10. Washington Wizards Payroll: $67,757,751 Cap Room: $-12,127,751
  11. Cleveland Cavaliers Payroll: $67,723,135 Cap Room: $-12,093,135
  12. San Antonio Spurs Payroll: $67,493,962 Cap Room: $-11,863,962
  13. New Jersey Nets Payroll: $67,469,420 Cap Room: $-11,839,420
  14. (Tie-14) Houston Rockets Payroll: $67,178,388 Cap Room: $-11,548,388
  15. (Tie-14) Indiana Pacers Payroll: $67,178,388 Cap Room: $-11,548,388
  16. Toronto Raptors Payroll: $67,052,973 Cap Room: $-11,422,973
  17. Detroit Pistons Payroll: $67,037,076 Cap Room: $-12,371,285
  18. LA Clippers Payroll: $64,527,831 Cap Room: $-8,897,831
  19. Minnesota Timberwolves Payroll: $64,413,259 Cap Room: $-8,783,259
  20. Chicago Bulls Payroll: $64,153,975 Cap Room: $-8,523,975
  21. Sacramento Kings Payroll: $63,693,604 Cap Room: $-8,063,604
  22. Seattle SuperSonics Payroll: $63,521,101 Cap Room: $-7,891,101
  23. Milwaukee Bucks Payroll: $63,648,469 Cap Room: $-8,018,469
  24. New Orleans Hornets Payroll: $60,844,890 Cap Room: $-5,214,890
  25. Utah Jazz Payroll: $60,065,044 Cap Room: $-4,435,044
  26. Warriors Payroll: $58,586,885

    Cap Room: $-2,956,885

  27. Orlando Magic Payroll: $56,541,463 Cap Room: $-911,463
  28. Memphis Grizzlies Payroll: $55,630,000 Cap Room: $0
  29. Atlanta Hawks Payroll: $54,631,874 Cap Room: $1,098,126
  30. Charlotte Bobcats Payroll: $52,875,736 Cap Room: $2,754,264

* As of November 25, 2007 via ESPN's NBA Trade Machine. Please post any concerns or issues that should be noted about these figures in the comments.

Would you believe the Warriors have the 5th cheapest payroll in the league this season?

A few thoughts to jump-start what figures to be an enormously interesting discussion after the jump- and yes, that's a lot of jumping!

A few observations and thoughts:

  • 27 out of the league's 30 teams are over the salary cap, while only 2 are under, but maybe that really doesn't mean as much as the mainstream media and NBA front offices would lead you to believe. Check out my man Modi's thoughts about why getting under the salary cap isn't as useful as you may think.

  • For all the bashing the Knicks front office takes on a daily basis from the media you'd think they had the league's highest payroll (not including dead contracts), but they're actually a close second behind Cuban's Mavs. As the owner of the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban is the often the target of some Warrior fans' playful jokes, but I'll contend that he's a fan's dream. He's committed to treating his customers right and has a ton of pride in his product.

  • Let's say the Warriors didn't trade Jason Richardson on draft day 2007 in a move many hailed as a necessary cost-cutting move (putting aside all basketball takes on whether the trade helps or hurts in the Warriors in the short term and long term). Their payroll for this season would be at $67,374,915, placing them 14th in the league on the payroll scale. Note that the JR trade was completed before Adonal Foyle and Sarunas Jasikevicius' contracts were bought out and that isn't factored into that total. Also note that other team's bought out contracts are not factored into their totals above either.

  • When the Warriors made that draft day day deal with the Bobcats they netted a sizeable trade exception of $10 million. Let's say they use it up in its entirety this season even though in reality it would probably be less than that since no player I could see the Warriors bringing in makes exactly $10 million (ahem, Ron Artest at only a measly $7.4 mill!- well, relative). That would place the Warriors at the 10th spot. They don't play in the 10th largest market (it's the 5th or so) nor have the 10th largest fanbase- I'm just saying...

  • The Jazz and Warriors led the league in biggest increase of season ticket holders this year, meaning their fans are willing to shell out their hard earned dough for their hometown teams. With the 25th and 26th total payrolls in the entire association these two squads don't exactly seem to be using that newfound cash to reward their fans and improve their product. I'll give the Jazz a pass though since they're such a small market team that isn't exactly popular nationally or globally.

  • During last season's magical end of the season run and playoff excitement the Warriors capitalized on the We Believe fandom and they forced many fans who wanted to buy playoff tickets to agree to purchase season ticket plans for this current season (whether or not the Warriors even qualified for the 2007 NBA playoffs). Sure it made it impossible for non-wealthy Warrior fans to get those playoff tickets (or at least those who didn't have some serious hookups), but honestly it was a good sales plan that I can't really criticize other than to say it was pretty classist. However, what I do find problematic is the bait and switch tactic the Warriors used. They made all those fans think they were paying to watch that playoff team that went 16-5 down the stretch and shocked the world by upsetting the Mavs improve on that run this year or at least be that good. It's way too early to say how far the 2007-2008 Warriors will go (and they might use that trade exception before it expires to improve this team dramatically), but as of right now bettering or equaling last year's team doesn't appear to be the goal of this organization with their cost cutting payroll moves this past summer and claims that it's all about flexibility instead of winning now. Right now it looks like a case of fan and customer exploitation by the Warriors.

