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28 Days Till Sixers: Tokoto And McRae Crash Training Camp

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

How many times has the NBA been called "a superstar's league?" Usually the phrase's orator refers toward the on-court impact one player has. But that definition has been stretched to include a superstar's impact in other ways - how he can recruit other talented players to his team, no matter the location, if his talent justifies the move.

It'a also extended to the realm of player movement. LeBron James leaving and then returning to Cleveland. Carmelo Anthony forcing his way to New York for La La's career. Deron Williams wanting to be the man in Brooklyn, however short-lived. Chris Paul behind the scenes in New Orleans. LaMarcus Aldridge making his way to San Antonio via pay cuts to everyone else. DeAndre Jordan, there and back again in Los Angeles. Superstar league. The power lies with them.

I swear we're going to get to Tokoto and McRae. Really.

The idea of a superstar league historically doesn't extend to the collective bargaining table, however - individual salary limits exist to depress individual salaries and control them on a wider scale. The player's union - as a whole - generally accepts the arrangement as that creates more money under the cap - the cap being the primary method for cost-control - for veterans who hit the free market to command more money. The individual power wields to the "collective" in the collective bargaining process, since the collective is bigger.

Still: the collective in the NBA only refers to experienced veterans who, by either their own talent or good fortune, make it past the point of a rookie-scale contract. Of that collective, some are superstars who lose money due to individual salary limits. The remaining players gain at almost literally every other player's expense, both at the top (the superstar) and the bottom (draftees and fringe players, or the less fortunate).

The top make up for it in other ways. Sure - their earning potential is artificially limited by teams, but via their star nature they get endorsements and generally live extraordinarily comfortable and extravagant lives. The top draft picks, provided they are willing to endure up to at a minimum five years in a location they did not choose and a salary whose right to negotiate was collectively bargained away. But the bottom feeders, the entry level workers, suffer as a result, as much as a human who dedicates his life to a game craft can suffer.

Maybe worst among them are the late second round picks - the talent pool opens wide and the teams select an unfortunate few who cannot select their employer and yet get similar salaries to those who do. Not only that, but since a person's environment contributes in many way, the player not getting to choose an optimal environment for himself may actually strengthen the odds of his eventual success. And since those players, as vaguely identifiable assets, have more value as a placeholder than as an on-court being due to the deep talent pool, teams prefer to actually have the Rights to J.P. Tokoto rather than The Player J.P. Tokoto.

That's obviously what the Sixers wanted as well, even after being the team to draft them, since McRae and Tokoto are only here because the Sixers have no choice but to offer them a contract without spending a dollar of guaranteed money.

When describing their contract situations, media (and the players themselves) have compared their situations to K.J. McDaniels signing the same tender last season. A self-gamble, per se. But that comparison is missing the point. McDaniels was fighting a battle on a different front - he wanted to make more money than the Sixers were willing to pay sooner than he'd otherwise earn it. McDaniels might have burned out, but as a highly touted prospect with a clearly identifiable NBA skill, he took a gamble to increase his earnings and his earning power.

McRae and Tokoto are truly fringe prospects. They're just trying to make it by anyway possible. By signing their required tenders, they've executed a power play of their own. The required tender forces the Sixers to give them a shot (which they presumably are) or let them go, to search elsewhere for a better shot to play before their NBA chances disappear. It's admirable and logical.

By either making the roster and earning their salary, or by getting released, they're simply getting some semblance of control over their careers. Kind of like superstars, or the collective. It's the one time when draft picks even merit a mention in the chaotic, everlasting power struggle that is the NBA.