HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For all of the posturing and rhetoric tossed around the past four months or so, the NBA lockout returns to its roots this morning.
It’s “All About the Benjamins,” folks, always has been and always will be. We’re talking about losses in the hundreds of millions just with the cancellation of the remainder of the preseason.
If the league holds to the Oct. 10 deadline of squashing the first two weeks of the regular season, without a deal in place, you can start adding to that total relentlessly.
Any hope for a compromise during Tuesday’s negotiating session was dismissed by both sides when the owners refused to budge the percentage of BRI (47) that they felt comfortable with and the players did the same (they’re locked at 53). That proposed 50-50 split that has become such a hot topic (which was apparently never a formal offer) since the union decided the discussion should end at the mere mention of that proposed — and disputed — “even” split.
Even more chilling for those of us in the basketball public is that the prospect of another negotiating session is nowhere on the horizon. Everyone involved, it seems, needs a break after 10 intense sessions over the past month.
We’re left with more theories than real solutions in the meantime. But if you thought the weeks and months since July 1 were trying, the coming days and perhaps weeks will test us even more …
Season Can Be Saved
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: Just maybe, the NBA’s 2011-12 season can be saved.
Despite the intransigence of the owners in their goal of achieving profitability and a level playing field … despite the players’ almost religious zeal for guaranteed contracts and other perks achieved over the years … and despite formidable external forces that threatened to implode the negotiations … the NBA and the players association are only about $80 million a year apart on the economics of a new collective bargaining agreement, multiple people with knowledge of the deal told CBSSports.com.
So even though all parties left a Times Square hotel looking grim-faced and feeling disappointed, the two sides in theory have moved so close to a deal that it is almost incomprehensible they would choose hundreds of millions in losses — or billions from a completely lost season — instead.
According to sources, here is how the two sides closed the gap, which stood at about $320 million in the first year of a new deal — the difference between the players’ standing offer that they get 54 percent of revenues and the owners’ 46 percent offer — when they walked into the room Tuesday.
After the owners offered the players a 50-50 split of revenues that effectively was a 47-percent share with about $350 million in expenses deducted first, the two sides met in small groups in the hallway while each side’s larger group caucused in separate rooms. As the hour grew late, the tension was rising and becoming palpable. Both sides recognized it was time to try everything possible to make a deal.
In the group for the league side were commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labor relations committee. For the players, it was union president Derek Fisher, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and two of the brightest stars who attended Tuesday’s crucial bargaining session — Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, according to one of the people with knowledge of the side meeting.
In that group, the league — sensing the opportunity for a deal was there — proposed essentially a 50-50 split with no additional expense reductions over a seven-year proposal, with each side having the ability to opt out after the sixth year, two of the people said. This was the offer Stern described in his news conference Tuesday evening, one he and Silver thought would be enough to finally close the enormous gap between the two sides.
Union Angered By 50/50 Disclosure
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated: Union officials were furious that Stern publicly disclosed the offer. Some believe it was put out to drive a wedge between the union, which thus far has been largely represented by veteran players making mid-seven- or eight-figure salaries. And in some ways, it had that effect. Three role players told SI.com via text message that, while needing further details, a 50-50 split sounded fair.
Most perplexing is that with the gap starting to close — at one point the two sides were $8 billion apart over a 10-year deal — they are walking away from the bargaining table. The NBA canceled the remainder of the preseason on Tuesday (at a cost, according to Stern, of $200 million) and on Monday plan to wipe out the first two weeks of the regular season if no deal is reached. While both sides have publicly and privately expressed a willingness to keep negotiating (“We had a large group of owners who had flown in and were prepared to negotiate around the clock,” Silver said) and a union source said there will likely be at least a phone call between Stern and Hunter before Monday, no meetings have been scheduled. While addressing the media, Hunter speculated that it could be months before the two sides sit down again.
“We’re playing hardball now?” one veteran player not in the room told SI.com. “You have got to be kidding me.”
