The NBA’s ‘second apron’ seems bad, to me

A new threshold of punishment for spending has arrived in the NBA, and it’s not great.

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It’s not that Major League Baseball’s rules regarding the luxury tax and penalties are great. Let’s just get that out of the way now. The luxury tax has effectively been a salary cap for the league, albeit a soft and unofficial one, and new restrictions like the “Cohen tax” meant to discourage the wealthiest teams from truly and continuously flexing their financial muscle already makes that much more apparent. When teams like the Yankees can lie about their available resources and you can also kind of squint and get why they’d want to lie, that’s a problem.

All of that sounds pretty good in comparison to what the NBA has going for it starting with this upcoming season, however. A “second apron” has been introduced that makes the NBA’s actual soft salary cap more like a hard one. In short, you can basically spend and spend to retain players already on your roster, within the existing rules of what max contracts look like in that capped system, but if you’re over this second apron — it’s a threshold, just like with MLB’s system — and need to acquire more players. Well. You basically can’t. Per The Ringer’s explanation:

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On MLB’s rejection of the Amazon/Diamond streaming proposal

MLB’s rejection is also them showing their hand on their preference for the future of broadcasting.

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You saw the headline, now let’s get to some background. From me on December 22, at Baseball Prospectus:

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Notes: Kim Ng leaves, Alyssa Nakken interviews, NBA scoopsters

The first woman to be an MLB GM leaves her position, the first potential woman manager in MLB gets an interview, and why can Shams and Woj act the way they do without being punished for it?

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Sure, the Marlins made it back to the postseason in no small part because the barrier for entry is so low these days. And yes, they made it with a negative run differential while sporting a 38-50 record against teams with records better than .500. Consider the restrictions placed on general manager Kim Ng, though, in terms of spending and actually being able to improve the team with ease, and the job she did in Miami is probably a whole lot better than what those figures alone suggest.

Which is why Ng declining her side of a mutual option with the Marlins is an intriguing bit of Monday morning news, since it opens up quite a few possibilities. Does she not want to work with the Marlins at all, when jobs in locations such as with the Boston Red Sox are now open, and rumors of their interest in her have already been swirling? (The Red Sox don’t spend like they could, no, but after running a team with “stadium debt service” holding everything back, their brand of penny-pinching is going to feel a lot different.) Is this simply a standard option decline in order to negotiate a better deal with the Marlins, now that she has more leverage than she did back when she first became the club’s general manager — the first woman to be an MLB GM at all, and the first woman GM in any of the four major sports leagues in North America?

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NBA, NBPA agree to pension substitute for aging pension-less ABA players

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​There is good news for former American Basketball Association players who didn’t play long enough to qualify for an NBA pension. Thanks to the work of the Dropping Dimes Foundation, 115 former players will receive a portion of $24.5 million, as agreed to by the NBA’s board of governors. The payments will come from both the NBA and from the National Basketball Players Association, and while it isn’t a pension, it still will serve somewhat like one.

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Round-up: Athletes as workers, rediscovering America’s pastime, and the NWSL

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I’ve been pretty lax of late pointing y’all toward things I’ve been reading that I also think you should read, which was kind of the fault of a whole bunch of factors, but hey. Let’s change that up, and dedicate this whole newsletter entry to stuff I’ve been reading that I think you should read.

First up is Britni de la Cretaz and the return of Mic. Their first feature for the relaunched publication is on the fact we’re not used to seeing athletes as workers, even though they have to deal with management, even though they are not in control of capital within their own leagues, even though there are plenty of professional athletes out there who are making less money each year than some of the folks reading this right now. The topic is not only one that is close to me, but de la Cretaz spoke to me a bit about the subject, and I’m quoted in there a few times.

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Rob Manfred is letting gambling decide MLB’s direction

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There is some concern out there that, because Rob Manfred seems intent on ruining the game of baseball as you know it, seven-inning games are going to eventually be the norm instead of what allows for regularly scheduled doubleheaders while MLB navigates a pandemic. With the modified extra innings rules, the minor leagues being used as a laboratory for pace of play and even more extra innings quirks and so on, it’s no wonder people feel like this about Manfred and his plans. Worry not, though: we probably won’t lose nine-inning games, because it would make the gamblers unhappy.

That’s right! The gamblers. Calling the intrusion of gambling on Major League Baseball “creeping” does not do what’s happening enough hasty justice—it’s been less subtle than that— but it’s still fitting since gambling’s influence is not becoming all-encompassing all at once. It is there, obvious to anyone who has seen the ways in which it has been introduced into even league broadcasts, but now we also have Manfred bringing it up in an interview with Sportico.

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More athletes being proactive about politics, please

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​It’s been just about a year — 11 months — since Howard Bryant wrote a column for ESPN that I haven’t really stopped thinking about since. Bryant discussed the problems with athletes and politics, and how they’re expected to give us strength by showing up on the field, but not by actually doing or saying anything political. And how far too many athletes are happy to oblige this expectation that they stick to sports, how they tend to be reactive instead of proactive about politics, if they do anything at all. You should read the whole thing if you never have, but for our purposes, here’s some of my analysis of a key section I’d like to revisit today:

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Pro sports cut the line for COVID testing. The vaccine is next

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The National Hockey League, like the rest of the major sports leagues in America, played their past season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. They will, like all those same leagues, play their next season during the pandemic, too, because, at least in America, it continues to rage on.

In order to put on the end of the 2020 campaign and their playoffs, the NHL — again, like the rest of the leagues — consumed an enormous amount of test kits and lab time in order to ensure their players and staff were coronavirus-free. You might remember from just last month, the discussion of the “success” of sports during a pandemic, and what the cost of that was, part of which was that two-thirds of the nurses from the largest nurses union in America haven’t been tested for coronavirus a single time, while the NFL alone consumed well over half-a-million tests to that point in their season:

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Tommy Heinsohn, union man and labor agitator

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On Tuesday, former Boston Celtics’ player, coach, and longtime announcer Tommy Heinsohn passed away. He was 86, and while best-known at this point in his life for the extremely, let’s say, Celtics-friendly announcing style he employed, he was a legit basketball legend in Boston thanks to his three careers in the sport: Heinsohn is in the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, one of just four individuals to accomplish that feat, and had a championship ring for all 10 fingers.

Heinsohn was also a labor agitator as a player, if you’re wondering why you’re reading about him in this particular newsletter. He was the president of the players union back in 1964, which ended up being a monumental year for the players. You see, like with the Major League Baseball Players Association, the National Basketball Players Association was a union without league recognition in its early years. They had actually formed back in 1954, but it took 10 years for the NBA to actually meet with and recognize them as a union. And this eventual recognition was managed in no small part thanks to the actions of Heinsohn himself, in his role as union president.

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The NBA’s players might not want NBA approval anymore

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Earlier this month, I published a piece in this space that discussed, in part, how NBA players had missed an opportunity to wield their collective power by giving in to the league and resuming the season amid a pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. Nathaniel Friedman and Jesse Einhorn, at The New Republic, went much further and deeper on that particular angle in a feature titled, “The Dismal Politics of the Sports World’s “Wokest” League.”

Within that piece, Friedman and Einhorn explained how there were two opposing camps when it came to the return: the one led by Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley wanted to tackle this moment in time by not playing, and instead do what they could to help and bring attention to the Black Lives Matter protests. The other camp, led by LeBron James, was more in concert with the NBA, with a different vision of activism. One more corporately approved, the thinking behind which led to this graph from the New Republic pair:

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