IF the PBA salary cap was taken seriously, lessons should be learned from the Matthew Wright case. But a lesson learned and learning experiences (Chot Reyes’ favorite phrase) are only good if they would spur positive change.
Matthew Wright’s contract with Phoenix SuperLPG has expired and they seem helpless to lose him amid the current contract numbers being tossed around by Japan’s B.League and Korean basketball league. The P450,000 is simply outdated, at least for a marquee player like Wright, who is undoubtedly the best player on his team.
Waving the white flag?
These are tough times for the league and Phoenix cannot be blamed for almost waving the white flag. Finally, NLEX recently accepted that their franchise point guard, Kiefer Ravena, all but abandoned them when he rebounded with his B.League team, Shiga Lakestars. NLEX is part of the MVP empire and is coached by the outspoken Yeng Guiao. If they can’t keep their franchise player, how would Phoenix convince Wright when the franchise itself is reportedly struggling financially?
Apparently, Phoenix is making a last-ditch effort to keep Wright. According to Homer Sayson, there was a meeting between Wright and Phoenix management with a contract offer that will pay him 800,000 pesos. PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial also attended the meeting.
The ball is in Wright’s hands now, and when you factor in the reported salaries of younger college players like Thirdy Ravena and Dwight Ramos, they may still be lower than Wright’s offers. Nonetheless, Phoenix made an effort and the ball is now in the hands of Matthew Wright, as is the case with Phoenix.
Here’s a reality check for the PBA: The maximum monthly salary of 450,000 pesos is a joke. That’s even less than what the Pepsi Hotshots offered Alvin Patrimonio (500,000 pesos) in 1991. Babies born this year are now 30 years old, and commodity prices have more than doubled. When you’re the top player on a professional basketball team, that salary is peanuts and you can’t blame any player of any age or level who decides they want more.
We must reiterate that unlike corporate jobs, professional basketball has a very limited earning window and can end in injury at any time. There are even professional sports such as golf, bowling or billiards that can be practiced professionally for decades. Basketball, especially in the Philippines, doesn’t offer that.
However, the reality in the PBA is that P450,000 is not really respected or even honored. With lots of arrangements “under the table,” most PBA Superstars clearly deserve more than that. A simple lifestyle check will confirm this. Another thing to consider is that teams pay this cap to multiple players. If you look at the teams in the Empire, it’s easy to see that at least three players on those teams get that rate – and that’s even a modest estimate.
The solution for the PBA, assuming a salary cap is enforced, is an exemption for franchise players. That means they can nominate a player on the team as their franchise player and officially pay him an unlimited salary. For example, if Wright were the assigned franchise player, Phoenix could offer him a salary that would be competitive with foreign leagues.
It can even be a way to create more parity in the league. Imagine if another team offered CJ Perez a franchise player pack while San Miguel Beer already assigned June Mar Fajardo as their “Unli player”.
Again, all this assuming that a salary cap actually exists and is implemented. The fact that SMB have Fajardo, Perez and even Terrence Romeo and still signed Jericho Cruz – who was previously his team’s top scorer – shows that I’m probably assuming too much.
Nonetheless, PBA teams should have this exception to compete with foreign leagues and it should allow it to be offered even to newcomers. That is, if they really want to compete with the best leagues in Asia.