Players Still Avoiding The Inevitable, May Even Blow Up Season After All

National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern, right, speaks alongside deputy commissioner Adam Silver during a news conference after a marathon meeting with the Players Association, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011, in New York. The league presented the players' association with a new offer Thursday after nearly 11 hours of bargaining, hoping it would be enough to end the lockout. However, union president Derek Fisher said it doesn't address all the necessary system issues that are important to the players. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Need a break from trying to assign a lame dragon name to Poland's best big man? I mean, come on Eut. Our only valid choices were 'Toothless' and something unpronouncable. Why pick names names from that movie anyway? It's a G-rated movie, for christmas sake!

What's much more interesting - fascinating, even - is the chess game being played right now by David Stern to try to bridge the gap between competitive idealism, hardline owners and hardline players.

He knows the owners - and the league, for that matter - want both a larger share of the money AND a more restrictive system that narrows the spending ban between the highest and lowest spenders. And he knows that owners never want to be held hostage by another Carmelo Anthony in-season again. He knows the players hate each and every one of those goals, and would never openly agree to them no matter how long they "negotiate".

So he throws out a series of deadlines intended to force closure in stages. Last week, the intention was to get the players to finally accept the first sticking point: the BRI split of 50/50. Done. This week, the intention was to get the players to accept the remaining sticking point - restrictive movement once a team exceeds the luxury tax. Almost Done.

"It's not the greatest proposal in the world," said Billy Hunter, the union's executive director. "But I have an obligation to at least present it to our membership. So that's what we're going to do."

The carrot (or, orange-colored stick)? 2011-2012 salaries. Every day that goes by means more lost games, which means more lost salary. We are now 1.5 months of calendar time, at minimum, lost in a 4.5-month season.

The carrot is a reconfigured schedule that fits in 72 games, equalling "only" a 12% loss of income this season. This offer is good for about a week at most, because it takes 30 days to get a season going. Any more delay to decertify or negotiate any further really, really, really means more lost income on the current season.

That 12% number will resonate once the sting of "that's all they offered on the system issues?!?!" wears off over the weekend. 12% loss this season. Every week after this is a few more percentage points. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

This sucks for the players. They are absolutely getting a worse deal than the one that just expired. But the ship has sailed. The money is gone. The 50/50 split is now in stone, if they want to play at all this season. If they hold out for a better deal, they end up losing more money in 2011/2012 salary than they'd ever recover in the future.

Read on, for the latest breakdown based on leaks overnight... 

Update 11/11/11 5:35pm: new details have come out today (after the jump)

So, where are we now?

Many of the latest changes and details were provided in the articles by Howard Beck of the NY TimesZach Lowe of SI.comChris Mannix of SI.com, and Ken Berger of cbssports.com and various and sundry NBA media tweets.

These parts are fully agreed upon:

(new items in italics)

  1. Shorter contract lengths (by 1 year for each qualifier, "bird" or "non-bird")
  2. One-time amnesty per team on existing contracts (ie. signed before 2011) - at any time during the CBA, as long as contract was signed prior to 2011-2012 season
  3. More-punitive luxury tax (example: the Lakers would have paid $43 million in luxury tax rather than $20 million this past year)
  4. Lower mid-level exception contracts: (about $1 less per year, and only 3 years in length)
  5. New "Stretch" exception (to be available at least once a season: when a player is waived, the team can stretch out the remaining contract - including the cap hit - over more than twice the years)
  6. Lower annual raises (no more 10.5% raises for "bird" contracts, or 8% for everything else; still unsure HOW low the raises though)
  7. 10-year length of new CBA
  8. Restricted free agent offers - teams have only 3 days to match (previously was 7)
  9. Bird-rights remain unchanged
  10. BRI split at 50/50
  11. Opt-out clause at year 6 for both sides
  12. Minimum team salary - 85% of the normal cap. This raises the spending floor for all teams.
  13. 2.5 mill exception for teams that hit the normal salary cap during the offseason. Previously, if you started out below the cap you were not allowed any money to spend over that (58 million last year). This raises the spending limit for teams just below the cap.
  14. Injury exception - 1 year, 5 million. Previously, teams had to petition the league for an exception, and that was contingent on the player missing most of the season
  15. Sign-and-trade remains the same (as long as team not paying luxury tax)
  16. Extend-and-trade remains the same (as long as team not paying luxury tax)

