Following several feeble attempts at pretending to care what happens to the 2011 NBA offseason, the owners decided to lock out the NBA players union at midnight on July 1st.
Thursday's trade of Omri Casspi for J.J. Hickson will be the last trade that we see for a while, and players such as Dwight Howard, who reportedly will exercise his option to become a free agent following the 2011-12 season, may have already played their last game for their current teams.
With all of the uncertainty surrounding these types of labor disagreements, now might be a good time to answer some frequently asked questions regarding the labor unrest.
Q: What is the current status of the negotiations?
A: The last time the owners and players suffered a lockout, the two sides left the bargaining table in late June and didn't reconvene until August. Don't expect the owners to be overly eager to come together anytime soon, as they are prepared to sit out the entire 2011-12 season to restructure the league. The owners have claimed that 22 out of 30 teams are losing money, and some have claimed that it would cost less to not have the season and keep the players' salaries.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has stated that the two sides will come together in the next few weeks. Don't expect any real movement until October, at the earliest.
Q: Can teams re-sign their free agents? Can players be traded?
A: There will be no free-agent signings or trades during the lockout. Some teams made qualifying offers to their free agents (such as Greg Oden), making them restricted free agents. However, there is no guarantee that free agency will even exist in the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) when it is eventually signed.
Q: What happens to player contracts?
A: Contracts are based on years, and not seasons. If a player is signed through July, 2012, he will become a free agent on that date, whether the previous season was played or not. If the 2011-12 NBA season is not played, Dwight Howard will still become a free agent in the next offseason.
The questions get a little more confusing with contracts that have stipulations and conditions such as playing time, roster spots, etc. With the players locked out, do they still have a spot on the roster? Can they still obtain these bonuses and contract extensions?
Most likely, no.
Q: Can players go play in Europe and other national leagues?
A: It depends on their contract status. Overseas teams and league teams will not sign players under contract with another organization. European and South American leagues have enjoyed a relationship with the NBA in which their players are not stolen by NBA teams when they are drafted without a contract buyout or completed agreement.
NBA free agents are technically allowed to go sign with teams overseas, but this typically has not been an option that players have exercised. The exception to this rule is foreign players, who have been known to return to their home countries due to contract disputes in the NBA.
Rookies have not signed contracts, so are also eligible to go overseas. Top picks are unlikely to do so, however, as an injury could severely hamper their earning power when the new CBA is signed.
Q: If the 2011-12 NBA season is cancelled, how will the 2012 draft order be handled?
A: Typically, leagues do not like to simply "repeat" the previous year's draft order in a cancelled year, because this rewards the poorer teams. More than likely, a formula will be created, taking into consideration each team's performance over a 3-5 year period to determine draft order.
Q: Can teams have any contact with players, coaches, trainers, agents, etc. during the lockout?
A: No. In fact, league officials have imposed a $1 million fine if any inappropriate contact is made.
Q: What are the owners looking for? How will the salary structure change?
A: The owners have made a proposal that included a $45 million hard cap, which would probably include a time period of 1-2 years for teams to get below that number. An amnesty period may also be considered, where teams may pay one or more players outside of the cap until their current contracts end. Expect several highly paid veterans to be cut and available following the lockout.
Q: When do you think this will be settled?
A: I agree with former NBA All-Star and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley that the 2011-12 season will not be played. The NBA owners are convinced that the same course that lost an entire NHL season a few years ago is the only way to force the players to agree to the comprehensive changes that they desire.
Expect a long, drawn-out negotiating session that will end sometime next summer with the desperate players accepting a new deal with some amnesty clauses and grandfathered contracts.
Anyone for baseball?
As always, I welcome your input and feedback.