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.
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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.
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.
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.
*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.