When it comes to their ability to spend lavishly on players, coaches, or front office talent, I have often said that the Lakers “print money”. They are one of the most valuable franchises not only in the NBA, but in all of american professional sports. They play in a major media market, their historical greatness + brand recognition allow them to charge incredible sums of money for admission to their games, and their local television contract is worth billions (yes, with a “b”) over the life of the deal.
With that, when The Athletic’s Shams Charania reports that the organization is going to ask a small group of staff to defer some of their salary, it raises eyebrows. Here’s the full tweet for context:
Okay, let’s unpack this some. A few points and questions I have:
- When you ask someone to do something, they’re no longer “voluntarily” doing that thing. The very premise of an “ask” removes the ability to volunteer.
- What staff are being asked to do this? In the Lakers media guide they have five people listed in their “Executive” section. This includes Jeanie Buss, three others who have Vice President titles or higher, and the team’s Chief Legal Counsel. We also know that Rob Pelinka was promoted during the season to a Vice President title. Is this the group of “senior level staff”? Is it a group that might include Kurt and Linda Rambis? I’m not sure how much it matters, but I’d be interested in knowing who is being asked to do this.
- “Defer” is a key word here and I’d be very interested in knowing exactly how it’s being deployed here. Defer almost always means “you don’t get it now, but you’ll get it later”. If that’s the case, this is different than taking a “pay cut” that lasts indefinitely. That approach is what landed the 76ers in hot water, with the blow-back causing them to shift course and not enact the cuts. So, if the staff would eventually get this money back, I can understand this a bit more, but if they’re being asked to just give up money…yeah.
- What is the money going to be used for? The answer to this question could be wide ranging and, potentially, could soften the negative reactions to this. Potentially.
In the end, this isn’t a good look. No one wants to see a brand as rich and as storied as the Lakers playing as if they can’t afford a hit on their books during a pandemic. Sure, you could argue the people who are being asked to defer salary are rich and can afford it, but the same can surely be said about the Lakers as an organization.
That said, I do think there’s things at play that could make this be not as bad as it could be. If the Lakers would be guaranteeing the people who defer salary will get that money back on a clearly defined timeline, it could help perception. If that money the employees defer is going to go towards a worthy cause — like, maybe, extending the pay of the hourly and contract staff impacted by postponed and cancelled games, that could also shift the perception some.
But, if this just ends up being a similar situation to what the 76ers were going to do to their employees, the Lakers will be skewered for this. And rightfully so.
UPDATE: In a report for ESPN, Dave McMenamin is stating that the salary deferments are meant as an aid for lower salaried staffers. From his report:
In an attempt to shield lesser-income employees from being asked to take a pay cut during the uncertain economic times caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Los Angeles Lakers plan to ask the team’s top brass to make a monetary sacrifice, league sources confirmed to ESPN.
This doesn’t necessarily ease concerns that one of the most valuable franchises in sports is asking any of its staff to take a reduced salary, but it does give more context and, for the most part, is showing good faith from those in the organization who make the most money to give back some in order to ensure those who are making less can maintain their current status.
In an economic environment where layoffs and furloughs are becoming more and more common, the steps the Lakers are taking — or asking of their senior level staff — is a better solution, in my opinion.