NBA Lockout 2011: 8 Silver Linings to the Work Stoppage
It's official, as of 12:01 A.M. today the NBA is locking out its players until the owners and union can agree upon a new collective bargaining agreement.
For basketball fans, it's natural to be upset at first. The thought of having to watch 12 straight months of only professional baseball, hockey and soccer is enough to churn the stomachs of any faithful NFL or NBA fan.
But, once you look ahead of the immediate labor battle brewing, you'll realize that this lockout isn't all bad. Sure, NBA commissioner David Stern and union chief Billy Hunter are currently busy sharpening their verbal barbs towards one another, but they're going to reach an agreement at some point.
Ultimately, they're not kissing a multi-billion dollar sports league goodbye because they can't agree on the division of basketball related income between the players and the owners. (One season, on the other hand? Sounds like the owners are prepared for the worst.)
So, before you depress yourself any further about the NBA lockout, remind yourself why this dispute will eventually lead to the betterment of the NBA, both in the short- and long-term.
1. Shortened Regular Season: Who Cares About the Regular Season Anyway?
If you've got friends who don't "get" the NBA, chances are, they've thrown this argument in your face: "Why do you even bother watching the regular season? It's not like it matters! OR it's not like they try hard."
Disregard that you can say the exact same thing about baseball. Those friends are really trying to say that NBA players don't play nearly as intensely in the regular season as they do in the playoffs—something we'd all be hard-pressed to dispute.
Of course NBA players don't play with the same kind of intensity and physicality in the regular season as they do in the playoffs. Playoff basketball gives a guaranteed night off between games, while back-to-backs are commonplace in the regular season.
That said, haven't the past few seasons given us some great examples of why the regular season really doesn't matter all that much? The Celtics came into the 2010 playoffs as the No. 4 seed and were six minutes away from stealing Game 7 from the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The third-seeded Heat battered the top-seeded Bulls in five games in this past year's Eastern Conference finals.
Yes, the regular season helps teams develop cohesiveness, identity, a reliable rotation, and the practice reps necessary to perform in high-pressure playoff situations. But this year, the league doesn't have a team like the 2010 Heat, who came together on the fly and needed all 82 games to get into a rhythm.
Ultimately, a 50-game season wouldn't be the end of the world. And as you'll see next, it'd have some huge benefits for the players.
2. Less Wear & Tear on Bodies, Less Injuries, Fresher for Playoffs
In all seriousness, a huge number of fans (including myself) will be infuriated with the NBA if this lockout ends up costing games. But a shorter 2011-12 regular season virtually guarantees one thing: Fresher bodies and less injuries heading into the 2012 NBA playoffs.
Can Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose still suffer a fluke injury in a 50-game season instead of an 82-game one? Sure. But they'll have 32 less chances to do so, saving most starters upwards of 1,000 logged minutes of game-time next season.
For someone like Bryant, who barely practiced this past year due to his increasingly creaky knees, or a Hall of Famer like Tim Duncan, who appeared to run out of steam by April, a 50-game season could be a huge boon to their teams' playoff chances.
Will a shortened season mean the possibility of more veteran-unfriendly back-to-backs in the regular season? Depending on when the lockout finally gets resolved, absolutely.
That said, coaches can hold older vets out of certain back-to-backs. (Call it the Shaquille O'Neal plan.) And with the added benefit of reducing the risk of pre-playoff injuries, a potential shortened season does have one undeniable bright spot.
3. The NBA's Financial Situation Will End Up Being in Better Shape
David Stern claims that 22 of the 30 NBA teams lost money last season, despite the fact that the league posted record revenues. Yes, on the surface, that sounds ridiculous.
Larry Coon, known as the genius behind the Salary Cap FAQ, wrote a piece for ESPN Thursday where he analyzed the finances of the New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets to determine how the NBA arrived at their suggested figure of $300 million in annual losses.
Read Coon's piece for a much better explanation, but long story short, the two sides essentially read their accounting books differently—the owners include the cost of the team in the liabilities section of the franchise on a yearly basis to make the books balance.
Basically, the players have a point when they're saying the league isn't actually losing $300 million; it's more like the $100 million/year that they've conceded to the owners in negotiations.
Whatever happens in terms of a hard or soft cap, it seems that both the players and owners intend on increasing the NBA's revenue sharing program to promote sustainability in all 30 franchises. There's no short selling how much increased revenue sharing will help the Sacramentos and Charlottes of the world.
The players will eventually have to cave into some of the owners' demands in terms of salary reductions, and it'll only give teams more economic freedom in the end, whether it's in the shape of a hard cap, shortened maximum contracts, salary rollbacks, or non-guaranteed deals. That's a bad thing for the players, but a good thing the next time your favorite team makes a mistake that would otherwise cripple them for a half-decade.
4. Revenue-Sharing Leading to More Parity?
One of the owners' biggest goals in the new CBA is to achieve the parity of a league like the NFL, where a number of teams could reasonably win the league's championship in any given year. It's no secret that the Lakers and the Celtics hold a ridiculous proportion of the NBA championship rings in league history.
