Will an Amnesty Clause Help Competitive Balance?

Dre Alvarez (@nerdnumbers) is a Co-Editor for the Wages of Wins Network and is also in charge of handling the stats data. He’s a long time fan of Colorado Sports, depending on the weather. He’s an even bigger fan of the stats, data and all things nerdy.

The Cap Guru’s Take

Here is a Tweet from NBA-CBA guru Larry Coon (@LarryCoon)

[Amnesty] helps from a competitive balance standpoint, but not from an overall revenue standpoint.

Larry is pretty much the only person in the world who understands all of the NBA CBA. When the new CBA is signed I am sure that fact will remain true. When it comes to competitive balance, though, I think he is wrong. Here’s how amnesty would work:

  • You’ve signed a bad player to a bad contract, and this contract is tying up your cap.
  • You get an option to pay the player some amount of money to go away.
  • You now have cap space to sign better players and compete.

Let’s take a quick look into the idea of getting a better player.

NBA Great and Terrible Players

Great and Terrible.

I looked over each NBA position for players that fit the two following requirements:

  • Played at least 1500 minutes in the 2010-2011 season
  • Played at least 1000 minutes at the required position (PG,SG,SF,PF and C)
This limited me to 181 players. I found out what an average player was in each position. I then looked for players above average and below average. In this case I used a threshold of 5.0 wins. Here’s what I came up with.

Table 1: Players who were more than 5.0 Wins Better than Average at Position

Name Team Pos G MP WP48 WP
Kevin Love* Minnesota 4.5 73 2611 0.458 24.9
Dwight Howard Orlando 5.0 78 2935 0.397 24.3
LeBron James Miami 3.2 79 3063 0.356 22.7
Chris Paul New Orleans 1.0 80 2880 0.348 20.9
Dwyane Wade Miami 1.9 76 2824 0.309 18.2
Pau Gasol L.A. Lakers 4.8 82 3037 0.268 16.9
Zach Randolph Memphs 4.3 75 2724 0.288 16.3
Blake Griffin* L.A. Clippers 4.5 82 3112 0.237 15.3
Kevin Garnett Boston 4.0 71 2220 0.312 14.4
Kevin Durant Oklahoma City 3.0 78 3038 0.227 14.4
Al Horford Atlanta 4.6 77 2704 0.255 14.3
Steve Nash Phoenix 1.0 75 2497 0.275 14.3
Kris Humphries New Jersey 4.0 74 2061 0.332 14.3
Paul Pierce Boston 3.0 80 2774 0.240 13.9
Lamar Odom L.A. Lakers 4.0 82 2639 0.249 13.7
Rajon Rondo Boston 1.0 68 2527 0.258 13.6
Landry Fields* New York 2.5 82 2541 0.249 13.2
Tim Duncan* San Antonio 4.5 76 2156 0.293 13.2
Jason Kidd Dallas 1.0 80 2653 0.234 12.9
Andre Iguodala Philadelphia 2.9 67 2469 0.240 12.3
Tyson Chandler Dallas 5.0 74 2059 0.284 12.2
Derrick Rose Chicago 1.0 81 3026 0.190 12.0
Manu Ginobili* San Antonio 2.5 80 2426 0.234 11.8
Kobe Bryant L.A. Lakers 2.0 82 2779 0.203 11.7
Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City 1.0 82 2847 0.195 11.5
Ray Allen Boston 2.0 80 2890 0.181 10.9

