NBA commissioner David Stern is a lawyer by training, having graduated from Columbia Law School in 1966 -- the same year his long association with professional basketball began. With less than a year to go before Stern hands over his office keys to Adam Silver, it's perhaps no coincidence that in order to fully understand the league Stern has presided over for three decades, you almost need the same kind of legal training. An accounting background wouldn't hurt either.
This isn't necessarily a problem. Under the longest-tenured overseer in professional sports history, the NBA has emerged from a niche sport to an organization with a staggering amount of global reach. If you're from Chicago and go to Italy, for example, there are two names the locals are sure to know: Al Capone and Michael Jordan. That said, you have to worry whether the latest collective bargaining agreement, the end product of the 2011 lockout, has completed the league's transmogrification from an emphasis on win-counting to one on bean-counting.
The 2012-13 season marks the final one in which luxury tax-paying teams will be penalized on a dollar-for-dollar basis. After this season, it really starts to get expensive for teams built around clusters of veteran stars, such as the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, with the luxury tax dollars swelling ever larger the more you're over the tax apron. And if you achieve repeater status, which comes into play beginning in 2014-15, forget about it. You might as well start your own league.
On top of the finances, the CBA contains well-publicized player-movement restrictions for teams that hit the infamous "tax apron." Even if every team in the league was run by James Dolan, you couldn't just light money on fire in an effort to win at all costs. Doing so severely limits your ability to improve your roster in future seasons.
As a result, cap management has become as important as player evaluation in NBA front offices, and in fact, the two aspects of team administration very much go hand in hand. This has been a gradual evolution, one that began when Stern ascended to the commissionership in 1984, and one that can be awfully difficult to articulate to loyal fans who just want to root for their team to win a championship.
We're now eight days and a few hours away from the 2013 NBA trade deadline, the last best chance for teams to improve themselves on the court and on the balance sheet before the season ends. Most teams won't be able accomplish much because of CBA-related restrictions. The majority of GMs will be seeking to move money around as opposed to plugging that rebounding gap or outside shooting deficiency. For some, however, there is at least the option of doing more.
With the trade deadline looming, there are four Traded Player Exceptions on the NBA books worth $5 million or more. Perhaps none of these exceptions will be used, but they merit consideration.