NBA Lockout Talks Keep On Plugging, And We Keep On Waiting

The next time someone complains about how boring the regular season can be, remind them of the NBA lockout. Also: why the players are fighting so hard against limits on the use of the mid-level exception.

By Tom Ziller


In hopeful anticipation of the NBA lockout coming to an end, let’s revisit one of last season’s major themes: super teams. LeBron made his “Decision” and formed the Heat’s version of the Big Three...

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NBPA President Derek Fisher speaks at today's press conference in NYC

The NBPA's Executive Committee met with player representatives today to discuss the league's latest CBA offer, which commissioner David Stern has publicly stated will be the best deal offered and that their next proposal would be even more favorable for owners. Stern issued an ultimatum that if the players didn't agree to this proposal by 5PM EST tomorrow, the next round of negotiations would begin with owners offering a lesser deal.

Players rejected the proposal and don't appear intimidated by Stern's threat. However, union president Derek Fisher did indicate that the 50/50 basketball-related income (BRI) split would be acceptable to players, if they could get some more favorable terms on other system issues (mid-level exception and luxury tax among them).

Said Fisher, as per Howard Beck of the New York Times:

"We’re open-minded about potential compromises on our number," Fisher said, referring to the revenue share for the players. "But there are things in the system that are not up for discussion, that we have to have, in order to be able to get this season going again."

It might seem alarming that players announced rejection of this deal in the face of Stern's deadline and chatter of union decertification among some players, but nothing else could really have been expected. Of course they weren't going to announce that they would accept the owners' proposal outright. That would be unconditional surrender, and there's still another day for the union to try to wring something else from the owners. And that's if we're taking Stern's threat seriously; more time if not. There's nothing special about Wednesday, November 9 except that Stern chose this arbitrary date to set his deadline.

UPDATE 11/9/11 10:40AM PST : According to several reports, owners and players are meeting in NYC hotel today for negotiations.

UPDATE II 11/9/11 2:02PM PST: Stern's 5PM EST "deadline" passes, sides still meeting. Real deadline is at the end of today's session.

More......

That the union seems willing to accept the 50/50 split is reason for optimism, depending upon how much separation still truly exists on those system issues. There was also reportedly little to no discussion of decertifying the union, a move that would throw the process into chaos and legal purgatory, in today's meeting.

No meeting between owners and the union is scheduled yet for tomorrow, but it's hard to imagine there won't be one. And it's possible the owners throw the players some small bone on the system issues and, by this time tomorrow, we're all celebrating that NBA basketball will be back by mid-December.

However, I don't think that will happen. Even the current "best offer" from the owners, the one that the players rejected today is not enough of a victory for some hard-line owners, tweeted ESPN's Chris Broussard. According to Broussard:

The owners on the call included Michael Jordan, Paul Allen and Herb Kohl. They are hoping the players reject the offer, sources said...The owners fear the player reps meeting in NYC Tuesday will push for approval of the deal. David Stern was not on the conference call. The hard-line owners prefer the alternative deal that will go into effect Wed if players reject 50/50 - 47 pct, flex cap, contract rollbacks

More posturing from the owners? Perhaps. But it seems like there is at least a decent-sized chunk of owners who really won't mind losing a lot of, or maybe all of this season. Even this "almost" deal we have here is unacceptable to the hard-liners on each side. Maybe I've just been burned with dashed hopes too many times before, but I don't see this settlement happening tomorrow. (Oh, by the way, am I  the only one who was relieved not to see Robert Sarver mentioned in that Broussard tweet?)

Poll
Will NBA owners and the players union agree to a handshake deal by 5PM EST tomorrow?

  217 votes | Results


The lockout is damaging the earnings and legacies of many NBA players (or so it will without a quick resolution), but for Gani Lawal the lockout couldn’t have come at a better time. The last...

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The faces of winners who cry wolf. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

The amount of bluster on the part of the players - this time coming from outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler himself - is getting louder, and emptier, with each passing negotiation. Last night's post-negotiation blustering reached crescendo peaks.

"The story here is they want it all," Kessler bellowed in the post-negotiation news conference, as quoted by Chris Sheridan of the independent sheridanhoops.com. "They want a win, win, win, win. We wanted a compromise."

Sounds like a kid who's laying on the floor, pounding his fists into the ground, demanding ice cream. And as with any child, you find yourself wanting to pat him on the head (or the tushee) and send him on his way. Especially when that child knows the score but is unwilling to accept it.

"They've been consistent for weeks," Kessler said in the same news conference, apparently appalled that the owners would have the stones to hold position.

David Stern - Mr. PR winner himself - is the parent here. The owners have all the leverage, because they have the resolve and the resources to wait out the players. Stern and the owners have made it clear for years, months, weeks, days - any measure of time - that the current system is going bye-bye. And that once the owners had the ability (the expiration of the existing CBA), they would exercise their option to enforce change.

Kessler and the union are playing the part of the stubborn child. They want something they used to get all the time, and can't understand why it's being taken away. Yet they have no leverage to get it back. An effective parent doesn't change his/her mind based on the decibel level of the child's cries of "But that's not FAIR!" 

"Our 51 percent offer was based on a fair system." Kessler continued. "They would have to come to us on the system, but they did not."

The players think "fair" is to keep or improve on the old system, and I can't fault them for that. I'd want the same thing. Yet the people who fund that system have decided to change the rules, and they have all the power to do so.

As unfair as it seems to the players, the casual observer wonders what all the fuss is about. To be sure, the latest offer from the owners - in terms of the SYSTEM - is not much different than the old CBA.

