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The NBA: You Have To Pay To Play

Are you surprised that both of the teams that look like they will be playing each other in the NBA finals are at numbers 1 and 3 on the NBA team payroll list?  The Los Angeles Lakers top the list with a payroll of $91.4 million while the Boston Celtics paid their players $86.5 million this year.  So maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that the Celtics, an “underdog” in this year’s playoffs, has knocked off the #1 seeded Cleveland Caveliers (#5 payroll at $84.5 million) and are in a nice position to upset the #2 seeded Orlando Magic (#6 payroll at $82.1 million).

According to the money, our money should be on the Celtics.  And in the Finals, our money should be on the Lakers.  But more importantly than that, it is necessary to realize that three out of the four teams left in the playoffs are in the top 6 in payroll.  The Phoenix Suns are sitting at #9 (payroll $74.9 million).  And last round, 7 of the 8 teams left in the playoffs were in the top 10 in payroll, with only the Atlanta Hawks as the major surprise with the #22 payroll of $65.9 million.

What does this tell us other than the fact that Al Horford is a miracle worker?  That if you want to win in the NBA, you better put your money where your mouth is.  This should quiet everyone who complains that the MLB isn’t fair due to the lack of a salary cap.  The NBA has a cap (albeit a soft one), yet does the playoff landscape say anything of competitive balance?  What it says is that teams that want to win better be willing to pay talented players what they are worth.

Out of the top 10 spenders in the NBA, 9 of the teams made the playoffs (the New York Knicks being the odd team out).  16 out of 30 teams make the playoffs.  Out of the bottom 10 spenders, 7 of them were left out of the playoffs (the Portland Trailblazers, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the aforementioned Hawks being the exceptions).

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.