The Big Three era Miami Heat were always the ideal test case for a new collective bargaining agreement designed primarily as a cash grab for owners, but also with a secondary goal of engineering greater competitive balance around the league.
The new CBA went about achieving its secondary goal in large part by implementing a far more punitive luxury tax(1). Spend a lot on players, and you’re going to face a crippling “incremental” tax penalty that gets more severe as you add payroll. Keep spending year after year and eventually you’ll tack onto it the dreaded “repeater” tax.
It’s working. Just five NBA teams paid the tax this past year; that’s tied for the fewest ever in a tax-triggered season. Competitive balance is more prevalent today than at any point in recent history. Team salaries around the league have leveled out dramatically. The spending habits on the high end are down significantly, with particular emphasis for those in smaller markets which can’t support the weight of such enormous tax bills.
No one team has felt the burden of the new tax structure more than the Miami Heat. Some would say that was always the plan – a plan brought about by the demands of envious fellow owners in the wake of the Big Three formation. The Heat have had to make several painful and wildly unpopular cost-cutting (e.g., waiving Mike Miller via the amnesty provision) and cost-controlling (e.g., not utilizing the mid-level exception this past season) moves since the lockout, as a direct consequence to the harsh realities of the new CBA.
It wasn’t all that difficult to forecast. People have been predicting the inevitable demise of the Heat, as presently constructed, for three solid years. Whether owner Micky Arison could afford to keep his team together was never in question; he’s a six-billion-dollar man. But the limitations of his market – the Heat’s designated market area is good for just 17th overall, among the league’s 30 teams; smaller than, for example, that of the Minnesota Timberwolves – have made it virtually impossible to maintain some semblance of profitability while spending deep into the tax (at least in the near-term). Read more…