Notebook > Sports

Summer raises

Sports | Young NBA stars strike it rich

Issue: "Katie can't bar the door," July 15, 2006

First they played, now they will get paid. For all the hullabaloo surrounding LeBron James'sascent to media stardom and Dwyane Wade's rise to the NBA championship, Denver's Carmelo Anthony will be the first to strike it rich with a fat NBA contract. Hours after the NBA's summer free agency period opened July 1, Anthony had agreed in principle to a five-year deal worth $80 million. In the world of the NBA, the Nuggets forward just got as much money as he could get: A maxed out contract that will go into effect in 2007, last until 2012 and pay him, on average, $16 million a year.

Not that Wade or James-or Toronto's Chris Bosh-are getting jealous. Both Wade and James received nearly identical offers from their teams, signaling a commitment from the Heat and the Cavaliers to build around their young stars despite pushing club salaries past the salary cap.

The NBA salary cap works differently than the NFL's cap. In professional football, teams have a fixed amount of dollars they can spend every year without exception-a true salary cap. For the upcoming 2006 season, NFL teams have $102 million to craft a Super Bowl winner. The NBA doesn't use a hard cap. Rather, owners pushed through a soft cap during the 1999 collective bargaining agreement.

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Under league rules, the NBA's salary cap of nearly $50 million for the 2006-07 season has many exceptions. First, being over the cap doesn't mean a team can't pick up more talent. Most notably, a team can raise its payroll well over the salary cap limit in order to keep a player who has at least three years with the club. Rookies from 2003 like James, Wade, and Anthony can each re-sign to contracts approaching $80 million regardless of total team spending.

That structure means the NBA Draft provides teams the best and cheapest way of improving without having to crunch salary figures to make trades work or slash payroll to sign big-name free agents. And that's why, despite the exorbitant cost, James, Wade and Anthony won't see free agency until 2012. Not because their contracts are bargains (in the long run, they may not be), but because the salary cap lets teams splurge to keep their own.

Around the Horn

BASEBALL: Despite busying himself with two more books and a possible movie, shamed former big league star Jose Canseco says he's finding time to get back onto the playing field. Canseco helped pile on to major league baseball's steroid scandal by writing a muckraking tell-all about his life in baseball and with steroids. He recently donned the uniform of the San Diego Surf Dawgs. He says he plans to play out the season, mainly as a designated hitter, but also as a knuckleball pitcher. Above all, Canseco must realize he's in the entertainment industry.

DETROIT: July 3, 2006 may be remembered as Black Monday in the Detroit sports world. On that day the Red Wings lost long-time captain and 23-year veteran Steve Yzerman to retirement and the Pistons lost franchise face and fan favorite Ben Wallace, a free agent, to Chicago. The Pistons moved quickly to replace Wallace by signing center Nazr Mohammed the next day. Mohammed might not be able to defend, rebound, or even score as much as Wallace, but he'll be cheaper.

EATING: The Michael Jordan of competitive eating, Takeru Kobayashi, notched his sixth consecutive Independence Day hot-dog-eating championship. The 160-pound Kobayashi managed to stuff down nearly 54 hot dogs in 12 minutes, breaking his own record set two years prior. American Joey Chestnut came close, downing 52 dogs in the allotted time.

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