Out In The Cold

Darius Soriano —  October 11, 2011

The first two weeks of the NBA season are gone. David Stern and the owners – the ones that possess the power to make such a decision – decreed it so last night after another bargaining session that did nothing to bridge the gulf that exists between the players and the owners.

Those who’ve followed my thoughts on the lockout know that I was optimistic about a full season being played with games starting on time. Obviously I was wrong. I thought logic and forward thinking would prevail and it did not. Chris Sheridan (of Sheridan Hoops) summed up how I feel perfectly with a brief post right after Stern made his ominous announcement:

I trusted wise men to act wisely. I believed in common sense prevailing. I think the NBA owners are nuts to go down this road. They just lost a significant percentage of their fair-weather fans. Idiocy rules the day. How very, very sad. Not just sad. Stupid.

For the Lakers, this means the first 8 games of their schedule are wiped away. Home games versus the Thunder, Hornets, Spurs, Nuggets, and Pistons; road games versus the Warriors, Suns, and Kings. If you’re scoring at home that’s one less chance to see Tim Duncan and Steve Nash towards the end of their careers while missing out on young up and comers like Durant (though, up and comer doesn’t do his position in the league justice), Westbrook, Curry, Evans, and Cousins.

At this point I’m a mix between extremely sad and ridiculously angry. I’ve long believed this was possible but didn’t think either side (especially the owners) would risk the progress made in recent seasons with an extended work stoppage. There’s simply too much to lose to let it play out this way but like some bad movie that we’re stuck watching here we are.

And while both sides share blame in this matter, in my heart of hearts I can’t escape the fact that the owners deserve more of it. In the past 15 years Stern and the owners have locked the players out twice. And twice we’ve lost games. After the ’99 lockout, the owners got nearly everything they wanted in the labor deal and were hailed unanimously as winners. They got their cap on max contracts, limits on contract lengths, a rookie pay scale, and a luxury tax (among other things). Today, they claim that they system they negotiated for (and got) doesn’t work anymore and it’s the players that must give back to make up for it.

But in the end, the real losers are the supporters of the game that have no say in the room where owners and players argue over BRI splits and punitive punishments on the highest spending teams. They’re arguing over how to divide the pie and we who spectate are left begging for crumbs that never come.

On that note, some choice reading on the subject:

From J.A. Adande, ESPN: You haven’t heard the fans, or the game itself mentioned much lately, have you? That’s because they don’t factor into this discussion at all. It was always about people saving themselves: owners asking the players to bail them out of bad business moves, players asking to preserve their cushy status with the highest average salaries among American team sports. The NBA was counting on you to be a sucker. You’d be a sucker because the league just intentionally damaged its brand and devalued its product by showing its willingness to do without it, secure in the knowledge that fans would still come back once this was over. Or you’re a sucker because you bought the lines the NBA fed you for the better part of two years — that the league needed a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks and other drastic changes to the fundamental structure of the league in order for the business model to be tenable — only to find out that wasn’t actually the case. That’s the realization that hit me Monday as we awaited word on the last-minute labor negotiations. At this point I was actually rooting against a simplistic end to the lockout. Because to end it without anything more drastic than a lower revenue share for the players would mean the past four months were a complete waste of time.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: It would take some real fools to shut down their $4 billion a year business in the middle of the worst recession in generations because the more than $1 billion over six years they just got back from the workers was not good enough. However, the NBA owners are not fools. They think you are. The owners — and these lost games are on them far more than the players — think that no matter what, you’ll come back. Maybe right when the season starts (something many of us hard-core fans admit), maybe when the playoffs start, maybe in a year or two, but you’ll be back. You’ll come back fast and in large numbers, dwarfing the more than $4 billion in revenues the NBA got last season.

From Tom Ziller, SB Nation: The concessions Stern cites? They were willing to keep guaranteed contracts alive, willing to drop their push for rollbacks on existing contracts and abandoned the hard salary cap concept.  How generous of the owners to drop three demands that they created themselves in these very negotiations! This is like a 6-year-old demanding three cookies, a bowl of ice cream and a bag of M&Ms. “OK, we’ll make a concession on the M&Ms, I’ll take three cookies and some ice cream. Hey, I made a concession!” It doesn’t work that way. One side is not allowed to “invent” a compromise from the start and claim it has negotiated in good faith to get there. Ah, “good faith,” an odd concept where these talks are concerned. The union argued way back in May that the league lacked good faith in its negotiations, and the players filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board to that effect. That complaint is still floating around the bureaucracy, ready to drop in at some point. I don’t know exactly how anti-trust litigation works in America these days, where the courts stand on the issue of the NBA as entertainment company vs. sole provider of legit pro basketball in the United States. But, as Hunter said Monday, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck …

