Signs of change in the NBA

If the David Stern era was defined by the transformation of an afterthought league into a powerful global brand, the Silver years could very well be about finding more ways to cash in on it. What's amazing is how quickly the league seems to have moved on from Stern. I thought the shadow cast by Stern's 30-year reign would loom over the event. But with Stern not around (a calculated move to avoid turning everything into a retrospective), the NBA amazingly fast-forwarded to Silver's league. His introductory news conference ditched the table-and-vinyl-backdrop to have Silver stand at a podium in front of a giant electronic screen filled with the NBA logo. Stern made it impossible to separate the NBA from his personality. Silver injected his personal story into the narrative. He's the youngest of four children from divorced parents, a reformed Knicks fan, a Duke graduate who went there when the ACC was loaded with future Hall of Famers such as Michael Jordan and Ralph Sampson. I learned more about Silver's life in three minutes than I did about Stern in 30 years.

It's part of Silver's effort to make the NBA more transparent, from the officiating to the statistical analysis. He also said he wants to grow the game in conjunction with the players, but that overlooks one cold truth: the only way for players to maintain maximum control of their careers is to play for less than the maximum amount of money.

That's what it took for the Miami Heat's Big Three to assemble. It's what Dwight Howard did to leave Los Angeles for Houston. It's the way players can circumvent a collective bargaining agreement designed to contain costs and achieve parity.

It will be the true test of Carmelo Anthony's stated desire to do whatever it takes to win a championship. He could play for less than the hometown max and join the Chicago Bulls. He could stay with the Knicks at a discounted rate and hope they'll use the extra money to bring in better players down the road.

It's a weird setup that punishes teams for rewarding their players. Two months after the Lakers signed Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension, the move is still drawing criticism. In the span of 20 minutes I heard a management type deride the Lakers for offering it, and heard an agent scoff at Bryant for signing it. Think about that: an agent opposed to a player getting the most money possible. (The rationale was that the cap-clogging contract would prevent the Lakers from building a championship-caliber roster around Bryant.) A team offered to share the riches with the player who helped make the franchise worth $1 billion, and both sides were mocked.

That's the dichotomy of the NBA right now. The league is poised for unprecedented prosperity ahead in the Silver era; the players' biggest paydays are locked away back in the Jordan era.

Another set of conflicting ideas: news and even rumors of transactions spike Web traffic, and super teams like the Heat are great for TV ratings ... yet fans say they hate the player movement and lack of loyalty.

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