Archives For Lockout News

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  May 17, 2013

The playoffs continue to roll with the Memphis Grizzlies heading for a down and dirty showdown with the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. For the Los Angeles Lakers, the story continues to be whether Dwight Howard will or won’t resign and how to fill in the gaps around a core group of expensive veterans. General wisdom holds that Lakers need to preserve the ability to rebuild during the 2014-15 season when Kobe and Pau’s contracts come off the books. The new CBA doesn’t give much wiggle room regardless – the upcoming season poses the challenge of fielding a supporting cast through the team’s own free agents, the mini mid-level exception, veteran minimum deals, the 49th pick in the 2013 draft and any potential Pau Gasol trade.

Continue Reading…

Looking Like A Season…

Darius Soriano —  November 26, 2011

How u?

Very good, thank you very much.

The wait is over as the owners and players have tentatively agreed to terms on a new CBA that will end the NBA lockout. The deal will need to be ratified by vote by both the players and owners, but that’s seemingly a formality at this point. The plan is to start a 66 game season on Christmas Day with a triple-header that will likely include the Lakers taking on the Bulls as the original 82 game schedule had planned.

We’ll have more details on the actual terms of the deal when we know them but for now, CELEBRATE. The lockout has been lifted and, before you know it, we should have actual basketball to watch.

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.

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.

“It’s business, not personal.”

I’ve always found that phrase to be both accurate and disingenuous at the same time. It’s usually uttered by someone in a position of power getting ready to impact another person’s life in a negative way or by someone who’s seen the affects of such a move and is using the phrase as a shield.

Right now, in the battle over BRI percentage points and the system that will govern the NBA, we’re seeing the same thing. Owners want a better business model. They want a larger piece of the revenue pie and a system – in their words – that allows them to better compete both financially and on the hardwood. Their hardline stance is based off business, it’s not personal.

Meanwhile, the players argue the same thing. They want to retain the earning ability they, as a union, have fought for and obtained over the past several decades. They want a system that allows for player movement to all teams, with few restrictions on what a player can earn with one franchise versus another. The provisions the owners seek that handicap tax paying teams by lessing the contract value and length of mid-level exception deals and disallow sign and trades by those teams limit players’ options. So, their fight rages on because it’s business, not personal.

These are the issues still at hand in these collective bargaining talks and both sides refuse to give in because from a business standpoint these things matter. However, don’t let anyone tell you it’s all that matters. Because despite the rhetoric stating otherwise, it’s personal too.

Especially from the players’ side. The players are both worker and talent in this equation. Any bargaining point that speaks to their value is not only a business move, but one that is tied directly to their worth as people who provide this specialized service. It’s cliche, but there’s nothing more personal than the time and effort the players put into improving their games (and as a result, an improvement to themselves). The counter point is that there are guys like Eddy Curry or Baron Davis (or many others) that don’t take that improvement seriously; that rest on their laurels after their signature assures them millions of dollars. But for every Baron or Curry, there’s a Kobe, Durant, Rose, Dirk, etc, etc that do take it seriously. On twitter it’s become a punch line to read “rise and grind” tweets by athletes that make claims of going to the gym to work out or improve their game(s). But just because it’s repetitive and a bore to read, doesn’t mean it’s not actually happening. Most of these guys care and want to improve; basketball is their lifeblood and with careers short and the majority of them not guaranteed a huge payday the work must be put in.

This is why fairness has become a word that’s crept into the lexicon being thrown out by the players. In the press conference following Saturday’s (again) failed bargaining session, Derek Fisher said:

We expressed as we have the entire time … if we continue to try to meet you on the economics we need a fair system. We made the moves that we needed to make to get this deal done based on the economics…they call it 51-49, but it’s really 50, with a system that is not a fair system, so that’s obviously very frustrating for us.

Fairness is a tricky concept, though. Especially when business is involved. That’s because business is about leverage. Negotiations are about what you can get the other side to agree to. What’s fair takes a backseat to what is and is not achieveable and readjusting your position based off your conclusions.