The players union is crying about a hard cap restricting player movement during free agency yet the impact of the latest proposals gives little to no indication of that claim. Hardly anything has changed, in terms of system.

The latest proposal restricts sign-and-trades and significant free agent contracts from those teams way above the tax line (which means they are already paying a lot more for players than their peers), but not to anyone else.

Example: Dallas Mavericks, already paying the $30 million over the 'salary cap' and lauded as one of the deepest teams in the league, add a former all-star in Shawn Marion for $8 million per year via sign-and-trade for end-of-bench players. And then the next offseason, after just re-signing their starting C to a $9 million/year contract extension, they do another sign-and-trade to acquire C Tyson Chandler despite the fact that Chandler makes - all by himself - 25% of a team's salary cap.

Those moves took 2 quality free agents and 1 high-paid starter off the market and placed them on a single team that already boasted a high-paid roster of all-stars and veterans. They made the Mavericks a better team, for sure. But should the Mavericks have been able to corner the market in such a dramatic fashion?

The league says no. The league says that the teams already over the agreed-to limit should be restricted from adding even more money to their payrolls.

The player's argument is that stopping the Mavs from signing those 3 players would hurt the players' chances at making money. I call BS on that. Brendan Haywood, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion would all have gotten just as much - if not more - from another team that wasn't over the luxury tax line.

Let's take another example where the owners want to restrict tax-payers' ability to add significant talent through the use of the midlevel exception. In consecutive offseasons, the defending league champion Los Angeles Lakers were allowed to add near-all-star Ron Artest - err, Metta World Peace - and starting-quality PG Steve Blake to a team already boasting a payroll more than $30 million over the league's salary cap (and 10+ million over the luxury tax line). 

Again, the players' claim that stopping the Lakers from signing these contracts would hurt the players themselves is an empty threat. Ron Artest, at that time, was worth MORE than the midlevel exception. He could have gotten 20-30% more money from a number of other teams. And Steve Blake would have gotten the same or more money as well.

Think of a league in which those 5 players were signed by 5 different teams. Those could have been quality teams as well - playoff teams even. Wouldn't that make for a more competitive league, with a wider band of contending teams each season? All while the players "affected" would have ended up with more money and potentially an equal chance at a championship. 

Again, I call BS on the players' claim that restricting player movement to high tax payers would hurt the players' in any way, shape or form.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the other issues. Let's recap what was agreed to in recent negotiations:
  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)
  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 no agreement on HOW low the raises though)
  7. 10-year length of new CBA
  8. Relaxed rules on restricted free agents (unclear on details here, but some mention of relaxing "base year" rules which made it hard to trade young players who got extensions from their original team)
  9. Easing of trade rules (unclear on this as well, but it was mentioned by Alan Hahn)
  10. Assumption: all other terms will remain unchanged since they haven't been negotiated, including the max contract amount (roughly $16 million to start), "bird" rights in general, draft rules/contracts, etc.
Still no agreement:
  1. BRI split (I'm so tired of hearing about this one!)
  2. Early termination clauses in player contracts (league wants to abolish them, union wants to keep them)
  3. Limiting the use of exceptions and sign-and-trades by tax-paying teams, for first-time and/or repeat offenders
  4. "opt out" clause in new CBA - after year 7 or 8?

Seems like a handful of minor issues remain: the use of early-termination clauses, the CBA "opt out" clause, and actual amount of annual raises (somewhere less than 10.5% and 8%).

Oh yeah, and there's the BRI split.

The players are offering a 51/49 split in favor of them, with 1% of that going toward benefits and pensions.

The owners are offering a straight 50/50 split - and have been for a month now - but yesterday added an ability for the players to get as much as 51% if BRI increases at a much higher rate than the projected 4% per year.

That's not significantly different. At all. Less than 1% difference.

Oh, and let's also call BS on the players' claims of "giving back" money, as if they are rolling back salaries in this latest proposal. Not one contract is rolling back. Every penny is still going out the door.

So what are the players fighting for, then?

"The players will not be intimidated," union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said, as quoted in Ken Berger's blog. "They want to play, they want a season, but they are not going to sacrifice the futures of all NBA players under these threats of intimidation."

BS on that one too! An cbssports.com's Ken Berger succintly puts the latest proposal, the future generations of players are just fine: 

A deal with no hard cap, with guaranteed contracts, with mid-level deals scaled back mostly for tax-paying teams, and with salaries rising to nearly $3 billion in 10 years despite an initial 12 percent reduction.

The "12 percent reduction" only applies to future contracts, not existing ones. Yet, there's a projected 50% increase in overall salaries in 10 years (the players got $2.17 billion total this past season).

Let me repeat: A 50% RAISE IN TEN YEARS! Guaranteed by the CBA!

Take the advice of Bill Guerin, once the hardliner for the NHL players during the NHL lockout. He says its not worth it to sit out the year.

"When you are in the heat of battle, and you are fired up, you don't think what they are doing is right," Guerin said last week. "But it's not about what is right or wrong - it's their league. It's theirs. I feel, personally, I didn't like guys giving up a year of their career, for what? A few less bucks? Guys are making more money now than they ever have."

Read and re-read this quote. Guys are making more money now than they ever have. And the NHL has a "flex cap" - a much more restrictive system than anything the NBA is proposing at this stage.

Guerin and the NHL players screwed up their present to try to save the future. They gave up guaranteed money in order to save "future generations". Yet their future was secure already, so they gave up millions for nothing. Nothing!

Good golly. Just sign the damn deal and play basketball.

Poll
Should the players accept the latest proposal - 50/50 split, guaranteed contracts, lower annual increases and restrictions on tax-paying teams?

  324 votes | Results


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