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NBA salary cap increase tips balance of power

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver admitted owners are uncomfortable with escalating salaries in the league.EPA

LAS VEGAS — The NBA owners met collectively for the first time since some went on a spending spree in free agency, awarding players unprecedented contracts that could reverberate into potential labor strife.

Commissioner Adam Silver came out of Tuesday's NBA Board of Governors meeting at the Encore Hotel realizing there are major issues ahead for the league. He admitted the owners did not prepare for the $20 million spike in the salary cap because of a nine-year, $24 billion television deal.

Such an increase caused a series of stunning contracts for role players and some who were perceived as average players. Players such as Timofey Mozgov, Solomon Hill and Tyler Johnson cashed in on lucrative contracts because of the increase.

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And the Golden State Warriors were able to squeeze former MVP Kevin Durant onto their roster because of the extra salary cap space. With players and owners having the option of ending their 10-year contract following this season, there is going to be serious discussion about the salary cap structure and increasing salaries.

Silver wouldn't deny the owners' concern with the rising costs.

"Of course we discussed the activity from the last two weeks of free agency," he said. "I would say we had a robust discussion in the room of various views of player movement."

Although Silver continues to reiterate the healthy state of the game, the lucrative television contract and ratings, there appears to be acrimony looming.

Silver and the owners suggested to the players' association nearly two years ago that the salary cap be smoothed to provide gradual increases instead of the $20 million jump this year. That was rejected by the players' association, which said it wasn't financially profitable for the union.

Now that this spike has turned into dizzying contracts for the league's middle class, the owners are expected to try to reduce salaries or prevent such a repeated salary cap increase.

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"That was part of the discussion, how much of what happened this summer was an anomaly in terms of the system; we did not model for such a large spike," Silver said. "It enabled teams to make moves that they otherwise wouldn't have been able to make and the question [becomes] what direction should we take the system."

Before the last collective bargaining agreement was signed, the owners wanted more competitive balance, the avoidance of a super team such as the one created by the Miami Heat when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade. The owners wanted each team to have an equal chance to compete for a championship.

This salary cap increase has skewed those goals, and made it possible for Durant to join the Warriors, adding more power to a team that dominated the regular season with a record 73 wins and was a game from repeating as NBA champion. But as Silver pointed out, the Warriors were able to sign Durant because they were managed so well.

Golden State's top three players were drafted — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green — so the team was able to offer those players gradual raises as their production increased instead of a maximum contract given to a player such as James or Chris Paul.

And it also was a matter of timing. When the Memphis Grizzlies wanted to re-sign point guard Mike Conley, who has not made an All-Star team in nine seasons, they gave him a five-year, $153 million contract, making him the highest-paid player in league history because he was a free agent at the right time.

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The Warriors did not have to re-sign any of their All-Star players, so they had space to fit Durant into their salary cap. Next year Curry, a two-time MVP, will be up for a contract extension and will demand a salary in the neighborhood of Conley, which means keeping Durant becomes tricky.

"The two critical issues are economics and then the [salary cap] system," Silver said. "We all knew this money was coming into the system. Now the fact that it's in front of us and we're looking at how the money is being paid and we see a particular player moves, there is no question that those are things that will be discussed with future meetings with the players association.

"But just to be absolutely clear I do not think [Durant on the Warriors] is ideal from a league standpoint. I absolutely respect the players' choice to become a free agent and for Kevin Durant to make a decision that he feels is best for him. We'll see . . . The good news is we are in a collective bargaining cycle, so it gives everybody an opportunity to sit down and take a fresh look at the system. My belief is, we can make it better."

But the process of improving the system will be arduous and fans will have to hope it doesn't include another work stoppage.

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