Some research suggests that more parity in the NBA would only mildly boost national interest and TV ratings, believe it or not. But revenue sharing has the potential to greatly increase the quality of the small-market teams and bring a higher level of parity to the NBA than ever before.
Commissioner Stern said that revenue sharing "doesn't solve the problems if there are losses, because you can't revenue share your way to a profit as a league," and he's absolutely right.
Granted, revenue sharing won't be the only new feature of the new CBA. It's become entirely evident that the league will restrict player salaries and the salary cap in some way or another.
Once you add the teams' improved finances from restricting salaries to the principle of revenue sharing, suddenly, small-market teams could dream of profitability more than ever before. If the goal is ultimately to draw more local interest in the league's teams, allowing more franchises to play around with some extra cash and land a potential franchise-changing superstar can only benefit the NBA.
5. Shorter, Non-Guaranteed Contracts
If you're a Knicks fan, chances are the name Eddy Curry still gives you night terrors. The owners are doing everything in their powers to avoid Eddy Curry-esque situations in the next CBA by eliminating fully-guaranteed contracts.
The owners argue that the next CBA should essentially protect them from themselves by preventing them from crippling their franchise by massively overpaying one player. The players (and fans, for that matter) say in response, "Okay. Don't offer those ridiculous contracts, then."
The owners would claim that if they didn't overpay, someone else would, and the two sides could go back and forth for hours on the matter. One thing's a near certainty, though: The players' contracts aren't emerging from this battle unscathed.
The next CBA may end up shortening the length of maximum contracts (especially for free agents heading to another team), decreasing the value of maximum contracts, or restricting contracts from becoming fully guaranteed. Contracts would instead likely include playing incentives, such as the contract the Phoenix Suns reportedly offered Amar'e Stoudemire last summer.
However the next CBA shrinks player contracts, the changes will end up providing more financial freedom to all teams, which can only help the league's continued push towards parity.
6. More Time to Speculate About What Went Wrong for LeBron James in the Finals
Until LeBron James starts showing himself working out with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on Twitter, there'll still only be one question in the public's mind about him: How do you explain his performance in the NBA Finals?
We've already heard a huge range of explanations—he's a choker on the biggest stages (an assertion somewhat backed up by his Buzz Bissinger-written biography Shooting Stars); he and D-Wade proved they aren't compatible; even a rumor more absurd than the infamous Delonte West rumors from 2010 (hi, Rashard Lewis).
In the end, the explanation will likely fall far short of the fantastic guesses circulating amongst NBA fans these days. So, why not enjoy the time while we've got it?
Now, the lockout prevents all players from working out at their team's facilities, etc. The Miami Heat won't be posting any new videos of the Big Three on their website until the resolution of the lockout. (And if you think those videos don't have an effect, you haven't seen the Timberwolves' recent workout with Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams.)
Ultimately, the less we hear from LeBron James this summer, the more we can freely speculate about what caused his disappearing act in the fourth quarter against the Mavs after Game 1 of the series. And with Pat Riley telling the Heat to lay low this summer to avoid more media backlash, LeBron's silence will only lead to even more hilarious Finals conjecture.
7. Potential Amnesty Clause: Allowing Each Franchise to Waive One Player
This could be the single greatest thing to happen to teams if it gets included in the next CBA.
In the last CBA agreement in 2005, the league included an amnesty clause—a one-time exception where a team could waive a player, still pay the remainder of his contract, but not have it count against the team's salary cap. Call it the "Get Out Of Spending Like a Drunk Free" card.
Depending on how restrictive the new financial landscape of the NBA ends up being, the amnesty clause could turn into the lifeblood of contenders retaining their contender status. For a team like the Magic to be able to escape Gilbert Arenas' contract a year before Dwight Howard can leave in free agency would be an absolute godsend.
Those waived players could add an extra splash to this year's free agency market (whenever that free agent market may open), and teams would once again have a bit more financial flexibility to play with.
Teams didn't have to waive a player last time around, and it's highly unlikely that the NBA would require a waived player this time either. But for those teams brushing up on the wrong side of the luxury tax line already, the option to waive a player freely could restore a majority of the league to respectability.
8. Cheaper NBA League Pass
If the lockout spills into October and ends up costing the league some regular season games, there's absolutely no way they'll charge full price for their NBA League Pass cable & internet package. That's a win for hoops addicts everywhere.
Can't get enough of your Sacramento Kings vs. New Jersey Nets matchups? Consider NBA League Pass your new TV Bible.
No matter what city you're in, you have the option of watching your favorite team's games every night they play. Want to watch that non-televised Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder matchup? Don't worry—League Pass has you covered.
If you can't get enough regular season hoops action, you owe it to yourself to buy League Pass. At somewhere around $180 last season, the value (literally thousands of games) clearly exceeded the price.
Best part is, the price of League Pass routinely goes down as the season progresses. And if the league locks out to a 50-game season next year, you won't have to set aside nearly as much League Pass money.