Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Marcus Camby just got traded for what?

Like most sports, the NBA is always under scrutiny from the government in order to keep safe their antitrust protection. But honestly, the flavor of socialism that permeates many professional sports these days is a bit nauseating.

The idea, of course, is parity, which is just a pretty word for "fairness." Everyone wants every team to have an equal chance to be successful, so you put a salary cap in place, since salaries are the best (and only) indicator of a particular player's value. Kirk Hinrich is "worth" $10 million. Paul Pierce is worth $18 million. But of course, it's a flawed system. Steve Francis isn't more valuable than Amare Stoudemire, or Ray Allen, or LeBron James, but he's paid more than any of them. And Andre Iguodala is playing at a level far above his $3.8 million price tag. So you get cap specialists and contract negotiators, everyone trying to squeeze as much as possible out of the cap.

But the NBA adds a twist, because they have what's called a "soft cap." That means, essentially, that you don't really have to stay under the cap; you'll just be limited in what you can do in the offseason if you're over it. So we've got a wide spread of teams, some that are over $10 million under the cap, and some that are $30+ million over. And when those teams get together to try to improve their situations, you get a trade like we've got right here: Marcus Camby goes to the Clippers, and the Nuggets get the right to swap 2nd round picks, not even in 2009, but in 2010.

"There must be more to it than that," you say suspiciously. Yes, of course there is more than that. By trading Camby, the Nuggets acquire a $10 million "trade exception," which means that the Clippers basically used their cap space as an item of value. Hence, Camby was traded in order to try to find a brighter future for the Nuggets, 2-3 years down the line.

Some people dislike the system that baseball uses, where there is no salary cap, just a luxury tax that gets redistributed to the rest of the league. Many of the same teams are competitive every year; likewise, many of the same teams are not competitive every year. And there are situations where one team will dump salary to another, sometimes even offering to pay a portion of it. But at least you can generally understand every move. Camby is a damn fine player, one of the strongest defensive players in the game. He shouldn't get traded for a Twix bar. Something's got to be wrong when that happens.

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