Danny Nowell has a great post at magicbasketball.net detailing the reasons why he thinks a "Franchise Tag" is a bad idea for the league. While a franchise tag as generally imagined may not be the right answer, there is little doubt that something must be done to maintain balance and competitiveness in the NBA.
In reality, there are 2 issues at play. One is player movement in general and the other is the recent fad of players aiming to form "super teams." While both issues are deeply related, they have different causes and effects. Unfortunately, they are frequently confused when assessing whether there is an actual problem and, if so, how to address it.
There has always been a tendency in the NBA for great players to move from smaller, less visible markets to those arenas where the spotlight is already pointed. You don't have to look far to see that top players throughout history are much more likely to be drafted by a small team and end up on the Lakers than the other way around.
The other issue is the idea of a "super team." In this case, it isn't necessarily about small market vs. large market; getting 3 superstars can suddenly make your market a lot bigger. While the location of these teams isn't necessarily limited to larger markets, the resulting issue is the same.
The concentration of the best and most exciting players in a just a few markets means there exists little of the parity or uncertainty of outcome that sports needs to thrive.
Everyone has rights that should be respected. NBA players deserve the right to pursue their childhood dreams of, say, playing in Madison Square Garden. Teams also deserve the right to attempt to sign the best players they can to make themselves better. Finally, fans deserve the right to watch their team and players grow to their potential — no matter what market they live in.
The opposing forces at work here must reach an equilibrium or the health of the league is at risk.
The NBA has attempted to dampen player movement with the Larry Bird Rule allowing teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players and to give them longer contracts with larger annual raises. However, since a team receives no compensation or consideration if their star player leaves as a free agent, it is in every team's best interest to perform a sign-and-trade to the destination of a player's choice. As a result, good players can hold a team hostage at will and the financial incentive to stay with your current team is flimsy at best.
So, how do you balance player's right to be a free agent, the team's right to sign the best players, and the fans' right to expect a competitive game?
In my mind, the solution is something along the lines of a Franchise Contract. Think of it like the Larry Bird Rule on steroids.
Under a Franchise Contract, each team would have exactly 1 contract available at any given time that is worth substantially more than standard contracts. This contract would have a much higher base salary, be available for several more years, and include larger annual raises. If the NBA eventually decides to expand into partially guaranteed contracts, it would also have larger guarantees.
Teams would be free to use their Franchise Contract without maxing it out. For example, you could start with the higher base salary but do fewer than the max years or take a smaller upfront salary over the maximum length. No matter how a team chooses to use their Franchise Contract, it cannot be split among multiple players as something like the bi-annual exception can.
With the Franchise Contract, you could still have the "big 3" in Miami, but rather than everyone taking a million less than the max, someone would be making $20 million while the other 2 are making $7 million. If all 3 guys can live with that disparity, then congratulations, you've still got a "super team."
Under this system, Franchise Contract players could still be traded just as any other player would using current salary matching rules. Although, if you've already got one FC player, you can't receive a new one without trading away the old one. Like the Highlander, there can be only one.
By making these star level contracts scarce and requiring they be evenly available throughout the league, you allow players the freedom to sign wherever they choose while adding a true financial incentive that restores leverage to franchises and promotes balance across the league.
Thanks to slickw143 for the original idea that was the inspiration for the piece.