Zgoda's NBA Insider: Are teams on equal terms?

  • Updated: February 9, 2013 - 5:37 PM

David Stern believes so, with the luxury tax a stiff impediment for teams looking to hoard high-priced stars.

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NBA commissioner David Stern.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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A year ago, the NBA wiped away its opening two months in the name of fixing a broken system, then saved a shortened season by compromising on owners' demands for a hard salary cap and franchise-player tag.

Team owners in cities beyond New York, Chicago and Los Angeles had sought both in an attempt to level the field in a league where superstars flock to its biggest -- or at least warmer -- markets.

Instead, they took the money -- a 50-50 split of the pie with the players and significantly increased revenue-sharing among teams -- over a better chance at parity.

So far this season, Oklahoma City traded away James Harden and Memphis dealt away Rudy Gay in moves made mostly, if not entirely, because of money.

Each trade arrived before an increasingly punitive luxury tax kicks in next season, Year 3 of the new labor deal.

Both trades are pertinent for a Timberwolves team that has signed Kevin Love to a maximum-sized salary and still must find room to re-sign Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio when their original rookie contracts expire.

The Thunder made room for big stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook but elected not to keep Harden. The Grizzlies signed Gay to a max deal in 2011 but traded him for three players so they could keep well-paid Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley rather than pay a stiff luxury tax.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, in town last week, promises the new, improved revenue sharing and tough tax will allow small-market teams to compete equally.

"It's not about size, it's about revenue," he said. "San Antonio is a small market ... four championships, pretty good. Oklahoma City? Pretty good."

But Stern does so with a big if that could strike dread into Wolves fans' hearts.

"Teams are going to have to manage well to get the best players they can," he said. "They'll have to manage well to hire the best coach, manage well their roster under the cap, manage well with tickets and sponsorships to do the best business they can. Every team has the ability to be competitive and profitable under our current system.

"It's not about market size. It's about management."

Stern noted that big-market teams already have made decisions with the stiffening luxury tax in mind. He mentioned Chicago's decision to not re-sign Omer Asik, Dallas' decision to let Tyson Chandler go to New York and the Knicks' decision not to re-sign Jeremy Lin.

Still, the Lakers -- with a local television contract that pays them an average of $200 million a year for 15 years -- have a $100 million payroll this season while Brooklyn is at $87 million. Oklahoma City is just under the $70 million tax threshold while Memphis has moved well under it by trading away Gay and his $16 million-plus salary.

The Grizzlies lost three of four after they traded away Gay in a three-way deal that brought back Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye and followed another trade made with tax purposes in mind.

"I can't quite figure out the Memphis deal yet because I'm listening to some of the basketball guys down there for whom I have respect and they say it's not just about money, you'll see," Stern said. "I tend to stand back and respect the request for time with Memphis because I sat on the sidelines when everyone denounced them for trading a guy named Pau for a guy named Marc Gasol. So we'll see."

ZGODA'S NBA SHORT TAKES

To play or not to play

Lakers star Pau Gasol is out for six weeks or more because of a torn foot muscle, so Kobe Bryant is urging Dwight Howard to play through the pain of his injured shoulder before their playoff hopes all but disappear.

So Howard did play in Thursday's lopsided loss at Boston, which led to a difference of opinion among TNT analysts Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley.

Barkley called out Bryant, terming his challenge "a technical foul" that's "not cool at all" while O'Neal said all great players play through pain. "If you're so hurt all the time, stop smiling on the court all the time," O'Neal said.

Don't forget to send a card

It was a year ago this weekend that the circus -- and then some -- came to Target Center in the form of a carnival named Linsanity.

Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere to lead the Knicks to seven consecutive victories, including one at Target Center, and became an international sensation in the process.

Lin now is in Houston after New York didn't match the Rockets' rich free-agent offer, and the Knicks are chasing Miami for the East lead with a remade team loaded with veterans.

Knicks center Tyson Chandler called it "like a period in time" and told reporters: "We didn't have the type of cast we have now. This team has the chance to do something special."

One that got away?

San Antonio long has led the NBA's international movement, so you can bet the Spurs tracked Frenchman Mickael Gelabale's career long before the Timberwolves signed him to two 10-day contracts and now for the rest of the season.

"We looked at him but never really had a position [with San Antonio]," coach Gregg Popovich said. "He's somebody we thought about a lot the last couple years."

 

 

WOLVES WEEK AHEAD

Sunday: 5 p.m. at Memphis (Ch. 29)

Monday: 6 p.m. at Cleveland (FSN)

Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. Utah (FSN)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland

Neither Irving nor Ricky Rubio was healthy when these teams played in December, so Wolves fans didn't get a chance to see the Cavaliers with, at least as long as Chicago's Derrick Rose is out, the most exciting young point guard in the game.

VOICES

« Sometimes I think he may have seller's remorse even though he hasn't sold it. »

NBA Commissioner David Stern on Glen Taylor's open-ended plans to sell the Wolves.

 

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    Lakers star Pau Gasol is out for six weeks or more because of a torn foot muscle, so Kobe Bryant is urging Dwight Howard to play through the pain of...

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