Archives For Lockout News

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.

Close, But No Cigar….Yet

Darius Soriano —  October 29, 2011

Yesterday, Phillip wrote about how an 82 game season, compressed into a shorter time period, could potentially affect the Lakers. This was a topic of interest because going into Friday morning, both the owners and the players were optimistic about a deal being made to end the lockout. And with that optimism, came the prospect of still getting in a full 82 game slate for each team. Progress had been made on many of the “system issues” that derailed talks in other recent meetings and the only major issue left to tackle was the revenue split.

Then, as talks continued into Friday, lines were drawn in the sand. The owners still want 50%. The players still want 52%. Talks over. That optimism that was so fresh in the minds of the negotiators and the fans is now on life support as talks broke down again. And, on top of that, David Stern announced the cancellation of the remainder of the November schedule and that an 82 game season will not happen under any circumstances. Well, then.

That said, despite being fooled too many times to count by sides that seem to extend olive branches to the fans only to kick us in the stomach when we reach out to grab it, I remain optimistic. The sides are as close as they’ve ever been to finding the middle ground that will be the foundation of a deal. Nearly every issue is solved – or at least close enough that they won’t be the impediment to a deal.

With the sides this close, the rhetoric becomes less important to me as it takes a backseat to how close the sides actually are. So, while it’s disappointing to have talks break down again, I completely understand it. In many ways, it should have been expected. It makes sense that both would make one last stand to try and get the other side to move the last few feet in the deal. Those last few feet still represent close to a billion dollars in revenue over the life of a 10 year agreement and thus still represents the difference between a win, loss, or a draw in these negotiations. Remember, these are still prideful men and winning is what they’re used to.

That said, as much evidence we’d like to point to that says contrary, these men are not stupid. They know they’re within spitting distance of a deal and they also know both sides have moved a fair amount to get to this point (regardless of what you think about the owners’ starting position in these negotiations – a starting point I believe to be ridiculous, by the way – movement has occurred). At this point, I’d rather both sides take a short break to regroup and take stock in their respective positions to truly evaluate how much more they can move to make a deal. As I said yesterday on twitter, both sides have made concessions to get this close and now must take a look in the mirror to figure out what they can live with so an agreement can be made.

Meanwhile, we wait. Again. But as frustrating as that can be, it could all be over soon. Maybe it’s naive to think so, but when on a journey of this length and rigor, I have to believe the people in the room are smart enough to not turn around and go home after this latest stalemate.

While watching some of the lockout coverage, the idea of still having an 82-game schedule should the lockout end by this weekend or early next week crept into my mind. I thought about the Lakers roster, and more importantly, the collective age of the members on their roster as it currently stands. I wondered how a compacted 82-game schedule would impact an aging Lakers team and decided to look back at the 98-99 season for comparison.

What immediately stood out was the fact that the Lakers played 17 back-to-backs over the course of 50 games during the span of 145 days including three back-to-back-to-backs(!). To put it in perspective, the Lakers played a mere 15 back-to-backs during the course of their 82-game regular season schedule. One would assume that aging teams wouldn’t fare well with such a brutal schedule with little rest between games, but when I looked at the playoff teams for each conference and compared the average age of the team with where they finished at the end of the regular season, I was a bit surprised by what I found.

(Note: I only looked at the Top 10 rotation guys in terms of minutes played when calculating average age of teams. I didn’t think it was necessary to include 11th and 12th men considering they rarely had impact on games and didn’t see the floor long enough to where their age/physical ability correlation meant much to their respective team. Also, this was able to exclude a lot of guys who spent a huge part of the season on the bench due to injuries.)

The 98-99 Playoff Teams and Average Age

WEST
Spurs – 30
Jazz – 29.9
Blazers – 27.7
Lakers – 28.3
Rockets – 28.8
Suns – 30.2
Kings – 26.1
Timberwolves – 27.4


EAST
Heat – 29.8
Pacers – 30.4
Magic – 28.9
Hawks – 29.9
Pistons – 27.9
76ers – 26
Bucks – 28.5
Knicks – 29.2

What you’ll find above is that the more experienced teams finished with the top two spots in each conference while no team with an average under 28 finished with home court advantage in the first round except for the Portland Trailblazers (who ended up getting swept by the Spurs). While the younger teams might have been better equipped to physically handle the grueling schedule, it was the teams that were better prepared mentally with lots of veteran presence that ended up finishing with the best records at the end of the regular season. Furthermore, the two teams that made the finals had an average age of 30 (Spurs), and 29.2 (Knicks) years old. Now take a look at the average ages of all of the playoff teams from last season.

