So the owners locked the players out demanding change and after missing about a month of the regular season finally came to an agreement. We've now effectively had a full off-season under the new rules and have seen the same types of insane contracts handed about as before, the Lakers still spending without limits, and more superteams than ever before. So was it all worth it?
The short answer: Yes.
For the owners it was definitely worth it. Sure, some players were overpaid in free agency, but to point to that as a problem with the CBA would be to misunderstand the finances of the league. The individual maximum contract and the rookie scale contract forces max players and rookies to be proportionately massively underpaid.
Yet, those are the salaries we use to compare everyone to. If LeBron makes 17 million, then the guy making 13 million should be nearly as good as LeBron. It doesn't work that way in reality, because LeBron is worth 30-40 million, but can't be paid that much. Since total player salaries are fixed to BRI that extra money LeBron does not earn has to go somewhere.
The same is true of rookie salary scale players which all 1st rounders from the draft in their first four years of service and most second rounders for the first two to three years. While you may be thinking "Doug, not all rookie salary players are good, lots of these guys suck". Sure, but ask yourself how often their options are declined. Almost never, maybe one in 20 guys doesn't have his 3rd/4th year option picked up which shows that even when they aren't great players they're still cheaper than the alternatives relative to their abilities.
That leaves a pile of extra cash to spend on the free agent players, so these guys will always be overpaid. As such, pinning your hopes on free agency is typically a losers plan unless you can get max worth players in free agency whom are underpaid [such as the Head did]. If you end up with guys in the next tier then you've locked yourself into a tough corner because you'll have less salary flexibility and talent than the max player team [similar to what the Bulls did with Carlos Boozer].
That said, it's a tough scenario, because not getting the next tier guy leaves you even further away and also doesn't help any. In short, in this league, if you don't get superstars you're screwed, and the hardening of the cap made that even more true than it was before. It used to be a team like Dallas could outspend other team and add enough depth to make up for the fact that they only had one star. The new CBA actually makes that more difficult.
So with all the super-teams forming in LA, Miami, OKC, and perhaps Brooklyn [though I doubt it ends up that way], the league looks fairly bleak for everyone else. That's true, but it's not all that different than it ever was. How many teams had a realistic shot to beat the Bulls in the Jordan era, the Lakers in the Magic era, the Celtics in the Bird era? There have always been super-teams, and they form through various methods of luck and skill.
Miami isn't some hotbed basketball market that's lured the biggest and brightest stars forever, OKC will likely have similar success to the Bucks as a basketball market once Durant is gone, and who knows what the long term viability of Brooklyn will be, but their lack of flexibility will make it next to impossible to do anything for the next few years.
The Lakers have been a dominant market, but if they keep Ron Artest next season and resign Dwight Howard then they'll be set to pay around 95 million or so in luxury tax alone. The Lakers, absurdly enough, can trivially afford that with a new local TV deal that should pay them an average of 200 million a year and likely kicks off at 150 million or so. That's more money from local TV than many franchises in the league make all together.
Perhaps the league's new revenue sharing plan will help feed some of that money back into the rest of the franchises [if not the massive luxury tax penalty will], but the Lakers will certainly be able to afford to do whatever they want in a way no other franchise outside of the Knicks will. That said, are they really going to look at Ron Artest and say "this guy's worth about 35 million to us", probably not, I'd count on an amnesty there.
Also, while the Lakers added Steve Nash, they did so through a S&T which won't be available to teams over the luxury tax apron next season. Thus, the Lakers went with for it and threw all their chips on the table in the last year they could possibly do so. Will they win a title? Who knows. However, they found a way to increase their relevancy in the picture and become the favorites in many people's minds.
What do all these changes mean for the rest of the league though? My guess is as follows: The luxury tax apron is going to effectively become a hard cap for most franchises. While some will spend through the barrier the actual lack of flexibility in terms of S&Ts, fewer exceptions, and massive penalties will give most teams enough incentive to stay under it. Give things another two years, and I'd guess that on average three teams will exceed that number per year, and the days of being 20-30 million into the tax are over for everyone.
Good teams will be built in desirable locations or the draft. This really isn't any different than it's always been. If a player doesn't choose you in free agency or force a trade to your city then you'll have to draft him to get him. For small market teams, they'll need to acquire all their initial talent that way. A team like Cleveland was appealing while LeBron was there, but it's not a hot bed free agent destination right now.
The only team that has had lasting appeal in the NBA appears to be the Lakers. We've seen a few people act like New York is desirable, but really, what free agents have ever gone there. Ever? Carmelo forced his way there in a trade, but that's really about it. The history doesn't back up the general view of them. Miami's desirable right now, but only because Wade was there first, and they had the money to get the big three. No one gave a crap about the Heat three-four years ago.
The Lakers are the NBA's Yankess though. It's the premier place to play. It's where everyone wants to go. If there's ever a choice for similar money between the Lakers and somewhere else, L.A. wins an absurd amount of the time. The Lakers brand, market size, history, commitment to winning at all costs, additional income opportunities, weather, and city combine to make it the best of all worlds. No matter what a player is looking for, there's a good chance L.A. has it better than anywhere else.
The rest of the league will just have to suck it up on that one, but everyone else? In the long run, they playing field has been leveled considerably in terms of ability to make money and ability to compete. It doesn't mean any given year there is parity in the league, but the opportunity to pursue players for each franchise became better with this CBA as well as the distribution of wealth.