The NBA Needs An Elite Player Bonus

Karl-Anthony Towns is going to be in the same financial stratosphere as Finals MVP Kevin Durant. At first glance, Towns salary extension makes it seem as if the NBA is a socialist business model. It is not. It is capitalism all the way which means it’s not Towns fault he is getting what the system says he can negotiate. Good for him. He qualified for the NBA’s supermax contract and so he will be in the same rare air as Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But unlike Curry and Westbrook and Durant, Towns has never been to a NBA Final. He has never won a playoff series. His one playoff experience was a no-show with Towns doing his best impersonation of a ghost. Achievement in post-season play doesn’t factor into salaries and that is where the problem originates. Post-season should reflect payroll.

What separates the good from the elite in the NBA is what happens from April to June. All players are not equal, this is not a meritocracy. But contracts that are pre-negotiated based on specific markers means that Towns without a postseason resume gets paid like the superstar he is not.

Steph Curry is Karl-Anthony Towns is James Harden is Russell Westbrook is Kevin Durant. Four of the five have been league MVP’s. The other has basically run Jimmy Butler out of town.

What the union has to recognize (and has failed so far) and compensate is that the NBA is a league that is incumbent on elite players. They drive the tickets, television ratings and revenue, merchandising and talk radio blather. It is those elite players or, for lack of a better word, superstar, that should have an additional compensation.

A conference final is worth a 20% raise, a NBA final is worth a 30% raise. Only players who are an All-Star, All NBA, top 15 Real Plus-Minus in the same year are eligible and only if they appear in a conference final or NBA final.

The NBA has to reward elite players. The system as it is currently constructed is rewarding good players but not the truly great.

Karl Anthony-Towns checks all the boxes. He is a seven footer who can roll to the rim, pick and pop, and post up plus hit the three. He is a 20 and 10 player, a tough cover. He was finally an All-Star in 2018. He rebounds, scores. His defense needs a lot of work and he is not a leader by any stretch of the imagination. He is  only 22 years old and the ceiling is really, really high for Towns and what he can become. He is a modern center, not a throwback, and so Towns will set the precedent for men his size who come after him. His glaring weakness was he could not find a way to mix with Jimmy Butler, a tough competitor. Factor into the Towns discussion that in the playoffs Towns looked scared. But he is 22.

The Timberwolves have no problem paying Towns $190 million and Andrew Wiggins $148 million. Neither player are superstars who can carry a team by themselves. It was only when the Wolves added Jimmy Butler that they were able to make the playoffs, and even then it was as an 8 seed.

Towns and Wiggins lack hunger at this stage in their careers. They are young players with a young mental approach. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have gotten paid. They are worth what they can negotiate. It’s less about them and more about the truly gifted, the ones who are responsible for the NBA earth’s revolving around the sun, the people who make the league what it is, a 12 month entertainment mega show.

LeBron James and Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis and Damien Lillard and Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant are special and have shown over time how their talent changes a franchise. That is worth something when you factor in all the binary advantages of superstardom. The iconic player should benefit more than a supermax contract.

Corporate CEO’s get bonuses for performance in addition to their salary. Jeff Bewkes of Time Warner earned $49 million in stock and bonuses in 2017. Mark V. Hurd of Oracle earned $40 million in stock and options in 2017. There is no greater CEO of a NBA team than the superstar who wins games because of his talent. He too should be reaping way more than what he does.

After all, this is capitalism.