The NBA is in the final third of one of the more exciting seasons in recent memory. The Lakers, Spurs, Bulls and Celtics are the top four NBA teams and the favorites to end up in the Finals in June.
However, the story that is gradually coming to the forefront is the expiring collective bargaining agreement and looming lockout.
The last time there was a lockout in the NBA, Tony Kornheiser remarked that it was a battle "between tall millionaires and short millionaires." Well, now it is a bunch of tall millionaires arguing with short billionaires, so it's hard to feel sympathetic toward either side.
As things currently stand, the NBA owners want to negotiate for a hard salary cap, the elimination of some of the salary cap exceptions and turn toward more incentive-laden, non-guaranteed money contracts much like those of the NFL.
Meanwhile, the players would like to keep things at the status quo, with the soft cap gradually increasing along with the increasing basketball-related income (in a league where Drew Gooden is making $6 million a year until 2015, the players have to be pretty happy).
Sure, you will hear a lot about the notion that the owners should be policing themselves when it comes to throwing $11 million at Eddy Curry to sit on the bench and eat cheeseburgers for the season. However, when it comes to owners, they are seemingly idiots who need to be saved from themselves.
That may be a bit harsh, but they need to be saved from the idiots around the league that throw money at players who don't deserve it, thereby completely throwing off the value of better players (for example, if Drew Gooden is worth $6 million, shouldn't someone like Zach Randolph be worth at least triple that by comparison?).
First, it must be noted that I think the NBA needs more than six to eight great teams to survive. There is a notion right now that super teams are good for the league, and on the surface it may seem to be true.
Super teams increase ratings for the nationally televised games and make for some exciting playoff series, but those things are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the NBA needs to make money.
The NBA relies heavily on ticket sales, local ad revenue and therefore, local television ratings in order to stay profitable. In order to keep butts in the seats, the league needs teams to be able to improve rapidly, which is still currently possible, but if the trend of superstars teaming up to create super teams continues, it will be more difficult.
Whenever a team stays stagnant for a few years, meaning they continue to win the same number of games and make no improvement, their fans stop coming, stop watching and stop buying merchandise. Take a look at the Atlanta Hawks. They have won 47 and 53 games over the last two full seasons, and are on pace for around 45-47 this season, yet they are 22nd in home attendance. They are a good team, but have no shot at a title, and their fans know it, so they are bored.
Then there are the Indiana Pacers, a team that is the epitome of this theory. They have won between 32-36 games in the last four seasons and are on pace for 36-38 wins this year. They are also dead last in attendance. Indiana has improved its standing in terms of playoff positioning, but the fans who aren't diehard don't care because they know the improvement isn't enough.
If a lockout were to occur, it seems the owners have the most leverage, as they have the reported $400 million loss on their side and the whole Eddy Curry being uber-rich thing. Despite playing just 10 games in three years, Curry made $31 million in the process (interesting sidebar here, Curry has made $1 million for every point he has scored in the past three years).
There is no way the players' union can bring enough evidence to the table to keep things so blatantly slanted in favor of the players.
I do not believe that the owners will get the hard cap that they want, but they will probably be able to get contracts restructured and get the cap hardened a bit more than it is (right now it is softer than Ryan Hollins holding hands with Vince Carter in a room full of cotton candy).
Incentive-laden contracts would make it so teams aren't crippled by injured or underperforming players, and so they would have more room to sign better players.
Also, if things change drastically, the players could allow for a hard cap in exchange for revenue sharing between the teams.
Revenue sharing would make it so teams near the bottom of the league would be able to survive during those periods of stagnation (think Sacramento and New Orleans right now) so they could make the moves necessary to get back into the thick of things.
Without having to worry about hemorrhaging money, the Kings would be able to get their team back up to the level it was in the early 2000s, when Arco Arena was the loudest building in the NBA.
The only way I see drastic changes coming to the league's CBA is if there is a lockout, and if changes come, they will almost certainly be in order to make teams in the NBA more able to move from the bottom of the league to the top in a short period of time.