Looking Through The Players’ Eyes

Darius Soriano —  November 16, 2011

As we all know by now, there is no deal between the players and the owners to end the lockout. Furthermore, the players – through a an up and down vote of the player reps in attendance at Monday’s meeting – unanimously voted to “disclaim interest” in their union, a move that removes the NBPA’s authority to negotiate for the players and limits their power in a variety of other areas in relation to player rights (for a full explanation, read Billy Hunter’s letter to players explaining the ramifications). And while there’s still hope a deal can be reached, the light at the end of the tunnel has dimmed considerably.

The union’s decision to go down this path isn’t what I would have recommended. If I were in their shoes I would have put the onus back on the owners by stating “the players are ready to sign the deal if a few tweaks to the current offer were made.” The owners would then have to decide if the issues the players wanted changed were important enough to them to continue their hard-line stance and ultimately to derail the season because the owners simply had to keep them as is.

But that’s water under the bridge now. The players have made their move and now it’s in the hands of lawyers and judges.

Taking a step back, though, the question remains, why did the players make the choice they did? They’re now viewed by many as the people that have held up a deal when one was there to be made. Many smart people are attempting to argue that they’re now more at fault than the owners because they decided to reject the offer on the table. What about that deal was so bad? Let’s try to explore.

In the lead up to Monday’s players’ reps meeting in New York, the league did something I asked for on twitter just a couple of days earlier: they put their offer out to the public for everyone to see and evaluate. There was some spin involved and this maneuver could have also been motivated by wanting to pressure the players to contact their union to put the offer to a vote, but the end result is the same – we got to see the offer on the table.

Before the league got into the nuts and bolts of the proposal, they offered a few bullet points of clarification, stating “Contrary to media reports over the weekend, the NBA’s proposal would”:

  • Increase, not reduce, the market for mid-level players. Under the NBA’s proposal, there are now three Mid-Level Exceptions, one more than under the prior CBA: $5 million for Non-Taxpayers, $3 million for Taxpayers, and $2.5 million for Room teams. While the proposal would not permit Taxpayers to use the $5 million Mid-Level, that is not much of a change – since Taxpayers used the Mid-Level to sign only 9 players for $5 million or more during the prior CBA.
  • Permit unlimited use of the Bird Exception. The proposal allows all teams to re-sign their players through full use of the existing Bird exception.
  • Allow sign-and-trades by Non-Taxpayers. Under the proposal, Non-Taxpayers can still acquire other teams’ free agents using the sign-and trade. While Taxpayers cannot use sign-and-trade beginning in Year 3, this is not much of a change, since Taxpayers used the sign-and-trade to acquire only 4 players during the prior CBA.
  • Allow an active free agent market and greater player movement. Under the proposal, contracts will be shorter and remaining payments under waived contracts signed under the new CBA will be “stretched” – both of which will give teams more money each year to sign free agents. The proposal also requires teams to make higher Qualifying Offers and provides a shorter period to match Offer Sheets – thereby improving Restricted Free Agency for players. And the proposal contains a larger Trade Exception, which will foster more player movement.

After reading those points, the question from earlier stands: what’s wrong with this? If trying to examine this through the players’ eyes, most of these points are spin meant to create a favorable view of the NBA’s offer. Let’s tackle them one by one:

  • Point one speaks to a larger market for mid-level players by creating more salary cap exceptions to sign free agents with. However, these contracts are fixed compensation rates that eliminate the ability of players to create a market for their services to all teams at the same price point. This differentiation in compensation negatively affects contract negotiations for players.
  • Point two is essentially a carry over from the previous CBA. This isn’t a “win” for either side, but rather a continuation of the status quo.
  • Point three is another measure that limits players’ ability to move to any team that wants to acquire them. Players surely find any limitations on their mobility to be a big hurdle to an agreement as it limits their options and ability to find the best deal available.
  • Point four is trying to dress up the fact that players will have less security under this deal through shorter contract lengths and teams’ ability to waive players. The positives of more players being able to take advantage of free agency and trades are countered by the issues with points #1 and #3 where compensation rates and ability to trade for players vary by type of team. It should be pointed out, though, that higher qualifying offers and shorter “match periods” for restricted free agents do benefit the players positively.

As we’ve covered in this space before, any provisions that limit player movement or limit/prevent players from seeking market level deals from every team are going to be difficult for players to agree to.

When you then pair those concerns with the owners’ approach to negotiating this deal (asking for unprecedented givebacks in relation to the last CBA, moving off far-reaching hard-line demands and calling them “concessions”, placing ultimatums with threats of resetting to worse offers if an agreement isn’t struck) it’s easier to understand the players position and why they’d reject the deal on the table.

In the end, it seems the players feel the owners have simply asked for too much. It also seems that after looking at the deal on the table and examining the last points of contention that both sides were haggling over, the players realized even if they “won” this last round of talks, the overall loss they were taking would be too big.

This isn’t to say the players are completely in the right and the owners are completely in the wrong. Both sides are to blame in this fiasco that’s cost us the game we love to watch.

But in examining this offer as if I were a player, I can better understand why they didn’t simply sign on the dotted line this past Monday.

Darius Soriano

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