Archives For November 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.

Where Optimism Lives

Darius Soriano —  November 15, 2011

Monday’s news that the players had not only rejected the NBA’s latest offer but had disclaimed interest and would disband their union has left nearly everyone sullen, upset, and discouraged. A deal that would save at least part of the NBA season seems further away (much further, in fact) than ever and Billy Hunter is saying that a cancelled season is now “probable” not “possible”.

However, even with all the doom and gloom, there is still reason to hope not all is lost. From a Zach Lowe report:

“It is impossible to predict what is going to happen,” said Gabe Feldman, a sports law expert and professor at Tulane. The NBA could cave immediately under threat of damages and give the union a better deal — a very unlikely outcome given Stern’s defiance. The union could win a short-term court victory — say a judge denying the league’s motion to dismiss the suit — and force the NBA’s hand. The league, in a legal fantasy world, could enact new free-market rules that might pass must in antitrust court — rules that would allow the Lakers or Mavericks to sign Nene, Tyson Chandler, Tayshaun Prince and any other free agents they’d like for as much money as they’d like. The smart money remains on the two sides settling in some form before January, the point at which the season would be lost. “Today is Nov. 14,” Hunter told a small group of reporters after the meeting. “That is ample time for us to save the season.”

Meanwhile, Henry Abbott lists eight reasons the players latest move can help facilitate an agreement. Among them, these two caught my eye:

  • The money-losing hardline owners can complicate things. But their influence would seem to be finite now that the league and players have traded offers at 50 percent of BRI for active players. More revenue sharing is on the way. Barring a vast new effort by owners to get players to knuckle under — an effort by the way, that would undermine the league’s claims of bargaining in good faith — the relief for those owners would seem to be set. In other words, the increased money the owners want is not on the table anyway.
  • Seeing an antitrust matter all the way through to its final resolution could take years, costing players $6 billion or more in salary if it lasts three years. It makes little sense that this would be the players’ plan. On Monday their new attorney, David Boies, seemed to confirm that the players envision a quicker resolution. He said that his clients were not going to seek an injunction because that would take a long time and “what the players are focusing on right now is what is the fastest way to get this resolved.” Similarly, Derek Fisher says “we continue to want to get to work, to get back to work, to negotiate, but that process has broken down.”

Also understand that David Stern himself stated – quite incredulously, I might add – that the players’ disclaimer is simply part of the negotiations (he actually called it a ploy, a charade, and a magic trick, but I digress). So, even the other side sees this as a means to continue to influence the deal. This means the rhetoric being tossed out (even if in harsh language) is still about making a deal and bringing the game back.

These may be minor points and only a faint glimmer of hope in an otherwise dour piece of news but I’m still inclined to believe too many people actually want the NBA back for both sides to simply throw it all away. Yes, there’s still a lot of anger. And, yes, the sticking points are real. But for a deal that was pretty close to being made before this latest breakdown, I’m still looking for both sides to come to their senses.

Tomorrow: The details of the proposed deal the players might want changed.

Is Today The Day?

Darius Soriano —  November 14, 2011

UPDATE: The players union has not agreed to the owners deal. On top of that, they’ve “disclaimed interest” in the union that was representing them in these negotiations in order to move forward with an anti-trust suit against the NBA. The goals of a such a suit are multiple, but from my (non-lawyer) understanding the major goal is to get the lockout lifted due to the fact that without a union representing the players, the NBA is no longer eligible for anti-trust exemption and thus, the lockout would be illegal.

I’ll have more information when I get it, but for now, join me in mourning. The battle has shifted from both sides negotiators to lawyers. The likelihood there’s a season just went down. A lot. Sigh.

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*Shakes Magic 8 Ball*

“Reply hazy, try again later.”

Today, the player reps for each team gather in New York to hear the NBA’s latest (last best?) offer from their leadership. They’re likely to be joined by several other big-name players (Kobe is there, as is Carmelo) who will let their opinions be known on how to move forward and whether they should accept, decline, or counter the offer that’s currently on table. Up to this point in the negotiation process, this is the biggest day we’ve had as it’s very likely that whatever decision the players will make will either result in a deal being made very quickly or the odds of there not being a season at all going way, way up.