This is why the players have continued to move in these negotiations, conceding on issue after issue and handing over BRI points at nearly every meeting. They’re not doing that because they think it’s fair, they’re doing it because the owners strength and leverage in the talks demands it. If one thing is clear it’s that the players understand the path to a deal has been in moving towards the owners, not the opposite.

But when is enough, enough? When do you expect the group on the other side of the bargaining table to meet you halfway and how does that affect the tenor of the negotiation?

The answers are, we’re there and we’re seeing it now.

At this point, I can’t blame the players for holding out for the last few things that matter to them. Because even though I don’t think the concept of fairness belongs in these talks, the fact is that concept is firmly in place. The players have (seemingly) given all they can give and as the owners continue to take it’s now beyond discouraging. Understand the framework of a deal is usually put into terms of “what both sides can live with.” But, if you’re on the side that’s given nearly everything in the negotiation and the other side has simply asked for more, “living with” yourself becomes harder, no? I mean, these players have to go back and work for these teams and give their all in an effort to win in an environment that’s surely tainted by these negotiations.

It’s very much true that we’re at the time where a deal will either be made or the season is in jeaopardy. Stern’s deadline for the union to accept the offer on the table is tomorrow at the close of business and today the player reps from each team huddle in New York for a strategy session on how to proceed. And while I hope both the owners and players will meet one last time to iron out the final disputed issues, that’s no guarantee.

Just understand that whatever comes from this, whether you agree with it or not, fairness is an issue in these talks. I just hope that both sides find that middle ground where they can salvage this thing.

Today, after 8 days since their last meeting, the owners and players will resume talking about how to kick fans in the stomach again divide the league’s revenues and what system the league should operate under in order to bring the NBA back. As we’ve discussed in this space before, the sides are pretty close to a deal and only need to hammer out the details on the last few, yet significant, issues.

However, in the lead up to these talks, the rhetoric and positioning has only ramped up and become more strategic. Howard Beck is reporting that Michael Jordan leads a group of 10-14 hardline owners that will not go above a 50/50 split on BRI and would actually prefer the owners get a bigger piece of the pie in any agreement. Jordan taking such a strong approach can be seen as hypocritical as he has a history of saying some things about NBA ownership that mirror today’s players position. Or, Jordan can simply be taking a turncoat position and looking out for his own interests (it’s not like that would be out of character for MJ). Either way, the significance of Jordan being trotted out as the face of this movement is interesting to me because he is the lone owner that has a true history with the players the owners now oppose. His Jumpman brand is endorsed by several of today’s top players. He competed against many of these guys both as a Bull and a Wizard and the ones that weren’t yet in the league during his career likely see MJ as an idol. They know Jordan as the ruthless winner that always comes out on top, so for the owners to position him as a key cog in how these talks proceed surely has some psychological advantages.

That said, it’s not like the players are simply going to back down without making their last big stand in these negotiations. On Friday, reports surfaced of a conference call between players and lawyers with the union decertification being the main topic of discussion. The reports further state that a group of 50 players are seriously considering pushing for decertification – a measure that would disband the union for the purposes of filing an anti-trust lawsuit that could lift the lockout. Decertification would be the “nuclear” option as it would put this entire process into the hands of the courts and away from both sides’ leaders. Up until this point in the process the union has vehemently denied that decertification would be an option they’d explore. However, as the talks have progressed and the owners seemingly negotiating in a manner where offers are made, taken away, then put back on the table under the guise of “progress” and “concessions”, this small sect of players seem to be sick of it and are willing to take this step.

So, as talks continue with both sides showing their fangs to the media and putting on a public display of strength, we fans continue to sit and wait for the word that there’s a breakthrough. But, the same questions still run through my mind. Will the owners give anything back that can allow the players to save some face in these talks? Will the players finally succumb to the owners demands by giving everything the owners want by effectively folding? Will the return of the mediator keep both sides honest in these negotiations? The answers to these questions could prove to be the difference between a deal being made over the next couple of days or us not having an NBA season at all.