HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If 15 mind-bending hours of negotiations are any indication, that little cooling off period seems to have helped both sides in the NBA’s ongoing labor impasse.
After breaking off talks late last week, the two sides have resumed their discussions and the first day (and night) of these latest talks have produced at least a glimmer of hope that a new deal could be in the works sometime sooner rather than later. Of course, caution is needed where these things are concerned. We’ve been here a time or two in the past 119 days, reading the tea leaves and feeling hopeful, only to have the reality of this situation snap us back to attention.
But everyone’s tone has changed dramatically since last week, when NBA Commissioner David Stern‘s absence from federally-mediated talks (the doctors sent him home) coincided with what was the most dramatic detour to date in the progression of these negotiations.
Union executive director Billy Hunter spoke of a potential deal being ready within the next five or six days and Stern even floated the notion of an 82-game season being worked out, provided the sides come to a consensus on a new deal in rapid fashion.
That sets up this afternoon’s bargaining session in New York as perhaps the (latest) most critical day in the process. Another positive day of talks could provide us with more than just a glimmer of hope — (although, the Prime Minister warns that we shouldn’t go dreaming about unicorns and rainbows until we see Stern and Hunter shaking hands at one of these post-session pressers) …
A Deal To Be Done, If Both Sides Are Ready
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports writes that the time to make a deal is near:
From front-office executives to player agents, optimism is rapidly rising that there’s significant momentum toward reaching an agreement and saving most, if not all, of the 82-game regular season. Union executive director Billy Hunter said he “assumes” the full schedule could be saved if a deal is reached by “Sunday or Monday.” Stern said the league will work with the union to schedule as many games as possible.
The two sides didn’t discuss the split of revenue – a contentious issue in previous negotiating sessions – instead taking Hunter’s suggestion they “park” the discussion while negotiating system issues. Stern indicated the talks likely won’t return to the split until the league and union have finished with the system. League and union officials will continue to meet in small groups Thursday. Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt will brief the owners’ labor-relations committee before talks resume.
The players would be willing to move closer to a 50-50 split on basketball-related income (BRI) if they can maintain comparable exceptions to the ones they had in the previous labor agreement – and a luxury tax that doesn’t too punitively discourage big-spending teams from exceeding the salary cap, sources said.
… Once an agreement is reached in principle, the league’s board of governors and the players will both have to ratify it. About three weeks will be needed to get the deal finalized in writing, allow teams to sign free agents and hold abbreviated training camps, possibly pushing the start of the regular season into the last week of November or the first week of December.
“There’s no question today was a better day than last Thursday,” Silver said. “I think it’s too early … still in the negotiations to express confidence we’re at a deal. There’s no question, though, we did make progress on some significant issues. But there are still some significant issues left.”
Still A Chance For 82 Games
Chris Sheridan of Sheridanhoops.com on how a full season can still be salvaged:
Hunter also said a deal needs to be made by “Sunday or Monday” in order to preserve an 82-game season that would inevitably include a heftier dose of back-to-back games than teams are accustomed to.
Neither side revealed specifics of the system issues that were discussed, but it is well known that the sides have been trying to reach compromises on how punitive the new luxury tax system will be, what changes will be made regarding restricted and unrestricted free agency, along with various other tweaks to the current salary cap system that would keep it a “soft” enough system for the players to find palatable.
“I have a pretty good idea of what they’d like, and we’re trying very hard to get them what they’d like,” Stern said. “We’re trying to apply a tourniquet and move forward. That has always been our goal.”
Stern said there will be issues related to arena availability, travel schedules and having to compress a full slate of games into a tighter time frame. He also used the phrase “this week” in describing the time frame for getting a deal done in order to save an 82-game schedule.
One could fairly ascertain after hearing from both sides that the discussions are somewhat plodding, and union president Derek Fisher cautioned that “Now is too early to gauge what progress is being made.”
Asked if there was at least a meeting of the minds, Fisher said: “I think that’s a little bit of a reach.”
So the lockout lives on, but there is clearly more than a glimmer of hope that a mutually agreeable resolution can come within reach over the next few days.
And once it is within reach, it’ll come down to a question of whether both sides are willing to make a leap to the middle on the split of revenues in order to close the deal.
Is 82 Games A Few Too Many?
At the moment, the league has announced the cancellation of only the first two weeks of the regular season. But others have surely been ruled out by the practicalities of what has to happen between a handshake deal and opening night. In 1999’s lockout, schedule creation, training camp, free agency and a shortened preseason took a month. There have been some signs that this time around all that could be done more quickly. But even just three weeks from the soonest possible deal would mean the scheduler having to pack something like 150 extra games into the remainder of a season that is normally 1,230 games.
Asked if it was safe to say there would not be games in the latter half of November, Stern said, “I don’t have a calendar with me, but you’re as good a guesser as I am.”
Maybe Stern is non-committal because the threat of a short season is one more threat to players’ pocketbooks that might be handy in talks. Every missed game is salary owners will never have to pay.
Maybe the NBA has long had contingency schedules, with late starts, in place. Maybe they can push the playoffs a bit later, even with the Olympics starting shortly thereafter.
Or maybe it really is just a big ol’ scheduling nightmare, which will result in a tough-to-watch, too-long season with ridiculous travel and far too many back-to-backs.