From Zach Lowe, The Point Forward: I’ve addressed in detail why players care about the system issues despite this percentage setup. In their view — and the views of their agents and attorneys — a hard cap or something approximating it will kill guaranteed long-term contracts for middle-class veteran players. The players as a whole might be guaranteed that set percentage of revenues, but that money would be distributed differently, with stars getting more, rookies getting whatever the rules allow and the middle-rung veterans scrapping for leftovers on short-term deals. You can understand that. It’s hard to see, but you can understand it. But why are the owners willing to lose actual basketball games, and the revenue that goes with them, over system issues? That is the harder question, since they too will receive only the set percentage of revenue to which they are entitled. If you ask the league, it will stress competitive balance — the notion that hardening the cap system will help small-market teams compete with the big boys by narrowing the spending gap. And yet, just about all the evidence we have on record suggests basketball might be inherently “uncompetitive,” relative to other popular team sports. Nor is it clear that, should the league somehow achieve parity, that doing so would increase its popularity. Maybe it will. I’d bet against it, but who knows? The point is, it’s uncertain, and you don’t cough up hundreds of millions in revenue to chase a dream.

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Meanwhile, Stern has not exactly said that the league has already made the best offer, but close enough. Asked if the offers would get worse from here, Stern’s entire answer was: “Well, our economic situation gets worse, and we have to begin accounting for that.”  In other words, strong signs from both sides that they’ll be staying on their respective sides of the “gulf,” even though we know it can’t be true. There are a lot of really smart and fascinatingly subtle aspects to these negotiations. The people involved are incredibly capable. The process is in some ways rational. This is how $20 billion deals go, there is a lot of posturing and delays. However, now that the costs get real, lost revenues, disenfranchised fans, tough times for those who rely on the NBA to pay the bills, it’s worth noting that when this is all done, in addition to paying the price of change, the two sides will also have paid mightily in idiot tax. When success hinges entirely on compromise, how smart is it to build statues to inflexibility?

From Brian Kamentzky, Land O’ Lakers: Don’t hold your breath for a quick resolution. While the rhetoric following tonight’s negotiations was predictably strong, it still doesn’t appear to be a situation where after weeks of talks progress is being made, just not quite fast enough. Said Stern, “We’re further apart on where we thought we would get to on the contract length, on the length of the deal, on the use of exceptions by taxpaying teams, on annual increases for players, and for the tax levels, and the frequency of the tax.” On a positive note, I do believe, though I can’t confirm, both sides have agreed the basketball will remain orange. Monday’s news comes as a shock to, well, nobody. Pollyanna herself Tweeted over the weekend she’d be making alternate plans for opening night. Still, a very scary line has crossed, because from this point forward the math changes as both sides start losing income. At least initially, expect owners to roll back their proposals, prompted they say by the lost income of missed games. “Our economic situation gets worse,” Stern said, “and we have to begin accounting for that.” Players could very well dig in, too. Why bother forgoing checks only to accept what they see as the same bad deal a couple of weeks later?

From David Murphy, Searching For Slava: In the end, it came down to yards, not inches, and the eldest of elders turned slightly away and rubbed at his chest and wore his smile and his skin turned gray as he spun avarice into pride. And the lights blazed on and the town criers sat at devices, and fingers danced over keys marked “insert” and “delete” and they cooked their bindles grimly and inserted thin needles into delivery systems. And the trails turned to tar until the spaces had filled and villagers put away their torches and stroked long beards and headed for home. Yesterday, Derek Fisher sent a letter urging all players to attend a Monday meeting in Los Angeles if at all possible. It seemed prescient, signaling the possibility of a vote to affirm if saner voices had prevailed, or to stand for unity if the scene had gone bad. The owners stalled and snickered and eventually heard distant barking and left, their mouths wet with new want. The practice courts will not echo again. Words will not rinse clean. And we will fold our hopes into squares and place them in penny jars and cardboard boxes.

Lastly, some have been lobbying for NBA players to head to Europe to increase their leverage in these talks. But if you read the twitter timeline of Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony, you’ll find that’s not necessarily in the cards, stating agents are living in a “fantasy world” if they believe roster spots for established NBA names will simply open up:

Unfortunately the majority of NBA agents don’t have any clue about how int’l teams operate. They missed their opportunity in the summer. Speaking from experience after approaching 15-20 NBA players w/serious offers from int’l teams. Most agents just don’t understand the market. I have no issues w/that, but don’t expect these teams to bail you out now that reality finally hit you in the face. The market is 97% closed.


Darius Soriano

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