The 10-11 Playoff Teams and Average Age


WEST
Spurs – 28.8
Lakers – 29.8
Dallas – 34.3
Thunder – 23.9
Nuggets – 28.1
Blazers – 26.5
Hornets – 25.7
Grizzlies – 25.7


EAST
Bulls – 27.4
Heat 29.1
Celtics – 29.6
Magic – 27.7
Hawks – 27.4
Knicks – 24.6
76ers – 24.5
Pacers – 26.5

The Lakers had the second highest average age in the league last season, which, if I could actually make any correlation between the unpromised upcoming season and the 98-99 season, would bode well for the Lakers. In reality, there probably isn’t any connection between what happened over a decade and what might happen next season, but it was interesting to see that the older guys in the league didn’t have a problem hanging with the younger guys after playing back-to-back-to-backs. Also, the style of play was much slower and much more physical than what we see in today’s NBA. It’ll be interesting to see if the rule changes over the last decade will flip the results of the 99 season and have the younger guys running the older guys off the floor in today’s faster paced NBA. Either way, I’ll pay attention to how guys like Kobe, Pau, Metta World Peace, and Matt Barnes handle a much more compressed schedule and how Mike Brown toys with the minutes of these guys as the season progresses.

This seems to be the owners position in these CBA talks.

Thursday night, after the third consecutive day of bargaining talks under the watchful eye of Federal mediator George Cohen, the sessions ended without a deal in place to bring the NBA back. The rhetoric was strong from both sides as the owners (represented by Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt) and the players (repped by Hunter and Fisher) both claimed the moral high ground in the talks while simultaneously slinging mud at the other side. It was a sight to see as the post meeting pressers played on a loop on my TV screen last night.

Accusations were slung forcefully but with calm voices. Both sides made claims about what the other side said all while framing their own position as the one worthy of our support. Both sides mentioned the fans but neither side (especially the owners – as I’ll get to in a second) made a move in good faith that could actually reward the paying patrons with the thing they desire most: games to watch in the coming month with an agreement to bring back the league.

Beyond the rhetoric though, the main take away was that the owners are not willing to budge off wanting a much more favorable split on the BRI and a new “system” in which the league operates. Adam Silver firmly expressed the belief that the owners are unwilling to move off these demands and essentially calls them a necessity to have in place before the NBA resumes. He explained and supproted this position by stating it is the only way to ensure that owners have the opportunity to make a profit (the BRI split) and have a more competitive league where every team has the opportunity to compete (the more favorable system).

Silver further expressed that the players were willing to “trade” on the issues where they’d concede percentage points on the BRI in further givebacks to the owners but would want to discuss a more favorable system in place to account for that concession. That the players wanted to see if they could come to an agreement on some of the major system issues first, getting some of the things that they want in a system that would make give backs on the BRI more palatable.

This proposal was rebuffed, however.

As Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher stated in their press conference and the great Ken Berger of CBS later reported, the owners drew a line in the sand. They want 50% of the BRI (the equivalent of approximately $280 million dollars in “give backs” in the first year with that dollar amount only growing as revenue grows – as it is expected to do) and they want the players to agree to that upfront before any further system issues are tackled. And then when it’s time to tackle those issues, they’re going to want the types of structural changes that they’ve been pursuing all along.

(As an aside, Silver and Holt also argued that the BRI split and the system changes they want aren’t connected at all. They say that one speaks to profitability and the other speaks to competitive balance. I don’t see this argument at all. The owners want a more restictive system that limits spending. They want a hard-ish salary cap – either through a punitive luxury tax or a straight forward NFL style cap. But any system that limits spending or caps it at a certain level then creates the ceiling in which expenses are maxed out. That ceiling then becomes the line that revenue needs to exceed in order to become profit. So, how can the owners say that the two aren’t linked when both are connected to profitability for the owners? Try as they might to frame the hard cap as a way to achieve competitive balance, I instead see another money grab by the owners. Why it’s not being framed this way is beyond me.)