Hunter now faces battles on multiple fronts. Several high-powered agents are pushing for the union to decertify and make the labor negotiations a court fight. These agents are adamantly opposed to the union cutting any kind of deal that guarantees them anything below 52 percent of the split with most pushing for at least 54. And, whether Hunter admits it or not, there is genuine unrest among the league’s role players to make a deal before an entire season is lost.
Players Need To Take Pay Cut, Get Back To Work
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: The NBA is not the NFL. Heck, right now, amid the major leagues’ thrilling late-season rush, the NBA is not even baseball. Yet the NBA’s average player salary of about $5.1 million equals the average salary of those two sports combined.
The NBA players need to do the math, listen to the yawns, and look in the mirror.
The NBA players need to take a pay cut and go back to work in a sport that will be healthier because of it.
Under the old agreement, the players were making 57% of basketball-related income. After Tuesday’s negotiating session, the owners were talking about giving the players 50%.
What happens if the players take that horrible pay cut? They will still be the highest-paid team athletes in American pro sports. Some of them will still make millions to spend their lives on a bench. The only thing that might radically change is that more owners might have more money to field better teams, increasing parity and popularity while ensuring survival.
The players are thus far refusing to take anything less than 53% because they say that, in the NBA, more than in any other sport, the stars are bigger than the league.
It’s true that no sport generates glitter like the NBA. It’s true that only in the NBA can one single player on one single night — Kevin Durant on a February Friday in Phoenix — convince thousands of fans to buy tickets to that game.
But the stars bigger than the league? Not even close. The stars can’t exist without the league, which not only pays them the money to ensure the security of their families’ future generations, but also provides them with the stage to make even more money in endorsements and business ventures.
If the stars are bigger than the league, then how come the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony don’t just spend the rest of their careers playing in those barnstorming playground games that have become so trendy? How come no major television network has paid for the rights to televise those games? How come no major sponsors have rushed to be associated with those games?
Not That Far Apart
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: In spite of all the rhetoric, the midpoints of the two offers indicates the gap between the two sides is just two BRI percentage points.
The owners, Stern said, have moved off their demands for a hard cap and rollbacks on existing player contracts.
Six of the league’s top agents who have been pushing for the union to decertify are expected to talk with their clients within the next day and determine what next step to take. Hunter said decertification is “something we have to give some thought to.”
Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were among the players who attended Tuesday’s meeting. Garnett was extremely emotional in a meeting with players before the full negotiating session, sources said. He rallied the players, who would begin to miss paychecks around Nov. 15, to hold firm on the BRI split.
“The thought among some of the owners is that once the players started missing checks, they would cave,” Hunter said.
Hunter said it would be wrong for the owners to test the players’ resolve.
“Our guys have indicated a willingness to lose games,” Hunter said.
Chris Sheridan of Sheridanhoops.com: No new talks are scheduled, but there is a lot of time between now and Monday.
The union is going to try to maintain its ground now — “The union told us there was no reason to schedule another meeting,” Silver said — but there will certainly come a point between now and Sunday when it behooves everyone to try to make the closing push.
“We’re ready to meet and discuss anything anyone wants to talk about,” Stern said.
And when those talks come, which they will, somewhere in between 50 and 53 will be the magic number that settles this lockout. The sides are simply too close to throw in the towel now — especially with the true 11th hour now known.
Moreover, the 50-50 concept (Stern made sure everyone understood the distinction that the owners are officially offering 47 percent, but conceptually are willing to go to 50-50. They also made it known that owners last weekend backed off their demand for rollbacks or givebacks from players’ current contracts) does not constitute the owners’ final offer.
“It demonstrates the potential for more movement on our part,” Silver said.
So if you read between the lines and cut through the bullshit, the end game became clear.
There is a deal to be done at 51/49 or 52/48, and there are five days to get there.
To me, that’s a layup.