As basketball fans, we have been pining for a full season. But now that it’s the end of October, in the name of seeing energetic players at their best, maybe it’s time to embrace the idea of lost games. Put down your shoehorns, oh schedule makers.
As much as we have been rooting for 82 games, the calendar says it’s time to root for top-quality NBA basketball instead.
Wisdom From The Union’s Superstar Of Supply And Demand
Steve Aschburner of NBA.com provides this enlightening take from union economist Kevin Murphy:
NBA.com: Why do you think it’s more so in basketball than other sports?KM: The difference between being an NBA Finals team and being an also-ran is a couple of guys – maybe one guy. It’s only five guys and you can give the same guy the ball every time you come down if you want to. … And the players are very visible. It’s more of a player-driven sport than [the others], and the advent of the Internet has made it even more so.It’s also changed the game in that people aren’t as parochial as they used to be. At one time, people followed their team because they read the local paper and watched the local news. But now I can be a fan of the Lakers and live in … Seattle. I’ve got all the Internet access, I’ve got NBA TV, I’ve got a zillion ways to be a fan long-distance.NBA.com: That plays right into the structure issues the owners have. They want Milwaukee fans, for example, to not only root for the Bucks but to have most seasons with hope that their team can compete with bigger-revenue markets.KM: There’s an element of that. But also, be careful what you wish for. When you get a Sacramento-Charlotte NBA Finals, guys will be crying over the TV ratings. We know that even with baseball – it’s an exciting World Series but the ratings aren’t there because it’s the Texas Rangers and St. Louis. Basketball is even more star-driven. You get to an NBA Finals that doesn’t have one of the premier players in the league in it, it becomes a lot less interesting. And with 30 teams, not everybody is going to have one of the premier players.NBA.com: There are fewer franchise players than there are franchises.KM: For sure. Especially not created equal. You have a relatively small number of true franchise players. Then you have kind of wannabe franchise players. But there aren’t 30 Kobe Bryants, LeBron James or Dwyane Wades – wherever you want to draw the line, but there aren’t 30 of them.
Lockout Veterans To Current Players: Stand United
Ron Tillery of the Commercial Appeal relays the message from one generation of players to the current crew:
Penny Hardaway had the backing of Nike. Elliot Perry‘s frugal nature was his biggest asset. And Damon Stoudamire banked on a lucrative future.
All three — albeit with disparate financial situations — were once the faces of an NBA lockout. Hardaway enjoyed superstar status. Perry walked as a proud member of the league’s middle class. A young Stoudamire’s crossover dribble had him shooting at stardom.
But what these former NBA players held in common during the NBA’s 1998 work stoppage was unification that they believe will be a slam dunk with players today.
“The one thing everybody kept in mind was that you wanted to leave behind a healthy league,” Perry said. “You wanted the players to have an opportunity to grow.”
“It wasn’t just about me,” Hardaway said. “I was looking at everybody. It had to be fair for everybody.”
“I’m not saying it was easy,” Stoudamire said. “But getting a good deal was important. I went from making $1.7 million to (earning) $11 million.”
Back then, the NBA didn’t resolve its labor dispute until January. Both parties agreed to a deal that allowed for a 50-game season that began in February of 1999.
The current lockout is in its 119th day with regular-season games canceled through Nov. 15. Optimism can be drawn today from the fact that both sides meet regularly — having last met Wednesday in New York.
Communication was scarce during the NBA’s last lockout.
Player unity apparently never waned.
In 1998, players held weekly conference calls. There were regional meetings, too. The players’ solidarity strengthened during a meeting in Las Vegas where more than 400 players attended.
“That meeting gave (players’ union chief) Billy Hunter the confidence that he could continue to negotiate and sleep at night,” Perry, who serves as the Grizzlies radio analyst, said. “For me, it was hearing guys like (Michael) Jordan not talk about Jordan. He was talking about the middle class and the health of the league. He was talking about the next generation.”
Sam Amick of SI.com writes that while progress was made, the specifics of that progress remains a bit of a mystery:
So how much progress was made and how real is this renewed hope? It is, as the key parties made clear, hard to say.
With both sides indicating that only system issues were discussed and not the split of basketball-related income that had caused the latest break in talks, National Basketball Players Association president Derek Fisher took the measured approach in his comments.
“I can’t say that major progress was made in any way but there was some progress on some of our system issues — obviously enough for us to come back at 2 p.m. tomorrow,” Fisher told reporters. “And we’ll continue to work through as long as we possibly can and as hard as we possibly can to see if we can get a deal done. But we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves at this point.”
Yet when asked to detail the progress on the system issues such as the luxury-tax system, salary-cap exceptions and contract lengths, Hunter seemed to hint that Thursday afternoon could bring the type of progress that you don’t have to downplay to the public.
“While we’re not prepared to talk about the specifics of the progress tonight, we may be prepared to discuss it tomorrow,” Hunter said.
Stern, who missed last Thursday’s session because of illness, was equally hesitant to offer any predictions but admitted progress had taken place: “I can’t describe it,” he said, “other than to say it’s much better than not making any progress at all.
“This has been a very arduous and difficult day, and productive. [Thursday] is going to be just as arduous and difficult, if not moreso. We hope that it can be as productive.”