So, here we are. The owners want their cake and they want to eat it to. They don’t want a compromise. They want a win on every issue that’s being discussed. Not only that, they want a blowout win. The type where the home team fans leave early because the rout is so large. Well, guess what gentleman, the fans are leaving early. They’re disgusted with how these negotations are playing out.

Out In The Cold

Darius Soriano —  October 11, 2011

The first two weeks of the NBA season are gone. David Stern and the owners – the ones that possess the power to make such a decision – decreed it so last night after another bargaining session that did nothing to bridge the gulf that exists between the players and the owners.

Those who’ve followed my thoughts on the lockout know that I was optimistic about a full season being played with games starting on time. Obviously I was wrong. I thought logic and forward thinking would prevail and it did not. Chris Sheridan (of Sheridan Hoops) summed up how I feel perfectly with a brief post right after Stern made his ominous announcement:

I trusted wise men to act wisely. I believed in common sense prevailing. I think the NBA owners are nuts to go down this road. They just lost a significant percentage of their fair-weather fans. Idiocy rules the day. How very, very sad. Not just sad. Stupid.

For the Lakers, this means the first 8 games of their schedule are wiped away. Home games versus the Thunder, Hornets, Spurs, Nuggets, and Pistons; road games versus the Warriors, Suns, and Kings. If you’re scoring at home that’s one less chance to see Tim Duncan and Steve Nash towards the end of their careers while missing out on young up and comers like Durant (though, up and comer doesn’t do his position in the league justice), Westbrook, Curry, Evans, and Cousins.

At this point I’m a mix between extremely sad and ridiculously angry. I’ve long believed this was possible but didn’t think either side (especially the owners) would risk the progress made in recent seasons with an extended work stoppage. There’s simply too much to lose to let it play out this way but like some bad movie that we’re stuck watching here we are.

And while both sides share blame in this matter, in my heart of hearts I can’t escape the fact that the owners deserve more of it. In the past 15 years Stern and the owners have locked the players out twice. And twice we’ve lost games. After the ’99 lockout, the owners got nearly everything they wanted in the labor deal and were hailed unanimously as winners. They got their cap on max contracts, limits on contract lengths, a rookie pay scale, and a luxury tax (among other things). Today, they claim that they system they negotiated for (and got) doesn’t work anymore and it’s the players that must give back to make up for it.

But in the end, the real losers are the supporters of the game that have no say in the room where owners and players argue over BRI splits and punitive punishments on the highest spending teams. They’re arguing over how to divide the pie and we who spectate are left begging for crumbs that never come.

On that note, some choice reading on the subject:

From J.A. Adande, ESPN: You haven’t heard the fans, or the game itself mentioned much lately, have you? That’s because they don’t factor into this discussion at all. It was always about people saving themselves: owners asking the players to bail them out of bad business moves, players asking to preserve their cushy status with the highest average salaries among American team sports. The NBA was counting on you to be a sucker. You’d be a sucker because the league just intentionally damaged its brand and devalued its product by showing its willingness to do without it, secure in the knowledge that fans would still come back once this was over. Or you’re a sucker because you bought the lines the NBA fed you for the better part of two years — that the league needed a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks and other drastic changes to the fundamental structure of the league in order for the business model to be tenable — only to find out that wasn’t actually the case. That’s the realization that hit me Monday as we awaited word on the last-minute labor negotiations. At this point I was actually rooting against a simplistic end to the lockout. Because to end it without anything more drastic than a lower revenue share for the players would mean the past four months were a complete waste of time.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: It would take some real fools to shut down their $4 billion a year business in the middle of the worst recession in generations because the more than $1 billion over six years they just got back from the workers was not good enough. However, the NBA owners are not fools. They think you are. The owners — and these lost games are on them far more than the players — think that no matter what, you’ll come back. Maybe right when the season starts (something many of us hard-core fans admit), maybe when the playoffs start, maybe in a year or two, but you’ll be back. You’ll come back fast and in large numbers, dwarfing the more than $4 billion in revenues the NBA got last season.

