HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Some efforts to dig down to the root of the NBA’s labor problem have produced results that vary from foolish to the downright preposterous.
But few items hit home harder than the “stale contract” issue raised in this reflective piece by Washington Post columnist Mike Wise, a longtime NBA scribe who knows his way around the league better than most.
Wise hammered home his point with this passage:
If Kevin Garnett’s contract was the flash point of the 1999 lockout — his $126 million dwarfed the $85 million paid years earlier for the entire Minnesota franchise, thus making it hard for a small-market team like the Timberwolves to put enough help around a star to contend — the salary of a player believed to be a dud is at the heart of this dispute.
Owners are sick of paying premiums for damaged goods. Players are putting the onus on the people who signed them to those deals, irrespective of who turned out to be a lousy employee.
Nowhere was the impetus for a long labor stoppage more obvious than here in Washington, where what was once thought to be a blockbuster deal — Gilbert Arenas for Rashard Lewis this past December — was in reality one franchise’s lemon traded for another.
Only in the NBA can a town be excited by moving a player with three years and $60 million left (Arenas) for another with more than two years remaining on a $118 million deal. Why were the Wizards ecstatic? Because as bad as Lewis’s $19 million-plus deal per year was for a player with declining numbers the past three seasons, at least they only had to have his contract around for two years instead of three. That’s sadly called success before the trading deadline.
Beyond finding a more equitable split of income, stale contracts are why the union and the league may not come to terms this fall and perhaps beyond.
While some observers like to label this NBA lockout as simply a chicken contest between millionaires and billionaires, it’s so much more than that. There are legitimate issues that must be resolved before we get our game back.
Regardless of whose side you take in this fight, it should be clear by now to anyone paying close attention that fundamental changes to the way the league operates will have to come before the two sides agree to get back to the business of basketball.