VINCE ELLIS: Bloated NBA cap means big pay day for players

When $41 million was needed to acquire four years of power forward Jon Leuer’s services, there was a collective awe that someone so unheralded could command so much money.

Throw in point guard Ish Smith’s $18 million, and the Pistons have committed nearly $60 million for two bench pieces.

Pistons fans were welcomed to the new financial realities of the NBA.

It was readily apparent that multiple reports forecasting a free agency gold rush fell on deaf ears.

And you can say what you want, journeymen like Smith and Leuer are grateful.

“We’ve been through different roads in this league,” Leuer said. “There were times where teams weren’t calling us, and weren’t interested. I know I had the best year of my career last year and I think Ish did, too, and the salary cap’s going up.

“There’s going to be times in your career where they might not be calling and you can be outta the league quick. You just have to enjoy and appreciate every moment you get to play this game and be in this league.”

Rookie Stanley Johnson established himself as one of the top six players on the Pistons last season.

No one would be surprised if he ascends to the top three or four next season.

But he is on the books for $2.8 million next season. Johnson is definitely higher up in the pecking order than either Leuer or Smith.

But that’s the rookie wage scale. It limits what teams can pay young players for the first four seasons of careers — creating a source for cheap labor. Rookie first-rounders start at a small number with small raises after each season.

Johnson said he’s cool with the system.

“You don’t want guys coming in the league getting $100-million contracts until they show what they are going to be,” he said.

The situation creates big money for the majority of players.

It has always been this way.

But the pie is larger because sports are one of the few things not consumed via binge watching nor DVR recordings.

That leads to increased TV rights fees. The NBA went ka-ching in 2014 when they agreed to receive more than $2.6 billion per year from ABC/ESPN and TNT.

And with the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement dictating the players get half of basketball-related income and the cap jumping 34 percent from last season, it was time for owners to make it rain this off-season.

And though the NFL has a larger pie, there are more than 1,500 mouths to feed. The NBA has 450.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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