From Tom Ziller, SB Nation: The concessions Stern cites? They were willing to keep guaranteed contracts alive, willing to drop their push for rollbacks on existing contracts and abandoned the hard salary cap concept.  How generous of the owners to drop three demands that they created themselves in these very negotiations! This is like a 6-year-old demanding three cookies, a bowl of ice cream and a bag of M&Ms. “OK, we’ll make a concession on the M&Ms, I’ll take three cookies and some ice cream. Hey, I made a concession!” It doesn’t work that way. One side is not allowed to “invent” a compromise from the start and claim it has negotiated in good faith to get there. Ah, “good faith,” an odd concept where these talks are concerned. The union argued way back in May that the league lacked good faith in its negotiations, and the players filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board to that effect. That complaint is still floating around the bureaucracy, ready to drop in at some point. I don’t know exactly how anti-trust litigation works in America these days, where the courts stand on the issue of the NBA as entertainment company vs. sole provider of legit pro basketball in the United States. But, as Hunter said Monday, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck …

From Zach Lowe, The Point Forward: I’ve addressed in detail why players care about the system issues despite this percentage setup. In their view — and the views of their agents and attorneys — a hard cap or something approximating it will kill guaranteed long-term contracts for middle-class veteran players. The players as a whole might be guaranteed that set percentage of revenues, but that money would be distributed differently, with stars getting more, rookies getting whatever the rules allow and the middle-rung veterans scrapping for leftovers on short-term deals. You can understand that. It’s hard to see, but you can understand it. But why are the owners willing to lose actual basketball games, and the revenue that goes with them, over system issues? That is the harder question, since they too will receive only the set percentage of revenue to which they are entitled. If you ask the league, it will stress competitive balance — the notion that hardening the cap system will help small-market teams compete with the big boys by narrowing the spending gap. And yet, just about all the evidence we have on record suggests basketball might be inherently “uncompetitive,” relative to other popular team sports. Nor is it clear that, should the league somehow achieve parity, that doing so would increase its popularity. Maybe it will. I’d bet against it, but who knows? The point is, it’s uncertain, and you don’t cough up hundreds of millions in revenue to chase a dream.

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Meanwhile, Stern has not exactly said that the league has already made the best offer, but close enough. Asked if the offers would get worse from here, Stern’s entire answer was: “Well, our economic situation gets worse, and we have to begin accounting for that.”  In other words, strong signs from both sides that they’ll be staying on their respective sides of the “gulf,” even though we know it can’t be true. There are a lot of really smart and fascinatingly subtle aspects to these negotiations. The people involved are incredibly capable. The process is in some ways rational. This is how $20 billion deals go, there is a lot of posturing and delays. However, now that the costs get real, lost revenues, disenfranchised fans, tough times for those who rely on the NBA to pay the bills, it’s worth noting that when this is all done, in addition to paying the price of change, the two sides will also have paid mightily in idiot tax. When success hinges entirely on compromise, how smart is it to build statues to inflexibility?

From Brian Kamentzky, Land O’ Lakers: Don’t hold your breath for a quick resolution. While the rhetoric following tonight’s negotiations was predictably strong, it still doesn’t appear to be a situation where after weeks of talks progress is being made, just not quite fast enough. Said Stern, “We’re further apart on where we thought we would get to on the contract length, on the length of the deal, on the use of exceptions by taxpaying teams, on annual increases for players, and for the tax levels, and the frequency of the tax.” On a positive note, I do believe, though I can’t confirm, both sides have agreed the basketball will remain orange. Monday’s news comes as a shock to, well, nobody. Pollyanna herself Tweeted over the weekend she’d be making alternate plans for opening night. Still, a very scary line has crossed, because from this point forward the math changes as both sides start losing income. At least initially, expect owners to roll back their proposals, prompted they say by the lost income of missed games. “Our economic situation gets worse,” Stern said, “and we have to begin accounting for that.” Players could very well dig in, too. Why bother forgoing checks only to accept what they see as the same bad deal a couple of weeks later?

