Imagine if Stephen Curry and Chris Paul played a game of 2-on-2 with 5'6" Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and 72-year-old Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. The outcome would be preordained, and the means of getting there would not be pretty. Whether or not Gilbert and Taylor walked away with anything, including their dignity, would depend largely on the discretion of Curry and Paul. The latter are not only uniquely gifted at the game, but they've spent their lives honing those gifts.
Now imagine Curry and Paul going 2-on-2 with Gilbert and Taylor to negotiate a business deal. This outcome also would be preordained, and again, it wouldn't be fun to watch it unfold. Gilbert and Taylor have, of course, lived longer and probably worked as many deals as Curry and Paul have played NBA games.
The owners understand where they're at a disadvantage, which is why you don't see them showing up in high tops and compression shorts to remind their players who is boss. Instead, they've tried to reduce the game to spreadsheet calculations, which brings it into their sphere of expertise.
The players don't seem to have the same understanding. If they did, they'd realize that the beating they took in the last collective bargaining agreement is a function of a union model that is broken, not merely a corrupt executive director in Billy Hunter who served his own interests above those of the players who selected and handsomely paid him.
Hunter did this, largely, by vilifying the lone group that has the same vested interest in securing a fair working arrangement with the league as the players do: the player agents. I know, I know, it's de rigueur to present the agents as the Devil's spawn and all that is wrong with sports, and there are certainly some among them whose scruples leave a lot to be desired. But it's an indisputable fact that no one is better versed in the particulars of the collective bargaining agreement or more motivated to strike one that benefits the players than those who negotiate their contracts.
If the players truly understood this, they wouldn't be going to a search firm that, sources say, have made having no previous experience or connection to the NBA a prerequisite for candidacy. (That apparently gave Hunter a leg up on former agent Bill Strickland when he was first hired in 1996.) If the players are insistent on utilizing an independent outside source, why not ask Donald Fehr, longtime baseball labor negotiator and Paul Kelly's successor with the NHL?
But the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. As it stands, the players appear well on their way to putting themselves in the exact same position as last time because they are following the same script that got them there.
Let's check the boxes, shall we? Here are the various factions with the primary influence on selecting the next executive director:
• A search firm, Reilly Partners, that is, at best, one for two in selecting executive directors for player unions, having whiffed on convincing NHL players to hire Kelly seven years ago. There are mixed feelings about how their other selection, DeMaurice Smith, did in representing the NFL players union in its last negotiation. It's worth noting that Smith was on good terms with Hunter, addressing the NBA players during their lockout in 2011. Reilly Partners, sources say, also has encouraged the players union to expedite the selection because the two candidates, David White and Michele Roberts, need to tell their current employers if they're staying or going. Excuse me? Who is Reilly Partners working for: White and Roberts, or the players union? Hurrying up the selection process to benefit the candidates at the potential expense of the players union is, at the very least, curious.
• An executive board with at least five players—Steve Blake, Anthony Tolliver, Willie Green, Roger Mason, Jr. and James Jones—whose future earnings will not be impacted because they won't be in the league when the next CBA is negotiated and only one, Steph Curry, whose prime earning period could fall under the new agreement. Where is Anthony Davis? And Damian Lillard? And DeAndre Jordan?
• Legal counsel (namely Jeffrey Kessler) that bills the players union for services and therefore would benefit from an executive director who needed to rely on its expertise, having never dealt in NBA circles before.
One union source said it was "disrespectful" to union president Chris Paul to suggest that the work he and the rest of the board have done so far in finding a new executive director is flawed. While that's not the intention, haven't we already seen the price to be paid for refusing self-examination, as when the executive board refused to take a closer look at Hunter at the behest of then-president Derek Fisher before a new labor deal was struck?
When Miami Heat owner Micky Arison wanted to win a championship, he didn't rely on talent evaluators from other fields to find the players to do it for him. He relied on president Pat Riley, who had as much at stake as he did. Riley, in turn, found players who were, arguably, the most motivated to get it done—twice. In 2006, it was Shaquille O'Neal, looking to prove the Lakers wrong. In 2012, it was LeBron James, looking to prove the entire world wrong.
If the players union wants to win at the bargaining table, they might want to consider the same approach. Find the right negotiators to do it for them. Most important, find negotiators who have as much skin in the game as they do.
• Did the NBA move too quickly in eliminating the center position on the All-Star ballot? At least one NBA executive believes so. "I wouldn't call it a renaissance because they don't play the position quite the same way, but the position is stocked with young quality players," he said, ticking off Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Jonas Valanciunas coming up behind Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez, Al Jefferson, Roy Hibbert and Marc Gasol.
• Never bad to mirror the relationship between Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan, and that's what took place Saturday night at Oracle Arena. Duncan was being interviewed outside the visitor's locker room when Popovich interrupted in mock anger: "He doesn't listen to anybody and he wants another three-year contract no matter how old he is!" To which Duncan, grinning, shot back: "Did you just agree to another three-year contract?" Curry, meanwhile, was poking fun at his coach, Mark Jackson, in the other locker room for having his thumb taped after a shooting injury in practice. "Suspect," Curry said. "And not very old school."
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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