Archives For Lockout News

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.

Tonight should be opening night. It should be a time filled with anticipation and excitement. Butterflies should be in your stomach as we get ready to watch a slate of games that should have included the Lakers’ first home game against a prime Thunder team. Instead, there’s silence, emptiness, and depression. And though I truly believe an end to the lockout is in sight, I also believe stubborn blind men sit at that negotiating table grasping for everything they can get their mitts on save for the agreement in front of them. So, with sadness, I proceed as if there were a season starting anyway and offer up a game preview for a contest that won’t happen. This is what it’s come to for me.

Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest Metta World Peace, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Injuries: Lakers: none, however Andrew Bynum is suspended; Thunder: none

The Lakers Coming in: A hunger in the eyes of the dethroned champs is balanced by an adjustment to new surroundings. Gone is the Zen Master and his calming, stoic demeanor. In his place is Mike Brown and his exuberant approach to teaching his schemes on both sides of the ball. And while those schemes will be different, the Lakers must adjust on the fly and find out what works and what doesn’t rather quickly. The personnel is mostly unchanged (the rookies and 2nd year players don’t figure to play a prominent role early and the season) and lends itself to some familiarity in the changed environment. And the hope is that the Lakers rely mostly on their experience and the drive to overcome last year’s failings. A year ago was ring night and now the journey towards having that feeling again begins.

The Thunder Coming in: Conference finalists only a few months ago, expectations are now through the roof for the Thunder. There are no more excuses of youth and inexperience to lean on; this team will now only be judged on achieving their goals of advancing further than the year before or not. The excitement of what can be is now countered by the real weight of what could happen should failure occur.

But this team is primed for a run. Kevin Durant comes off a whirlwind summer of showing new skills and refined polish in exhibition games around the country. He’s now joined in the starting line up by James Harden who also flashed growth in his game last year and over the summer in many of those same pick up games. Add in Russell Westbrook’s ascension into the elite ranks of lead guards and OKC now possess a trio of wing players that can compete with any in the league. Yes, there are division of labor issues that need to be sorted out – and quickly – with Westbrook needing to prove early in this campaign that he’s capable of being distributor and fearless attacker when possessing the ball. No small feat, to be sure, but a step he’s more than capable of taking considering his talent level.

Thunder Blogs: Royce Young runs a great site in Daily Thunder. Check it out for all the news and analysis you can handle on that team.

Keys to game: Much how NFL games are won in the trenches, this contest will be won in the paint. Perkins mans the pivot on defense and will play his typical bruising style on defense and when attacking the glass. Ibaka, fresh off his stint as the third big man for Spain’s national team, will protect the basket when coming from the weakside to disrupt and alter shots. If the Lakers can successfully attack these two and either get them into foul trouble or score with good efficiency, OKC’s defense will need to collapse and it will open up more opportunities for Kobe, Artest, Odom, and Barnes to slash into the gaps and do even more damage 15 feet and in.

Meanwhile, the Lakers too must protect their paint by containing Westbrook and Harden off the bounce and in pick and roll situations. Both love to turn the corner off screens and get to the front of the rim. The Lakers P&R D will be tested early and often by those two and discipline will be needed to corral them when they possess the ball.

This is complicated by the attention that must be paid to Kevin Durant. Every screen he comes off requires at least one (and normally two) defenders shift his way. Any clean catch could mean a lightning quick jumper is released or a quick dribble into the paint that renders defensive strategy moot. Artest World Peace, Barnes, and Kobe will have their hands full bodying him off the ball to disrupt his movement while big men must hedge and recover on off ball actions in order to close down passing angles. Durant’s improved handle also mean he’s even more a threat in isolation than in season’s past. He will try to defenders down with an array of cross-overs once not a part of his repertoire, but now a fully developed weapon. Everyone’s head must be on a swivel whenever he’s on the court and the D cannot let him compromise their sets lest they want their entire scheme to fall apart like a sweater being undone when the loose thread is pulled.

The challenge goes beyond just the half court actions, however. History tells us the Thunder will push the ball at every opportunity against this aged Laker group. So, the Lakers must transition well from offense to defense and not force the types of shots that produce running chances because of long rebounds. Gasol and Odom will be key in this as they’ll need to not only contest the glass in an effort to gain extra possessions but also bust their rear ends back in transition to help clog the lane to deny Westbrook, Harden, and Durant lanes to finish at the rim.

