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Van Gundy Defends NBA Players, Says They Deserve The Money

By Will Burchfield  @burchie_kid

DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) - In the midst of the most free-spending free agent period in NBA history, it has been suggested, and suggested loudly, that the players are being wildly overpaid.

$152 million for Mike Conley?! 

$70 million for Kent Bazemore?!

$64 million for...Timofey Mozgov?!

Okay, that last one is a bit loony.

The bemusement (at its tamest), and the scorn (at its fiercest) has touched about every team in the league. The Pistons are no exception.

First they came under fire for giving Andre Drummond a max deal worth over $127 million. Then they were criticized for investing a combined $60 million in Jon Leuer and Ish Smith. Ish who??

But those contracts, especially Drummond's, make good sense against the backdrop of a soaring salary cap. Is the big center worth over $25 million per year under a $70-million cap? Well, no. But when that cap is hiked up to $94 million? Sure.

While it is understandable, if not totally justifiable, that teams have been ridiculed for their spendthrift ways, it is silly that the players have been scoffed at for benefiting from it. The NBA is a booming business, first and foremost, because of the players, and they're simply cashing in on their own success.

When the Pistons introduced Leuer and Smith earlier this month, the two of them were asked how they feel about NFL players taking shots at the NBA's gargantuan contracts. Some NFLers have merely commented in jest, but there does seem to be a growing level of contempt for the widening pay gap between the two leagues.

"They're playing the wrong sport," Smith cracked, before admitting he was a profiter of circumstance. With the salary cap set to rise by an unprecedented $24 million in the 2016-17 season due to the massive $24-billion TV deal the NBA signed in 2014, there was never a better time to be a free agent than this summer.

Tack on the fact that both he and Smith were coming off career seasons, Leuer explained, and the market for the two of them grew riper still.

"I know I had the best year of my career last year and I think Ish did, too, and the salary cap's going up, so like [Ish] said, timing is important for that, too," Leuer said.

It was around this time in the press conference that Stan Van Gundy, sitting to Leuer's left, interjected on the discussion. Van Gundy, who played a key role in bringing both Leuer and Smith to the Pistons, reminded everyone of each player's right to the fruits of his labor.

"You gotta understand this is all collectively bargained between the owners and players," he said. "The players have certainly benefited because the business of the NBA has been so good, but why is the business so good and why is the NBA so popular? It's because of the players. It's because when you turn on the TV, the quality of the athletes and the quality of the players you're watching is so good.

"So now the TV contracts go up and the basketball-related income goes up, and the players and owners have sat down and decided how that would be distributed. So the players are reaping the benefits of their own great play and the way that that has increased the popularity of this league, so to me they're deserving of it. I mean, the sports consumer out there has decided basically what the league is worth and the players have benefited from that."

Van Gundy is absolutely right. This extravagant NBA offseason has been the simple product of supply and demand. In short, the available supply has never been better and the demand for it has never been higher.

As for the $64 million the Lakers gave to Mozgov, we'll chalk it up as an oversight.

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