We Have Seen The Enemy…..

 —  May 19, 2005

Apparently the NBA and players union are on their way to a lockout this summer. Even a one-month lockout could be bad news locally as it could water down the Summer Pro League in Long Beach, at least in terms of having a Laker (or Clipper or Warrior or…) team competing. With a new coach coming in, that summer league is something the Lakers really need for putting in the new system. (Update: I heard back from the organizers of the Summer Pro League and they said they would very likely have games with teams put together by agents looking to showcase clients, something that already accounts for a number of teams. However, there would be no teams representing NBA organizations if there is a lockout.)

The good thing is the NBA is not the NHL — this is not a broken system where owners are loosing money and television ratings are nonexistent. The financial structure of the NBA works. Maybe not as well as everyone would like, but it works.

Which is why I find it odd the negotiations reached the point they did so smoothly. The concessions the owners are asking for is not just something that will line their pockets — the owners want to be protected from themselves and not face the consequences of bad decisions.

Let’s start with shortening contract lengths, currently free agents can sign max six-year deals with a new team, seven with their current team. The owners want that cut the three years and four years. Why? Not because the Lakers don’t want to keep Kobe around or Cleveland is worried about giving money to LeBron, but because the owners overspend and give huge deals to Allan Houston and Brian Grant and they want to be able to get out earlier. A better example would be this coming summer and the unrestricted free agent Ray Allen: Despite the fact he is 30 some team would have given him a six-year max deal. Then, four years from now when Allen’s considerable skills have started to seriously erode, they would be on the hook for a couple more years.

I say they should be, they should face the consequences of unwise contract decisions. Offer a long-term deal to an old player — or one who had one good year and can’t continue to play on that level — and your team should be punished with the cap hit and contract. Bad management decisions should have consequences.

The same is true of the idea of an age limit. What the owners want to do is take the pressure off themselves to scout and draft these young players, because many don’t work out. The owners love LeBron and Dwight Howard, what they don’t want are more Darko Milicics. Again, I say a team that drafts a high school player is taking a chance — usually high risk/high reward — and they should have to live with the consequences of that decision. The owners want to solve the situation by postponing the decision.

I’m not sure if there will be a lockout and how long one would last, but the current NBA system works fairly well and should be able to be tweaked rather than have major changes made. And whatever changes are made, management decisions should have long-term consequences for their team.