Where you can watch: No where. (sobs)

A deal to end the lockout is close. Really, it is. Both sides have negotiated on, and agreed to most of the key elements of the deal that will serve as the structure of a new collective bargaining agreement.

However, as Howard Beck detailed in the above link, the last hurdle is a big one. And as David Aldridge wrote this morning, don’t expect the owners to move any more than they already have to clear that hurdle. The movement will need to come from the player side. And it will either come or the season will be lost. A sample of the sobering script:

In the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league is going to get, at minimum, a 50-50 split of Basketball-Related Income with the players, and a system with severe restrictions on teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold, from not being able to use many (if any) cap exceptions to being limited in their ability to make trades. Or the new CBA will allow teams over the threshold those exceptions, but take 53 percent of BRI to the players’ 47. Those are the choices now, and they will only get worse, because now that a month of the season is officially gone, and $800 million is down the tubes, there’s no reason for the league to stay at 50-50, and it won’t.

The players aren’t going to get 52, or 51, or 50.5, or 50.000001, and if they hold out for those numbers, they’re not going to have a season. You’d have to be crazy not to see that now, so it’s this for the players: take the deal this week or next, or lose the season. If they are willing to die on principle, they wouldn’t be the first. But they will die, in the metaphorical sense.

More from Aldridge:

One very senior team official had said Thursday night that even though the outside world was hopeful, he expected owners to hold at 50-50 and go no further, even though the conventional wisdom would seem to indicate the deal would be a compromise somewhere around 51.25 percent for the players — between the owners’ 50-50 offer and the players’ current 52.5 percent stance.

“That’s not the one that has the votes,” the official said. “I think they’re going to get 50-50. That’s as far as they’ll stretch.”

And that was, indeed, as far as they stretched — and even that came with conditions that the players could not swallow. But they will have to if they want to play this season. The players say it’s unfair that they’ve moved so far, from 57 percent of BRI in the old deal to 54.5 percent, and then 53, and 52.5, that they’ve already agreed to $180 million per year in salary givebacks, $1.8 billion over 10 years if they accept the league’s terms.

But this isn’t about fair. This is about the NBA putting its house back in order — naked, real-world realpolitik. If you understand nothing else about these negotitations, understand this: this isn’t just about money, at least not totally; this is about re-establishing who’s in charge.

Truth be told, I don’t know how to feel about this.

I’ve long been on the side of the players in this ordeal. The owners’ position in these negotiations started with them locking the players out and then seeking out the types of givebacks from players that would be unprecendented in any labor dispute between owners and players. They’ve slowly crept up from those positions in the name of “concessions” but as many have stated more eloquelently than I, the types of moves the owners have made are the equivalent of moving up from initial offers of $5,000 to $10,000 when trying to buy a brand new Bentley and then claiming they’ve doubled their offer as proof of how much they’ve moved off their original stance. I simply can’t ignore that the starting point in the owners’ position was too ludicrous to even take seriously; their tactics in these negotiations reak of bad faith bargaining. All this has led me to wanting the players to get a fair deal in the face of the strong arm nature of the owners demands.

On the other hand, I want basketball back desperately. I’m die-hard fan that watches multiple games a night when I can. I feverishly scan my twitter feed looking for the next #leaguepassalert to find that night’s close game while simultaneously refreshing the comments section of this site to join the coversation. Plus, as I type away right now it’s clear to you, the reader, I run a basketball site! I love to cover the games, write about strategy, discuss what did/can/will happen on any given night, breakdown the results, and do it all again the next night. And the night after. I am a junkie.

Not to mention, I have an allegiance to the Lakers. Last year’s gut wrenching end to the season is fresh on my mind even as we near 6 months since the final whistle blew versus the Mavericks. I want a season to see if they can recover and regain their stature as the team to beat. I want to see Kobe Bryant, entering his 16th professional campaign, play at a high level while he still can. I want to see if Gasol can bounce back, if Bynum can claim a larger role, if Mike Brown can re-energize an aging group….I could go on and on, but you get the point. The storylines are infinite for this team and they matter to me. Not having an NBA season would create a hole in my life that I’m not ready to have.

Said another way, I’m selfish. And this is where I’m having trouble coming to grips with what I really want, where my rooting interests meet reality. Do I want a fair deal for the players more than I want a season? Based off Aldridge’s report, that’s a question fans and players must now be asking themselves because that’s what it’s seemingly come to. I wish it were different. I wish the owners would be happy simply winning by 12 points after the players get some garbage time points to close the gap rather than running out the full court press right until the final buzzer. That’s not the case, though.