HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Depending on what you choose to believe, we’re either days away from the beginning of a resolution to the NBA’s labor mess … or on the verge of an even bigger chasm between the owners and players.
No one seems to know for sure, but everyone seems to have a theory (or two or three) about how this weekend’s meetings (things begin Friday in New York) will play out.
In order for an on-time start to the regular season, the sides have to come together as soon as possible. So there is a very obvious reason for all of the extra emphasis on the coming talks (as expressed by NBA Commissioner David Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA President Derek Fisher):
Players Prepared To Sit?
Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated: Unless major concessions are made by the owners by then, the sources said players are prepared to show a united front and express their willingness to sit out the entire season — if not more. There is a growing sentiment that missing the start of the regular season could mean missing the entire season, one that was recently reflected in the comments of agent David Falk. There has even been renewed talk of players starting a league of their own, which may or may not be realistic but is certainly indicative of their level of frustration and the types of strategies being considered.
There were hints of this we-determine-our-own-destiny approach in the latest letter from NBPA president Derek Fisher to the league’s players, which was first obtained by ESPN.com.
“We are a group of some of the most talented, savvy businessmen and business owners in the world,” Fisher wrote. “We have built our own brands, launched our own and other people’s companies, helped our communities. I keep that in the forefront of my mind each time we go into a negotiating session.
“If a Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Russell Simmons were in this, there is no way they would take a deal that is unfair. Not when we are the talent, the most coveted asset, the most valuable resource that drives this business. Keep that in your mind as we walk down this road shoulder to shoulder.”
And the talent is far from happy.
According to sources who have been briefed on the talks in New York this week, the discussion over basketball-related income and how it is divvied up is the most maddening for the NBPA. While the owners have shown a willingness to give between 46 percent and 48 percent to the players (depending on other components of the deal that are in play), it is believed that the players — who received 57 percent in the previous deal — won’t accept anything less than 53 percent (again, depending on other aspect of the potential agreement). With the league’s revenues totaling about $4 billion last season, each percentage point represents approximately $40 million.
Season Hangs In Balance
Marc Stein of ESPN.com: When NBA labor talks resume Friday, NBA commissioner David Stern is planning to threaten players with the cancellation of the entire 2011-12 season if the sides haven’t made major progress toward a deal by the end of the weekend, according to sources close to the talks.
Although sources said the union views such an extreme stance as more of a negotiating tactic than a legitimate threat, Stern went almost that far in his comments to reporters in New York on Wednesday after a second straight day of negotiations.
Referring to meetings scheduled Friday that are expected to attract as many as 15 owners and star players such as the Heat’s LeBron James, Stern said: “I’m focused on let’s get the two committees in and see whether they can either have a season or not have a season, and that’s what’s at risk this weekend.”
In 1998-99, the only season in NBA history in which regular-season games were lost to a work stoppage, no deal was reached until Jan. 6, 1999, with a 50-game season finally starting on Feb. 6, 1999.
It remains to be seen if Stern’s remarks Thursday will have the intended “scare” effect and convince players to accept a deal now on the premise that the NBA is not willing to stage a shortened season this time.
At a minimum, sources said, cancellation of regular-season games next week is a certainty if a deal isn’t within sight by Monday.
It’s Over When Stern Says It’s Over
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: When Stern dictates this lockout is over, it ends.
That’s the hard truth, the hard road to labor peace. Stern’s job is convincing the owners to pull off the press, take the 30-point victory and leave the floor with some grace and dignity.
This has been rigged for years and months and weeks, and here’s how a deal happens this weekend: In the carnage of a devastating collective bargaining loss for the union with billions of dollars redirected into owners’ pockets, Stern has to give Hunter something to take back to the players, so that the union’s bloodied, bruised and beaten executive director can still raise his arms and declare that, yes, we won.
Stern’s “going to make a real hard push to get a deal this weekend,” one team president told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday. “If the union makes a slight move, David will move.
“But the players have to blink first.”
When Stern decides to give Hunter an escape valve, this is over. When Stern can convince his owners to back off, this is over. Stern needs to give Hunter something to take back to the union, and say, “We won.” Maybe it’s the illusion of a soft salary cap, the preservation of the midlevel exception, a 50-50 revenue percentage split. Whatever. This isn’t about a fair deal, it’s about a deal the union can rationalize to the players for ratification.
Hunter has no leverage, and no way out. This isn’t about getting the players a great deal, it’s about getting out of this without the agents overthrowing him. The union keeps insisting its players will go the distance, sit out the season, and that’s not happening. It sounds noble and strong, and there are players with the stomach to do it. Yet, there aren’t enough of them. What’s more, there’s the sobering understanding that the bad deal being offered now becomes worse in December.
This isn’t about right or wrong. Just or unjust. When the union didn’t decertify back in July, it was destined for this dark place. It’s too bad, too. Because the players have largely won the PR war. The public knows far more about the owners in the digital age, knows far more about their finances and agendas and, yes, incompetence.
Nevertheless, these cross-country exhibition games have been an awakening of sorts to the players, to everyone, about how much the players need the NBA’s machinery. They need its platform, its coaching, its competitive environment. There’s nothing but a devoted, narrow fan base that can watch these summer exhibitions. It’s bad basketball, and too much of it will devalue the NBA stars playing in the games.
Stakes Raised Heading Into The Weekend
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: You didn’t have to read to closely between the lines to catch the meaning from Stern and Silver, who sought to ratchet up the pressure on getting a deal or risk not simply an on-time start to the season, but indeed the whole thing. With training camps already postponed and a first batch of preseason games canceled, Stern said the two sides are “at a period of enormous opportunity and great risk.”
“I can’t say that common ground is evident, but our desire to try to get there I think is there,” Fisher said. “We still have a great deal of issues to work through, so there won’t be any Magic that will happen this weekend to just make those things go away. But we have to put the time in. We have a responsibility to people to do so.”
The incremental rise in doomsday talk from Stern signaled that the negotiations are entering a new phase, where the threat of a canceled season will become a leverage point for both sides. If no agreement is reached by the end of the weekend — the four-week mark before the scheduled regular season opener — it would be virtually impossible to get a subsequent deal written, hold abbreviated training camps and a preseason schedule, and pull off a shortened free-agent period.
And yet neither side evidently was prepared to move enough Wednesday to get within reach of a deal. That moment of truth, one way or another, should come in the next 96 hours.
Once the league agreed to replace its insistence on a hard cap with the more punitive luxury tax and other provisions — a “breakthrough,” as one person familiar with the talks called it — it sparked “the process of negotiation” that the two sides have arrived at now.
“There could be some compromises reached,” the person said.
According to multiple sources familiar with the talks, the owners did not enhance their economic offer Wednesday, instead focusing on using systemic changes to hit the number they are seeking to achieve — still 46 percent for the players over the life of a new deal. The problem, sources say, is that the players are not willing to accept a deal at that percentage, and that some of the systemic adjustments the league has proposed as alternatives to a hard team cap will act like a hard cap — such as a luxury-tax system that rises from dollar-for-dollar tax to $2 or more.
NBPA executive director Billy Hunter has called a hard team salary cap a “blood issue” for the union, and Fisher wrote in a letter to the union membership this week that he and Hunter will continue to oppose any deal that includes one “unless you, the group we represent, tell us otherwise.”