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For NBA, players cashing in could be a problem

NBA commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged the improved health of the league on Tuesday.SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

LAS VEGAS — With salaries escalating and players such as DeMarre Carroll and Reggie Jackson, with zero combined All-Star appearances, signing new deals for $15 million and $16 million per season, respectively, the NBA has a new problem on its hands approaching the end of the current collective bargaining agreement.

Players have cashed in big time, like a Las Vegas slot machine spitting out coins, during this free agency period, and commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged the improved health of the league as he spoke to reporters Tuesday following the Board of Governors meetings at the Wynn hotel.

The National Basketball Players Association has the choice of opting out of the CBA after the 2016-17 season, but it may want to think twice given the lucrative contracts signed this offseason and the expected mammoth deals next season when the infusion of new television money begins.


While the owners discussed matters such as the free agent moratorium, the ramifications of intentionally fouling poor free throw shooters, the division format, and the arena issue in Milwaukee, the commissioner spoke mostly on league financial affairs and how these stunning contracts may affect labor peace.

Next summer, LeBron James, if he opts out of his contract as expected, could sign the richest deal in NBA history. Anthony Davis of the Pelicans last week signed a five-year, $145 million extension, the largest NBA contract ever.

“I’m not sure if the players association will opt out,” Silver said. “It’s clear the goal on both sides is to avoid any sort of work stoppage whatsoever and maybe even to avoid the opt-out. In terms of LeBron’s contract or new contracts, one of the things we’re learning is that there’s so much that’s unpredictable when the [salary] cap is moving so dramatically, as it will next year and the year after. We’re continuing to study how our system is absorbing the money.”


What could affect CBA talks is the expected shortfall money the NBA will have to pay to the union if the amount of negotiated contracts does not meet the agreed-upon players’ 50 percent revenue split. Silver estimated that the NBA could pay the union $500 million because of the expected shortfall, which may spark the owners to revisit the CBA if the union opts out.

While that could emerge as the biggest long-term issue for the league, Silver also was asked to comment on the unusual and rather ugly free agent pursuit of Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. The 26-year-old verbally committed to a four-year, $80 million contract with the Mavericks July 3. Two days later, he confided to Clippers teammates he was having second thoughts, and finally a conversation with coach Doc Rivers sparked a contingent of Clippers officials going to Jordan’s home in Houston. The big man changed his mind and signed a four-year pact with Los Angeles, leaving the Mavericks in a state of flux after the organization planned on Jordan as a centerpiece.

Silver acknowledged that while the nine-day moratorium that prevents players from signing contracts until July 9 could be too long, the Board of Governors was unable to recommend anything that could improve the process.

“It’s an imperfect system,” Silver said. “From a personal standpoint, [the Jordan situation] was not a great look. It wasn’t created so players could enter into, in essence, oral agreements only to have those agreements superseded by binding agreements. Under our collective bargaining agreement, there’s no dispute that only a signed agreement is binding.”


In other words, there won’t be any changes to the moratorium. The NBA has a history of being cautious and methodical when considering major changes, and the league considered the Jordan situation an exception, not a rule.

Meanwhile, it appears the mandate that a division winner gets at least one of the top four playoffs seeds will likely be abolished by next season.

The Trail Blazers won the Northwest Division this past season and were seeded fourth despite having the sixth-best record. The Blazers lost home-court advantage but were matched up against fifth-seeded Memphis, causing some entertaining but unfortunate first-round matchups, such as the 55-win Spurs against the 56-win Clippers in the first round.

Silver said it’s unlikely divisions themselves will be abolished, but a division championship will have no impact on seedings.

While Silver lauded the health of the league, he did make sure to mention that several teams were losing money. It’s uncertain how much weight that will hold with the union, which had doubts about the owners’ supposed financial woes during the previous CBA negotiations.

But it was apparent from Silver’s attitude that the NBA is thriving, with some minor matters to address as the league approaches an unprecedented financial boon. The question is whether the league and union can determine how to split revenue without a work stoppage.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.