Still no agreement:
  1. Escrow - league wants to withhold 10% of pay (previously was 8%) until league year done. Once total BRI calculated, then over/under is paid to players/teams. This ensures the split was done right.
  2. Special restrictions on luxury-tax-paying teams
    1. Sign-and-trades (Shawn Marion) - league's offering this for tax-paying teams in only the first 2 years of the CBA, while union wants it for entire CBA
    2. Extend-and-trades (Carmelo Anthony) - league wants to abolish this for tax-paying teams, while union wants to keep it
    3. Mid-level exception - league wants to only allow $3 million per year x 3 years (40% less than non-tax teams), while union wants the full $5 million/yr midlevel available
  3. Rookie contracts - union wants bonuses/incentives for elite rookies, while league wants no change
  4. Cap holds - union wants to reduce them, while league wants no change
  5. Early termination clauses in player contracts - league wants to abolish them, union wants to keep them
  6. Qualifying offers - union wants more lucrative offers, while league want the same
  7. another "30-40 ancillary" issues, such as age minimum, days off, player discipline, drug testing, etc
More details coming out on 11/11/11:

Mid-level exception and sign-and-trade taken away from teams just below the tax line too?
Many agents and players are indicating they like this deal WORSE than the last one. Either there is misinformation going around (more on that later), or it's based on the definition of 'tax paying team'.

All along, we assumed the NBA's desire to restrict the use of loopholes (the only way to exceed the cap) on tax-paying teams was based on the team already being in luxury-tax land before the transaction. Now it appears that the NBA wants to stop teams from performing any transaction that would, after completion, put the team over the luxury-tax line. So, if you're $2 million under the luxury tax line, you would not be able to use the $5 million/per mid-level exception. You would be limited to the $3-million tax-paying version. Last season, a lot of teams were just-below the luxury tax line. Hence, the feeling that this offer is worse than the last one. Sneaky devils, those league guys.

It's not all bad, though. More changes in favor of the players have emerged, summed up by Ken Berger of cbssports.com:
* Increase the team payroll floor (i.e. minimum team salary) to 90 percent of the cap in the third year of the deal and 85 percent in the first two years. It was 85 percent across the entire agreement in the previous proposal, and 75 percent in the prior CBA.

* Increase annual raises for Bird free agents to 6.5 percent, up from 5.5 percent in the prior proposal. Non-Bird players' annual raises remain capped at 3.5 percent, as in the previous proposal. In the prior CBA, Bird raises were capped at 10.5 percent and non-Bird at 8 percent.

* Increase qualifying offers to restricted free agents.

* Allow player options in contracts for players making less than the average league salary. In the previous proposal, player options were banned. There were no restrictions on player options in the previous CBA.


For some reason, the union's famously-proclaimed "blood issue" is with restrictions on further spending by tax-paying teams. Their primary argument is that player's are being unfairly restricted in free agency if they cannot get the same money from a tax-paying team that they could get from all the other teams.

I have to laugh at this argument, in terms of it being a "blood issue". First of all, the entire purpose of a Collective Bargaining Agreement is to control spending and player movement. A CBA provides both minimum and maximum limits on teams to the benefit of all involved - players AND owners. The owners have to spend an exact percentage of their income on the entire league full of players, a minimum and maximum per individual player and a minimum/maximum per team of players. The players get guaranteed contracts and benefits.

If you're worried about freedom of choice, why not demand to abolish the draft? Why not demand to abolish the salary cap entirely? Why not demand to abolish salary floors? Or the individual maximums?

Why not declare a "blood issue" on something that affects more than a dozen players a year (out of 450)?

Anyway, that's the latest. The players have the choice of accepting the current offer and negotiating only the 30-40 ancillary issues, or they reject it and decertify. Of course, decertification throws all future income into a black hole and has never before been decided in favor of the players of any professional sporting league.

And this one will never win either - the players are fighting a losing battle. If they've already collectively bargained all those other player movement restrictions, why would a judge find in their favor on this little one?

But let's even put that woe-is-me "losing battle" into perspective. They are still guaranteed to be paid, collectively, more than any other sports league of players. They still have a lucrative future, with total salaries likely to expand by 50% in the next 10 years. 50%!

Show me another industry that offers multi-year guaranteed salaries higher than any peers, that is nearly guaranteed to offer 50% more money in the next 10 years for the same number of players.

Let's even poke holes into the sad little 'mid level exception was reduced, so the middle class of NBA player will get squeezed out!' story. Sure, it dropped from a max of 5 yrs, 33 million to a max of 3yrs, 17 mill. But don't forget that the player can sign another one after 3 years - say, 2-yr, 10.5 million. That totals to 5 yrs, 27.5 million. No that far off the old, overpaid standard. And, the player can change teams every three years. Sounds like MORE freedom of movement to me.


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