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NBA’s new CBA starting to work in Charlotte Bobcats’ favor

New luxury tax rules are helping to level the playing field for small-market teams like the Charlotte Bobcats

LAS VEGAS Raising the luxury tax on the NBA’s big spenders only counts for something if the new rates are punitive enough to change teams’ behavior.

It’s starting to change behavior.

Two separate-but-parallel events around the league last week: The Los Angeles Lakers amnestied Metta World Peace, causing an immediate stir on who would sign him; The New York Knicks quickly scooped him up. Then the Miami Heat amnestied Mike Miller, causing just as much of a stir among potential suitors.

When the Lakers and Heat – definitive big-market teams ready to outgun anyone financially – are cutting rotation players to trim their tax bills, the new collective bargaining agreement is starting to work.

Commissioner David Stern said as much following Thursday’s owners meeting at the Wynn resort.

“As teams who are up against the tax level, or even above it, find themselves making hard decisions about what players are necessary to retain or not, (it) strikes us as being pro-competition.’’

I know, Stern sounds like a lawyer. That’s because he’s a lawyer. Translation: The new tax rules, which can charge a team multiple times their spending above the tax threshold, have finally made the big spenders blink.

That can only be good news for the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Bobcats spent a lot of time and lost a lot of games the past two seasons fixing their player payroll. It took that long for Gana Diop’s monstrous non-performer contract to expire. Then the Bobcats chose at the start of the free-agency period to amnesty Tyrus Thomas.

Amnestying Thomas probably would have happened regardless, but it became imperative once center Al Jefferson, the low-post scorer the team desired, said he’d sign in Charlotte. The Bobcats are paying a huge price for Jefferson – $41 million over three seasons – but he fills a screaming need for a team that never has forced opponents to double-team the post.

I’m not saying Jefferson signing with the Bobcats is a direct result of the new collective bargaining agreement. But I certainly see the climate for small-market teams recruiting free agents as improved.

Under the new rules, where a mega-spender might be charged 2 1/2 times its overage against the tax number, there just aren’t that many teams in position to offer a Jefferson $13 million-plus a season.

While we don’t know whether Jefferson’s salary will end up money well-spent, it’s undeniable teams like the Bobcats and the Sacramento Kings – small-market franchises losing a ton of games of late – have a better chance. It’s a more-level competition, even if it will never reach level.

That was precisely Stern’s objective when he risked losing the 2011-12 season to a lockout. The new tax rules, combined with more generous revenue-sharing, “gives us a chance to be closer yet to the day where teams can both compete on the court and have the opportunity to be profitable.’’

That’s why Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was such a hawk in the labor negotiations. He knows an NBA team based in Charlotte will never have the resources of the Lakers, the Heat or the Knicks. But Jordan’s willingness to write off $18 million the next two seasons to amnesty Thomas had to count for something.

It has.

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