A few scattered thoughts on the proposed deal and what I think the players will do:

  • The key points to the deal on the table are actually available for everyone to read. It’s the layman’s terms version that’s been put out by the league (as a memo to the players) and has a bit of spin in it to help try to convince the players to agree to it, but you can read it for yourself to gauge whether or not you think this is a deal the players should agree to.
  • My takeaway is that it still includes some restrictions on luxury tax paying teams that the players are going to find difficult to agree to. A lower mid-level exception and the elimination of sign and trades are still present and, as I’ve mentioned before, those are provisions that limit players’ mobility to any given team. The players will forever be against any measure that restricts their ability to set a “market price” for their services and the reduced MLE does just that.
  • One issue I have with the document the league released was them citing statistics of how many times a certain type of transaction occurred (for example it’s stated that “Taxpayers used the sign-and-trade to acquire only 4 players during the prior CBA”) as if those stats should be interpreted by the players as reflecting things that aren’t meaningful and shouldn’t hold up a deal. However, I think the same thing could be said to the owners and I wonder why they’re sticking points from their end as well. I mean, if some of these transactions have only occurred a handful of times, why do the owners feel they’re needed in the new CBA?
  • This is why I think the players won’t accept the deal on the table as is, but will instead state to the owners (and the public) what changes they’d make and would agree to. This will let everyone know where the players stand, that they’re not the roadblock to a season happening, and that all the owners have to do is drop a few of there lesser demands in order to get a deal done. The players can make the clear point that they’ll accept a 50/50 BRI split and will take the owners deal almost as is, but some of these issues – ones that the owners themselves say weren’t a big part of the last CBA – they’d like to see stay as is. At that point the pressure shifts back to the owners while the players would have openly stated they’re willing to get the season started asap.
  • That said, I also would not be surprised if the players did not take that route at all and instead declined the owners’ offer outright. And personally, I would not blame them too much. That’s because the players are in a lose, lose, lose situation. They know they’ve already lost on this current deal – they’ve moved down 7% on their percentage of BRI, will accept shorter contract lengths, lower annual raises, and more punitive tax rates on the highest spenders. They know that the owners possess a strong negotiating position and that they’re not likely to make too many inroads in these current talks beyond, maybe, getting a few minor concessions. And they know that the owners have taken a negotiating stance that could barely be described as “good faith” (if at all) and going back to a work environment under those same owners is something that may be too difficult to live with.
  • Beyond those issues though, the players are also in a position where what they’ve given up will likely never be gotten back by this current crop of players and any future negotiations will put them in a position where it’s doubtful they’ll be viewed in a light anywhere near as favorable as they are now. Understand that the current deal reportedly has opt outs for both sides after 6 years. Well, lets say the league does well over the course of the next 6 years – after all, the current crop of stars, the continued saga of the Heat, and other story lines are sure to keep the league popular – but the players find that certain parts of this deal aren’t tenable long term and they think they need to be renegotiated. In this scenario, the players may want to opt out but with increased revenue sharing, a better TV deal, and growing revenues, the owners are perfectly happy keeping the deal as is. So, the only way to get out of the current deal form the players side is to opt out themselves. In other words, they’d need to go on strike in order to reengage in talks. And, ultimately, going on strike would be a PR disaster where any goodwill they’d have built up in these talks would instantly vanish. If there’s one way to be viewed as a selfish, greedy athlete, it’s to go on strike. Some view the players that way right now even though they’ve been the only side moving in these negotiations after the owners locked them out. Imagine what it would be like should the players be the ones saying they want more?
  • In the end, though, today is a day where we should know more. And while I want to see basketball again and want a deal to get done, all I can do is wait with the rest of you to see what happens. Hopefully it’s positive; hopefully the players can get a few of the things they want in order to claim even a small victory and we get basketball back soon. We’ll see.

(R.R. Magellan, also known as “Rey-Rey”, is the founder and editor of the L.A. based-NBA at-large site, The No-Look Pass. From time to time, he will take us back to the Laker players of yesteryear, give his thoughts on how the player performed as a Laker, and how they are doing now. For more of Rey-Rey’s work, check out TheNoLookPass.Com.)

He didn’t play much for the Lakers. In fact, he only played a total of 86 games (started 14 of those) that spanned two seasons. But Antonio Harvey was an exciting player in the lean years of the Lakers as they transitioned from Showtime to the Shaq years. He went to Pfeiffer University from North Carolina but went undrafted in the 1993 NBA Draft. He then signed as a free agent with the Lakers before the 1993-94 season started.

Harvey didn’t get much playing time in his stint with the Lakers (not even 10 minutes per game) but he made the most out of it. He had incredible leaping ability and was an easy fan favorite with his hustle and spectacular dunks and blocks (0.7 in his stay but with his playing time, that’s impressive… he blocked 2.8 shots per 36 minutes in his first season and 2.6 per 36 in his second). He definitely won me over but he didn’t have much of an offensive game other than his air show and putbacks.