From David Murphy, Searching For Slava: In the end, it came down to yards, not inches, and the eldest of elders turned slightly away and rubbed at his chest and wore his smile and his skin turned gray as he spun avarice into pride. And the lights blazed on and the town criers sat at devices, and fingers danced over keys marked “insert” and “delete” and they cooked their bindles grimly and inserted thin needles into delivery systems. And the trails turned to tar until the spaces had filled and villagers put away their torches and stroked long beards and headed for home. Yesterday, Derek Fisher sent a letter urging all players to attend a Monday meeting in Los Angeles if at all possible. It seemed prescient, signaling the possibility of a vote to affirm if saner voices had prevailed, or to stand for unity if the scene had gone bad. The owners stalled and snickered and eventually heard distant barking and left, their mouths wet with new want. The practice courts will not echo again. Words will not rinse clean. And we will fold our hopes into squares and place them in penny jars and cardboard boxes.

Lastly, some have been lobbying for NBA players to head to Europe to increase their leverage in these talks. But if you read the twitter timeline of Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony, you’ll find that’s not necessarily in the cards, stating agents are living in a “fantasy world” if they believe roster spots for established NBA names will simply open up:

Unfortunately the majority of NBA agents don’t have any clue about how int’l teams operate. They missed their opportunity in the summer. Speaking from experience after approaching 15-20 NBA players w/serious offers from int’l teams. Most agents just don’t understand the market. I have no issues w/that, but don’t expect these teams to bail you out now that reality finally hit you in the face. The market is 97% closed.

As you’ve likely heard by now, yesterday’s meetings between players and owners did not yield even a tentative agreement. Both sides described the talks as productive but not impactful enough to provide the needed breakthrough. “Today was not the day to get this done. We were not able to get close enough to close the gap”, our own Derek Fisher relayed to the masses.

The pre-season is gone and if a deal between the owners and players isn’t reached by Monday the first two weeks of the regular season will fall with them. This is where we are.

—————————

Well into the evening (much to the chagrin of my wife) I sat on my couch and watched – on continuous loop – the press conference that Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver had after the meetings were over. I watched my television like conspiracy theorists watch the Zapruder film, looking for tells as if I were a professional gambler waiting to catch these guys in a lie. And, to be fair, I found little to get upset about.

They relayed their positions like the media masters they are, talking about BRI, percentage points, hard caps, salary roll backs, and all the concessions the owners have made over the last several days in the hopes of finding the common ground that would lead to a deal. They spoke of disappointment that the meetings were “cut short” and how they really felt they were onto something before it was clear they weren’t. I found myself nodding in agreement at certain points and shaking my head at the spin being spoken at other times but mostly I just sat there dissecting every word.

And as I listened over and over again, I realized that I’m a bit too invested in this. The saying goes that no one likes to see the sausage made but I – like many others – are getting to the slaughterhouse early, pulling up chairs in the front row, and doing just that. I don’t do it for all of you – I run this site because I love the Lakers; I write about the game because basketball holds a stature in my life that most reserve for things that they can actually control or have input on. I do it because it interests me and I care about the outcome.

I want basketball back and I want it back as soon as possible. For me, for you, for all of us. Us that follow games via boxscores when we’re not near a TV. or a radio. Us that hop on twitter to share in the joy of a close game between the Wizards and the Blazers in March while typing #leaguepassalert to notify everyone.

Bethlehem Shoals tweeted that “The lockout is a business story and a labor story. Not a sports one. Deal.” and he’s right. But I’m hoping for the day that we actually do have basketball to cover comes back soon. I’m tired of sitting in the front row watching the sausage get made.

—————————

There is still optimism, though. Ken Berger – who has covered the lockout and the CBA negotiations like Deion Sanders with a notepad – writes that the sides are actually closer than they’re letting on.

Despite the intransigence of the owners in their goal of achieving profitability and a level playing field … despite the players’ almost religious zeal for guaranteed contracts and other perks achieved over the years … and despite formidable external forces that threatened to implode the negotiations … the NBA and the players association are only about $80 million a year apart on the economics of a new collective bargaining agreement, multiple people with knowledge of the deal told CBSSports.com. So even though all parties left a Times Square hotel looking grim-faced and feeling disappointed, the two sides in theory have moved so close to a deal that it is almost incomprehensible they would choose hundreds of millions in losses — or billions from a completely lost season — instead.

