HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Stunning is the only way to describe the mood shift here at the hideout in the past 24 hours.
From giddy anticipation for potential progress that could come from the first full bargaining session since the lockout began to the depths of despair in the aftermath of said meeting producing nothing of the sort. I tried to warn folks. No deal would be struck. The two sides were probably not going to move off of their initial positions. They did not.
The owners and players (and their representatives) are as far apart right now as they were when this entire ordeal began. It’s as if the calendar hasn’t moved one bit since July 1.
NBA commissioner David Stern and union executive director Billy Hunter might even agree on that. There is no next bargaining session scheduled. Not even a brief get together for coffee. Nothing.
The labor talks have “Hit a wall,” as our very own Steve Aschburner points out, but he is not the only one shining a light on the hard cap vs. soft cap debate that seems be at the center of the impasse (this week).
You can choose sides all you want, but as far as these eyes can see the only real losers in this entire affair are those of us who love the game and want to see it played as soon as possible.
Still, we have to gauge the reactions from all sides and examine the fine points of each and every argument. More importantly, we have to sort through the rubble now and figure out exactly where we go from here. Because optimism is no longer a part of this equation …
The Union’s Next Test … Decertification
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: When [Hunter] goes to Las Vegas on Wednesday for the most important players meeting of his tenure as executive director, does he find a coup awaiting him?
“Now Billy has to go to Las Vegas with nothing to bring the players,” a prominent agent told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday night.
“He’s chosen a particular path, and there hasn’t been any progress on that path. There was all this false optimism in the last week about how the league was going to come with a new proposal that he could take back to the players, and they came with nothing. Stern wants to stall, and stall until the players start missing paychecks.
“Billy was hoping that he could keep the players engaged, excited that a deal was coming. There was all that rhetoric of good feelings, and today was the day that Stern was going to come with a proposal. He was relying on the fact that Stern would negotiate in good faith with him, that he didn’t want to lose games. He thought that Stern would blink, start to negotiate. He was relying on the fact Stern didn’t want to hurt the game, and he was wrong.”
Yes, there had to be a pit in Hunter’s stomach. Three hours waiting for the owners to debate among themselves, big markets wanting to cut a deal, and small markets willing to lose games – lose the season – to get guaranteed profits and maybe a better chance to chase championships.
There’s a big labor meeting in Las Vegas on Thursday, and Hunter is competing for the hearts and minds of his rank-and-file players. He’s already lost the top agents, who are laying the groundwork for a coup, sources told Yahoo! Sports. The decision to make a move on Hunter could come as soon as this week, agents privately said.
Several high-profile agents, including Jeff Schwartz, Arn Tellem, Mark Bartelstein, Bill Duffy and Dan Fegan, have been on the phones with each other this week. Sources briefed on the conversations say they’re getting closer to pursuing a signed petition, with 30 percent of the NBA’s players needed to bring a formal vote on dissolving the union.
After that, they would need a majority of the NBA players to vote. To that end, the core agents had been recruiting rival agents to join them in the overthrow, trying to get the majority vote needed to decertify.
Players “Shocked” At Latest
Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated: Some players taking part in Impact Basketball’s Competitive Training Series in Las Vegas were shocked. The internal sentiment had turned since last week, with the optimism rooted in the perceived reality that the owners were finally willing to take the necessary steps to get a deal done.
“I just thought we wouldn’t have a lockout after the type of season we had last season,” Wizards forward Rashard Lewis said. “As a whole, the playoffs were awesome. [You had] Miami not winning the championship, so I’m sure the fans are anticipating to see what happens with them this year. Kevin Durant is an awesome player. The list goes on and on. There’s a lot of good teams. Derrick Rose is the youngest MVP ever, and the Bulls were the best team in the league [in the regular season]. There’s just so [many] things that happened this year that you’d think the NBA would make something happen because the fans are anticipating it.
“It is shocking. I don’t want to bad-mouth the owners, or even on our side, but I think there’s just so much great talent in the NBA they’ve got to figure out something. Meet in the middle.”
Instead, as Bobcats forward Corey Maggette put it, it’s “back to the drawing board.” And straight to the unemployment line.
“Now guys have to make a decision about playing elsewhere, maintaining a living and all that,” said Maggette, who was among the many who had been encouraged by the tenor of last week’s talks. “As of right now, everyone is unemployed. You have to re-evaluate [your situation]. At the end of the day, you’re unemployed right now and you have to do a job in order to feed your families or whatever.
“I’m not saying guys don’t have money or that they’re not saving their money the right way, but ultimately — if you get fired or you have to find yourself another job — you’ve got to put out another résumé and pull another gig.”
Alternative Answers Need Consideration?
J.A. Adande of ESPN.com: The NBA’s salary cap — the first in American professional sports — was instituted in the 1984-85 season. Since then only nine teams have won a championship. The NFL and NHL have crowned 14 different champions each in that span. Baseball has had 17 different teams win a championship. The NBA has been the least successful at legislating balance. So it’s trying to do the next best thing and attempting to legislate profit.
