Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Taurasi to Sit Out WNBA Season; Should Force League to Action

Diana Taurasi will sit out the upcoming WNBA Season.

  Diana Taurasi made news this week by announcing she wouldn't be suiting up for the WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury for the 2015 season.

  Instead, she is going to rest. But here's the catcher, she's still going to get paid -- by her Russian team, UMMC-Ekaterinburg

  During the WNBA's off-season (which happens to be twice as long as the four-month summer season), Taurasi, like many women's players go overseas to earn a living.

  To protect their investment (UMMC is reportedly paying Taurasi $1.5 million this season) and secure Taurasi for the following season, the Russian club offered to pay her to sit out the 2015 WNBA season.

  Get paid to rest -- not a bad gig.

Two Leagues, Year-Round Seasons
  To be honest, I'm surprised Taurasi/UMMC is the first instance of this happening. The best players in the world play year round, between the WNBA and Europe, Asia or Australia.

  One full season overseas (September-May) is hard enough on your body. Remove the summer months to rest, recover and rejuvenate? I don't know how they do it for an entire year.

  Taurasi has played 10 year-round seasons. That's a lot of wear and tear to put on an aging body, in a cutthroat, short-lived profession.

  I look at what Taurasi has done for 10 consecutive years and say she's made a sacrifice. To play year-round, at the highest level, puts an amazing toll on your body. My body wouldn't have held up for one year-round season, let alone 10.

  This is where I get to why.

Why Play?
Taurasi was the league's MVP in 2009, & two-time Finals MVP.
  Why has she sacrificed? Why do players like Diana Tauarsi, Tamika Catchings, Maya Moore, et al play in the WNBA, when financially it might not make sense? It's not for the money or the glamour of the WNBA. They sacrifice to help the league maintain and (hopefully) grow.

  First, to have the opportunity to play professionally at 'home' has to be an incredible feeling. It's something I was never able to do.

  Secondly, and what I think is most-important, is that they don't want the WNBA to fail.

  Players feel an obligation to the opportunity. The WNBA hasn't always been around, and players want it to succeed. In order for it to succeed, the best players need to be on the court.

  We are just now at the tail end of players' careers who remember a time when there was no WNBA. When there was no viable opportunity to play professionally in the US.

  The the Tamika Catchings, Sue Birds, Diana Taurasis, the Deanna Nolans.

  As we get further away from that generation, there might become a time when the league is taken for granted. When players assume the league has always been here, and will always be here.

  It wouldn't shock me to see more players sit out WNBA seasons to allow their bodies and minds recover from the longer, more financially rewarding overseas seasons. Especially as the younger generation asserts itself.

Moore is one of the top young talents in the league.
  Point blank, it looks bad for the league to have one of its top five players be paid more NOT to play.

  And I don't blame Taurasi. A basketball career is finite, and she's trying to make the most of it financially.

  But it could become a turning point.

Danger Zone?
  Here's what needs to happen -- somehow, someway -- the WNBA needs to find a way for this not to become a trend. Otherwise, they'll be in danger of becoming a second-tier league, or worse, obsolete.

  The players who have sacrificed to help the league, that's still in its infancy, grow, need to see the support from the WNBA in return.

  The WNBA has league maximum and league minimum salaries -- for both veterans and rookies.

  In 2013, the minimum salary for rookies was $35,190. The league's top four drafted players earned at maximum $48,470. Every other rookie, earned between 35k and 48k.

Maya Moore plays WNBA off-seasons in China.
  The minimum salary for a player with three-plus years of experience was $55,000 while the maximum salary for a six-plus year player was $107,000.

  Based on her 10 years of experience, Taurasi is at the 107k maximum. Again, her contract with UMMC is $1.5 million. (Keep in mind, most overseas salaries reported are post-tax earnings, while WNBA are pre-tax.)

  You do the math; what would you do?

LeBron vs. Steve Blake Analogy
  While the WNBA pay scale is a nice idea, it doesn't make sense.

  A 10-year veteran role player, should not earn the same salary as Diana Taurasi --a three-time WNBA Champion, two-time WNBA Finals MVP, three-time Gold Medalist, etc). Why? Because she doesn't bring the same value to the franchise, nor to the league.

  I'll give you an NBA comparison to make it more obvious: Should LeBron James and Steve Blake earn the same salary? (I bet even Steve Blake would say 'of course not!')

  Currently, they're both in their 12th NBA season. So under the WNBA's pay scale, they would earn the same salary. Instead, this season LeBron will earn $20.6 million from the Cavs, while Blake will earn $2.1 million from the Trail Blazers. Seems comparable for what they bring to their teams and to the NBA.

  I'm not here to compare and argue NBA vs. WNBA salaries. They're different animals, and cannot be compared. But if the WNBA is to remain relevant in the women's basketball world, the powers that be must come up with a solution to compensate, and keep its best/most-visible players on their court.

The only uniform you'll see Taurasi in during 2015.
Franchise Tag Solution?
  Franchise tags are used in the NFL, but in a different manner than what I would be suggesting. In this instance, franchise tag means superstar.

  Each of the 12 WNBA teams should be allowed two (?) franchise tags. Teams can then pay those players whatever they deem fair, and either the league raises the salary cap, or franchise tags do not apply towards the salary cap. (The current salary cap for WNBA teams is $913,000.)

  The number of players who garner the Taurasi-types of salaries overseas are very few. Likewise, the number of players who the WNBA should tag as superstars should be just as few. In fact, allowing 24 franchise tags for the entire league might be too many. But that's not for me to decide.

  This is a solution I came up with in 20-minutes, give-or-take a few. There are many other options, and there are people much smarter than I who should be working to find a solution.

  Because as it stands right now, the WNBA needs its superstars exponentially more than they need the WNBA. I certainly don't want to witness the league's demise, but whatever their solution, the WNBA better be working on it ASAP.