We learnt a lot of things from the free agency period of 2010.

Firstly, we learnt that the modern NBA superstar would rather team up with his rivals than crush them.

We also learnt that one poor “Decision” from your handlers can turn you from a goofy hero to the basketball world’s favourite villain in the amount of time it takes to burn your jersey.

And thirdly, we learnt that speculating about where our superstars could go play next is almost more fun than watching the game itself.

We’ve seen this happening in the media ever since. After the formation of the South Beach Crew (my new name for them – simple, but it refers to Jersey Shore and I like jersey Shore), media attention immediately sprung to Chris Paul. With the Hornets a team in flux and playing in the smallest market in the NBA, it seemed a certainty that they would trade him – but then Dell Demps moved potential successor Darren Collison to Indiana, brought in Trevor Ariza and Paul’s good mate Jarrett Jack – in effect, making moves and taking on more payroll in an attempt to please CP3, who then came out and claimed that he never asked for a trade (possible), that he “loves the city of New Orleans (can totally believe this one – it’s a hard city not to love) and that he’ll stay “as long as the franchise is committed to winning” (Translation – I’m out of here as soon as my contracts up, so enjoy the ride while it lasts).

After Chris Paul, of course, we had the Melo-Drama. Right now that seems to have gone on hold with New Jersey withdrawing from the chase…just in time for a new wave of rumours that Dwight Howard will be hightailing it to the Lakers as soon as his contract is up. Once he’s done I imagine we’ll be hearing about Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin ad nauseum.

Obviously, the main culprits for this were LeBron and Wade, who played the media like Jimi Hendrix played a Stratocaster. They both knew they and Bosh were gonna team up since 2008 – yet by milking the attention they got for all it was worth they created an entity really unlike anything the NBA has ever seen before in terms of media attention and presence. The “Heatles” tag is almost appropriate. Surely Jimmy Dolan, Jerry Reisndorf, Mikhail Prokhorov…hell, even jerry Buss wouldn’t mind having that kind of sheer presence around their team and all the extra revenue it would bring.

But while all this trade talk is amusing and all, something’s gotta give. Where do we stop? Once Chris Paul and Melo join Amare in New York, then who and where will the next unholy union be concocted from? (My personal dream is of a 2009 draft class reunion between Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin and Tyreke Evans. In Golden State, of course.) Is it right or healthy that we in the media (both producers and consumers) are becoming more concerned with the off-court wheeling and dealing than the on-court action?

Such Socratic questioning is useful, but it also doesn’t change the fact that the “Super Friends” era could be over before it even really started. With the upcoming CBA negotiations and the potential of a lockout looming over everyone’s heads, both sides are gonna have to compromise.

Two things I can definitely see changing with the upcoming CBA that would be in the owners’ favour would be a lower salary cap/luxury tax limit (assuming that a hard cap isn’t implemented – I’m still 50/50 on that one) and, possibly more significantly, the introduction of a “franchise tag” system similar to what they have in the NFL.

To those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a franchise tag, I’ll explain it simply. In the NFL, if a team can’t come to an agreement with a player on a new contract during free agency, they have the right to place the franchise tag on him. The franchise tag itself is a one year contract that pays the player the equivalent of a maximum contract for his position and effectively binds the player to his team for another year while giving management more time to work on a new deal. If another team wants to sign him, it automatically costs them two future first round picks, or a trade can be worked out. Players can be franchised for two years, after that they become unrestricted free agents.

Of course you can see what this could mean – for example, the Cavs could have simply franchised LeBron last July and he’d still be playing for them. Or the Nuggets would be able to franchise Melo for a year.

Obviously, there are a few kinks you’d have to work out in adapting it to the NBA – you’d probably have to set a tag limit for all positions (let’s say $10 million) due to the fact that there isn’t the same inherent positional value in basketball that there is in the NFL (naturally a franchised quarterback should make more than a franchised safety – but shouldn’t a franchised point guard and a franchised small forward earn the same if they contribute similar value to their teams?).

Naturally, I can imagine that the Players’ Association will fight tooth and nail against all the owner’s proposals – but given some of the demands the owners might be making, this one may be more palatable than others.

How would you guys feel about such a system in the NBA?


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