“If it’s about small-market teams not profiting, if the owners are really using that as a bargaining tool, if you’re really concerned about it, then why aren’t you profit-sharing like the other leagues are doing?” Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal asked after a workout at the Impact Basketball facility in Las Vegas Tuesday, after word had spread about the latest impasse in the labor talks.
“So do we accept a deal that totally butchers our game? Because what they don’t understand, if you take out mid-tier deals and say, ‘Fend for bare minimum at the bottom,’ they’ll be individualizing our game so severely.”
That’s something I hadn’t thought about. Take away guarantees, turn most rosters into extremes of max guys and minimum guys, and you’ve got a squad full of guys trying to get their numbers to get paid. I saw that dynamic in play with the Clippers before, when Donald Sterling didn’t extend the contracts of any of his free-agents-to-be and it was every man for himself.
Baseball and football teams benefit from players in contract years. They get more home runs, more tackles, more wins. In basketball, selfish goals destroy teams.
Guaranteed, salary cap-eating contracts from players who are injured or underperforming can wreck teams as well, of course. But O’Neal served up a reminder that some apparent solutions create another set of problems.
A flawed system would be better than no system, which is what we have now. There still isn’t enough pressure to force a deal anytime soon, not with enough owners willing to lose real games.
“Money Issue” Solution In Place
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: The only thing both sides agreed on after this latest round of posturing and semi-negotiating was that the players had come to the table with economic concessions the owners and NBA negotiators could live with — or at least could envision writing into a new CBA. Though no written proposals were formally exchanged, hidden amid all the rhetoric and doomsday prognosticating was something extraordinary for how lost it became: the NBA and its union are on the verge of solving the biggest dispute between them, as in how much money each side gets.
It was still happy hour when Stern strolled out of the NBA offices, so someone should have been raising a glass for a toast.
Neither side would say how far the players moved economically, but a person with knowledge of the negotiations said they expressed a willingness to move lower than the 54.3 percent of basketball-related income they last proposed on June 30 as a starting point in a six-year deal. Stern disputed the players’ contention that the owners haven’t made an economic move since the day before the lockout was imposed. Nobody outside the room knows how many millions the two sides shaved off the gap, but it hardly matters since everyone seemed willing to concede that they’ve at least dipped their toes on common ground when it comes to dollars.
“I’d just say it’s on the road, and we know how to negotiate over dollars when the time comes,” Stern said.
Adam Silver, the deputy commissioner, said, “We said we went into this process with two goals: one was an economic goal, which we’ve addressed.”
So what’s the problem? It isn’t the economy, stupid. It’s the system. And the two sides’ positions on that are as far apart as their rhetoric.
The league’s indignation over the players’ refusal to accept a hard salary cap can be summed up like this: The union offered to make an economic move, but only if the owners would agree in advance to keep most of the current system — with its soft cap, luxury tax and various exceptions — in place.
“It actually didn’t make sense for us to respond to their non-negotiable demand that everything remain the same that it was,” Stern said.
The players’ astonishment at the owners’ ongoing demands can be summed up like this: The owners want significant salary concessions, which they’re on the verge of receiving, andthey want a more restrictive cap system to go with it. They can’t have both, say the players. It’s straight out of the cake-and-eat-it-too negotiating handbook.
“We don’t want a system where players come in, they have no security and you have two or three marquee players who get a guarantee — and not a full guarantee as they have proposed, but a limited guarantee — that everybody else would not have,” Hunter said. “And these guys would be on one- or two-year deals and at any whim of any given owner or GM or whatever, they’d be out the door. And so we’re saying, ‘No way.'”
There Is Still Hope, Right?
Kurt Hellin of ProBasketballTalk.com: There is still hope — if you believe that the cooler heads among the owners will start to make a push to get a deal done. You’ve seen the breakdown … there are plenty of doves among the owners who don’t want to punish the union and don’t want to lose the season. Right now they are not driving the bus, but that could start to change come Thursday’s Board of Governor’s meeting.
The theme out of Tuesday’s meeting was that this is about the salary cap, not about money (meaning the split of Basketball Related Income). Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver tried to seem confounded that the players considered a hard salary cap a deal breaker and what was tearing these talks apart.
Let’s be honest here — this is about the money. Always, on both sides. Anytime you are told it’s not about the money, that person is lying.
What the owners want is a larger slice of the overall pie — the BRI — and a hard cap that some in that group seem to think will lead to more competitive balance. The easy example is the NFL, with hard caps and a real parity where teams can go from last to first in a year or two with some shrewd moves.
With larger television deals to come and the belief that (like the NFL) parity and close games mean higher ratings, some are pushing competitive balance as an answer.
It’s not. Competitive balance in the NBA is never really going to happen. Because one superstar player can dominate a game and turn any team into a contender. If you have LeBron James you can surround him with pretty blah talent and still reach the NBA finals and have the best record in the league (see Cavaliers, Cleveland). Even if you flatten out the other talent in the league, if you have LeBron/Kobe/Wade/Durant you are going to win a lot of games.
Besides, when was the NBA the most popular and got the highest ratings? During the Michael Jordan era. When the Bulls dominated and the league had the least competitive balance.