His Laker highlight was definitely his participation in the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest. He looked poised to go to the Finals as he hyped up the crowd before his last dunk. What happened after looked comical; he lost himself in the air attempting a 360 dunk and ended up throwing the ball on the backboard, completely missing the rim. I will never forget the reactions the All-Stars had after that miss (including future Laker, Shaquille O’Neal).

It was hard to get Harvey playing time with Vlade Divac, Elden Campbell, and Sam Bowie already on the roster… and he barely got on the court during the surprising 1994-95 Laker playoff run. He became expendable for the expansion draft for the following season and the then-Vancouver Grizzlies snatched him up. He enjoyed his best statistical stint in Vancouver where he averaged 5.4 points and 5.2 boards in 18 games. The Grizzlies waived him halfway through the season and he went back to L.A. for a stay with the Clippers. He would play for the Sonics, Blazers, and the Hawks in little clumps of the season and in between those, he played in Europe. He ended his NBA career after the 2002-03 season. At the very least, I’ll remember Harvey as a nice high-flying act and I was glad to see him suit up for the Lakers for a couple of seasons.

Antonio Harvey is now the radio analyst for the Portland TrailBlazers, where he played for two seasons. Glad to see him still be involved with the NBA after he was done playing.

-R.R. Magellan

The players and owners are meeting again today, on the heels of yesterday’s marathon session, still looking for that elusive deal that both sides can live with. The issues remain the same – owners want more money, players want more freedom to negotiate market contracts with every team – and neither side wants to budge as they see the issues at hand tantamount to a successful league. So, while we wait for news, I offer up a few good articles (and one twitter update) to pass the time. Looking like a long wait, how u?

Ken Berger, of CBS Sports, had a talk with Bill Russell and some very good points were raised. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but this excerpt was one that resonated:

“I think the whole deal is not about black and white. It’s about money, OK? I don’t see any signs of being greedy. It’s a typical negotiation and that’s all it is. And there are a couple of reasons it’s difficult, because there’s hard-liners on both sides. But to me, the name-calling or vilifying the other side is a non-issue,” Russell said. “All that is is a distraction — a distraction from the task at hand, which is reaching an agreement that neither side will probably be completely happy with. But that’s the art of compromise.” Russell said both sides “have their points,” but he views the key stumbling blocks as owners as trying to “protect themselves from the owners” and a battle between “the small-market teams and the big-market teams. The players want their fair share of the business and the small-market owners don’t want to keep losing money,” Russell said.

Speaking of old legends, Michael Jordan’s hardline stance is examined by Henry Abbott as he wonders if his airness’ words should carry much weight:

How much sway can he possibly have? Any case he makes players and owners alike can laugh off, knowing that history says he’ll take whatever position is convenient. His credibility, in other words, is shot. The opposite of shifting positions as convenient is standing for something. That’s not what Jordan has ever been best known for — going all the way back to the days of “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” At Harvard, they have done extensive research into negotiations. Crudely summarized, they have found that the winning approach is not for each side to simply advocate for what it wants. The winning approach is for the two sides to search for principles both can agree on — universal truths within the room. Instead of saying the mid-level must be smaller, in other words, you say that it would be good to control the spending of the biggest teams, and the two sides can explore, together, ways to honor that goal. It’s very hard to imagine that Jordan could play any role like that, however. He is a odd champion of timeless truths.

Meanwhile, over at The Point Forward, Zach Lowe is talking about how long the season could (and should) be after an agreement is made. His conclusion is pretty simple: extra games in a shortened period will equal lower quality basketball:

Tack on an extra eight games to maximize revenue, and teams are playing 17 games per month on average instead of the normal 15. That might not sound like much, but it will necessitate one or two back-to-back-to-back stretches and result in less rest, less practice time and more tired legs — even if the league manages to reduce coast-to-coast travel, as it did in 1999. Teams played 17 games per month in that season instead of the normal 15, and scoring efficiency, pace and shooting percentages plummeted to their lowest point in modern league history. It was ugly. Players hate it, trainers hate it, coaches hate it and the quality of play will suffer — especially as it comes atop a frenzied free-agent period and reduced training camp. And while it’s tempting to suggest the older teams will struggle the most, the best evidence we have about back-to-backs and the dreaded back-to-back-to-backs suggests things are a little more unpredictable than that. What isn’t unpredictable: The games are worse overall, and defense appears to suffer badly as players tire.

Finally, friend of FB&G, J.D. Hastings tweeted a great thought about why he’s struggling with the position of small market hardline owners. It’s worth sharing:

I’m for measures that help the league as a whole but if you start harming the league to prop up a market that’s not viable, then you’ve gone too far. Where’s that line? I don’t know, but right now today we’re in a position where hard liners for small markets are acting in a way that could lose the season to support themselves over measures that have never been shown to be effective at increasing competition.