  • Not to confuse correlation with causation, but the 4 teams widely regarded as the contenders for the NBA Championship come June all place in the top 12 in terms of salary this season: Mavericks (1), Celtics (5), Suns (9), and Spurs (12).

  • I know the Warriors organization and some wise GSoMers will point out that it's about the future and next off season where they can sign some high impact free agent (history says that isn't going to happen though- see Modi's piece from above) or extend some of their own young players. My response: That's nice, but if the Warriors aren't committed to paying for the best club money can buy THIS year and are just trying to lower their payroll this season for these so called options, then why are fans giving their 110% rooting for this team and shelling out big bucks to meet their ticket price hikes for the second straight season THIS year? How about fans pay top dollar when the team is paying top dollar to put out the best product possible? (No shot at the current players and coaching staff intended whatsoever who I have nothing but respect for.)

    Besides there is no guarantee that the mastermind behind this operation Don Nelson will even be around next year since he's only on a 1 year deal. I'm sorry but I don't exactly trust Mullin and Rowell to keep this ship sailing when Nellie's gone. I also fail to see the logic in not maximizing what could be a hall of fame coach's last year on the sidelines as well as an all-world uber- talented PG in his prime and a potential candidate for defensive player of the year. How often do the stars line up that well for a basketball organization? I doubt the future is going to get much brighter than that.

    I don't know about the rest of you good Warrior fans, but I really enjoyed last year's playoff run and actually following and forking over the dough for an exciting, winning product. After 12 years of ineptitude the Warriors finally did something magical. The last thing I want to hear is that they're in any sort of rebuilding mode or planning for the future. Warrior fans deserve a team that is fully committed to winning now.

  • High ticket prices + higher concessions at the arena + the league's highest attendance + hungry, diehard fans regarded as the best in the league = a lower team payroll, no outright commitment to winning now (from the top, not the players and coaches who are giving their all night in and night out), and flexibility for a non-guaranteed bright future?

    I'm not a Mathematics PhD, but that just doesn't add up.

  • I find it interesting that we all know within a few web searches the exact dollar amount NBA players are making, but NONE of us can even give a estimate of how much owners like Chris Cohan are bring in annually (unless his accountant or the IRS are reading this). I think Chad Ford of ESPN had a great take on this in his recent chat where he was talking about the Anderson Varejao and Cleveland Cavaliers contract negotiations:
    The story is interesting to me because it highlights the current tension between players and management in respect to the collective bargaining agreement. The cap is quickly becoming a hard cap. That means players are going to be earning less and GMs will have more power negotiating. You, as a fan, may think that's awesome. But players and agents don't. This contract dispute is a microcosm of a much bigger issue going on in the league. And as much as fans like to side with management on this issues (who's going to lose sleep over the difference between $32 million and $45 million it's more than any of us will ever make) ... remember owners are usually billionaires complaining about losing money owning teams. It is in the fans interest for there to be free agency and the ability for teams to make trades. I think better management of the cap, not a hard cap, is a better answer for anyone involved.
    Quick someone tell me how much Baron Davis made last season. Quick someone tell me how much money Cohan made season. What does it tell you when many Warrior fans can answer the former, but not the latter? By design the NBA breeds fan jealousy and lack of sympathy for millionaire athletes who want to get paid, but never any resentment towards billionaire owners who at the end of the day are always the winners as long as they have some clue about management. (Somewhat related, but a great read: Time for the Take: Why Seattle Should Seize the Sonics by GSoM friend Dave Zirin)

    Look the NBA, NFL, and MLB are multi-billion dollar businesses. Whether it's the owners and management or players, someone's going to get paid and it sure as hell ain't you (the fans and the media). Does it really make you happy to see owners "saving money" with lower payrolls?


Future Topics
(Please feel free to research and answer these questions in the comments as well. Much appreciated.)

  • Next year's team payrolls and cap room projections (although it's probably way too early to make those calculations right now)- people talk about keeping your salary cap flexible, but does that really guarantee a better basketball team? What are the historical precedents in this era of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement?
  • Dead contracts (e.g. Allan Houston, Chris Webber, Adonal Foyle)- every team seems to have them, but should fans really care? What is their impact on a team's salary cap structure?
  • The NBA's luxury tax- how much in dollars does that actually boil down to? Does avoiding the tax as opposed to adding players to your payroll that will make your team win more games and go deeper into the playoffs really make cents?
  • Can Hash please get a frosty, foamy beverage at the Arena for a decent price? Can I get a sweet lemonade at Warriors games for less than the price of 3 gallons of gas?


Let's get this discussion jumping in the comments!

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