Archives For Lockout News

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.

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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.

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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.