Granted, the floated proposals may be the last best offer and if those aren’t accepted now (or in the coming days) both sides may retreat to their corners intent on taking back the ground they’ve given in this battle for billions. But since I’m an optimist and someone that’s held firm on the idea that the season will start on time, I’ll call the glass half full for a few more days.

After all, my seat in the front row is still warm and if I’m going to watch the sausage get made I might as well stay until the end.

Raising The Floor

Darius Soriano —  October 4, 2011

Competitive balance is the new buzzword of the lockout. It’s so important, it’s become a sticking point in the CBA negotiations. The owners want to limit team by team spending in order to preserve it. Whether through a hard cap or through a luxury tax system so punitive to curb spending, the thought is that if the highest spenders have a ceiling low enough to reduce league wide payrolls, competitive balance will be improved.

Thus the argument is laid out that if you simply put a system in place that makes teams like the Lakers, Mavericks, and Knicks spend less, the overall health of the league will improve.

But what of the teams that live at the other end of that spectrum? What of the teams that willfully spend as little as possible? Few people seem to discuss them very much when talking about the health of the league. At Sactown Royalty, Tom Ziller (in a larger – and very good – post about the correlation between spending and winning) makes the following point about teams that live near the spending floor in relation to teams that are willing to dish out more money on player contracts:

Teams that are rebuilding are going to mimic the Kings and spend as little as possible. Teams that can compete for the playoffs or a title will spend as much as they can. There will be teams spending as much as legally possible — to Hell with reasonable, look at how much Mark Cuban has spent over the past decade — and teams saving every dime in terms of future flexibility. There will be a substantial salary spread as large as is possible under salary floors and caps.

Under the recently expired CBA, the spending floor was 75% of the salary cap. This past season, the Kings actually found themselves below that threshhold and faced the prospect having to add players or pay the players they had more in order to get above the spending floor. The fact that the Kings reached such lows on the payroll level was a big story, especially within the context of their owners financial issues and the desire to move the team to Anaheim. But from a competitive balance standpoint, this story got little traction.

Tangent now to the NFL who in their most recent CBA agreement this past summer raised their salary floor to 90% of the salary cap. In past agreements that number was 84% but by raising it, they’ve essentially ensured that low spending teams will have to spend on par with every other franchise. Some of this was likely in response to the NFL’s uncapped year in which there was no spending floor and several teams greatly reduced spending, but I believe it’s more in response to claims that some teams habitually spend close to the mininum possible in order to maximize profits with little incentive to improve the team. (Note, this mindset doesn’t have to be limited to teams with little chance of winning. If you’re a contender that’s below the cap – as the Eagles and Patriots have historically been – you can still limit spending under the assumption that your team is good enough to win without further payroll commitments.)

Will the NBA take note? If competitive balance is going to be the canned phrase tossed around by ownership for the desire to harden the salary cap and limit spending, I hope they’re looking at the other end of the spectrum too.

—————————

As an aside, I don’t believe spending more will necessarily lead to greater success on the court. Teams like the Lakers and Mavs don’t win more because they spend more, they win more because they’ve spent more on players that actually make a difference. The Isiah Thomas Knicks are the prime example of this. As I’ve said many times before, there are only a handful of truly great players that deserve max contracts yet many players have them; spending more isn’t always smart.

Not to mention some of the best players in the league, at least as of last season, were on their original rookie contracts that paid them pennies in comparison to their actual value. You think Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose are worth what they made last year? The presense of rookie scale deals and a cap on individual salaries means that market value will always be a relative term in compared to what players actually earn.

All that said, if spending – and it’s relationship to competitive balance – is going to take center stage in these negotiations I hope the other side of this story is reported as well. Because as teams cry poor and lament their inability to compete based solely on the fact that other teams spend through the roof, I’m hoping that the league recognizes that it can do something about that disparity in spending that has little to do with lowering the ceiling on the high payroll teams.