*Players that qualified in multiple positions

Table 2: Players who were more than 5.0 Wins Worse than Average at Position

Name Team Pos G MP WP48 WP
Andrea Bargnani Toronto 4.6 66 2353 -0.115 -5.7
Darko Milicic Minnesota 5.0 69 1686 -0.082 -2.9
Jeff Green Oklahoma City 3.9 75 2427 -0.038 -1.9
Brook Lopez New Jersey 5.0 82 2889 -0.031 -1.9
Dante Cunningham Charlotte 4.0 78 1637 -0.052 -1.8
Glen Davis* Boston 4.5 78 2298 -0.033 -1.6
Travis Outlaw New Jersey 3.2 82 2358 -0.030 -1.5
Carl Landry New Orleans 4.0 76 2008 -0.031 -1.3
Michael Beasley Minnesota 3.2 73 2361 -0.021 -1.1
Derek Fisher L.A. Lakers 1.0 82 2297 -0.018 -0.9
Nick Young* Washington 2.5 64 2034 -0.019 -0.8
Gilbert Arenas Orlando 1.6 70 1796 -0.021 -0.8
Wesley Johnson Minnesota 3.0 79 2069 -0.014 -0.6
Nenad Krstic Boston 5.0 71 1571 -0.013 -0.4
Willie Green New Orleans 2.1 77 1674 -0.003 -0.1
Mo Williams L.A. Clippers 1.0 58 1788 0.002 0.1
Jamal Crawford* Atlanta 1.4 76 2297 0.006 0.3
Charlie Villanueva Detroit 4.0 76 1666 0.008 0.3
DeMar DeRozan* Toronto 2.5 82 2851 0.006 0.4
Ryan Gomes L.A. Clippers 3.1 76 2095 0.010 0.4
C.J. Miles Utah 2.8 78 1969 0.013 0.5
Steve Blake L.A. Lakers 1.0 79 1581 0.017 0.6
Antawn Jamison Cleveland 4.0 56 1842 0.020 0.8
DeMarcus Cousin* Sacramento 4.5 81 2309 0.019 0.9
Darrell Arthur Memphis 4.0 80 1609 0.029 1.0
Andray Blatche Washington 4.8 64 2172 0.023 1.0
Channing Frye* Phoenix 4.5 77 2541 0.020 1.1
Spencer Hawes Philadelphia 5.0 81 1718 0.038 1.3
Tyler Hansbrough Indiana 4.0 70 1535 0.045 1.4

*Players that qualified in multiple positions.

Here’s a rundown, position by position:

Point Guard

  • Total Players: 43
  • Average Performance: 2299 Minutes Played, 0.128 WP48, 6.1 Wins Produced
  • Players with Performances 5.0+ Wins Produced Better than Average: 6
  • Players with Performances 5.0- Wins Produced Worse than Average: 4

Shooting Guard

  • Total Players: 46
  • Average Performance: 2199 Minutes Played, 0.108 WP48, 5.0 Wins Produced
  • Players with Performances 5.0+ Wins Produced Better than Average: 5
  • Players with Performances 5.0- Wins Produced Worse than Average: 3

Small Forward

  • Total Players: 45
  • Average Performance: 2369 Minutes Played, 0.115 WP48, 5.7 Wins Produced
  • Players with Performances 5.0+ Wins Produced Better than Average: 6
  • Players with Performances 5.0- Wins Produced Worse than Average: 7

Power Forward

  • Total Players: 43
  • Average Performances: 2323 Minutes Played, 0.139 WP48, 6.7 Wins Produced
  • Players with Performances 5.0+ Wins Produced Better than Average: 8
  • Players with Performances 5.0- Wins Produced Worse than Average: 10
Center
  • Total Players: 41
  • Average Performances: 2885 Minutes Played, 0.150 WP48, 7.1 Wins Produced
  • Players with Performances 5.0+ Wins Produced Better than Average: 7
  • Players with Performances 5.0- Wins Produced Worse than Average: 9

Why Parity Exists in the NBA

Good Players on the same team win.

Of our 181 players, most of them fall within a range of around 10.0 wins. This means when it comes to swapping out our players it can really just be Shuffling Deck Chairs. It might matter if you swap out an average player for for a great player (e.g. Quinten Richardson for LeBron James) or a terrible player for an average player (e.g. Jeff Green/Nenad Krstic for Kendrick Perkins).

The problem with both of these scenarios is the rarity of players at either end of the distrubition. In terms of player much better than their peers, there were only 26 players this last season. That isn’t even enough for one player a team. Not only that, certain teams have hogged several of these players. It doesn’t matter if we let teams try and upgrade their mediocre talent. There simply aren’t enough good players to replace them.

The same holds true with terrible players. Only 29 are really much worse than their peers. Again, that’s not even enough for one per team. Certain teams have more than one terrible players (Minnesota and Toronto for instance). Most teams, though, just don’t have an awful enough player such that a slight upgrade will magically fix everything.

Summing Up the Pay Problem in the NBA

But. . . we're paid like stars!

In the NBA many teams are perfectly willing to pay for a star player. The problem is there just aren’t enough of them to go around. A select group of players keep the really good teams good and the really bad teams bad. Even when a team manages to get a star it comes at the cost of another team (Miami and Cleveland anyone?). No pay provisions or clauses will fix this.

The issue comes back to a short supply of tall people.  There will not be any provisions in the new CBA that are going to magically produce more elite talents.  And that means competitive imbalance is probably going to continue (as it has continued for much of NBA history).

-Dre

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