NBA Lockout: Finally Making Some True Headway
The NBA Lockout, now beginning its fourth month, is not getting stronger as it gets older. In fact, it's likely to be over altogether very soon.
The NBA and its Players' Association, after weeks of wasted time and lackadaisical bargaining, finally made some serious headway towards a resolution after long meetings on Friday and Saturday in New York City.
These meetings are dissimilar to their ancestors in that neither side stormed out, refusing to discuss any longer or leaving the upcoming meeting schedule blank. These meetings, no matter how productive, gave birth to further meetings with more participants on each side, which can only be taken as a good sign for those fearing the worst for this NBA season.
The NBA and NBPA scheduled to continue their deliberations with small parties on Monday, then again with the full cast on Tuesday.
Since team owners locked players out on July 1, the prospects for the 2011-12 season beginning on schedule have never looked more promising than they do after this weekend, though the stakes have never been higher to get a deal done.
With the weekend's meetings yielding more sessions, there are many reasons to be optimistic that the season will be salvaged in full. Here are the most significant.
The Owners Have Finally Gotten Their Own House in Order
The silent assassin threatening the fruitfulness of collective bargaining negotiations is revenue sharing among the NBA's 30 teams. The losses that many owners pinned on the players' revenue portion being too much are actually the consequence of their own reluctance to share revenues among each other.
Because the owners refused to look in the mirror to diagnose their financial frailty, they blamed the players for their losses, somewhere around $300 million annually. They argued that the system is broken and claimed willingness to miss the entire season in the name of change.
As of this weekend, the owners are reportedly resolved on an effective revenue sharing system that will greatly stem the constant losses for unprofitable teams.
The players always tabbed this as the logical precursor to any collective bargaining agreement (CBA), but the league's richest owners have smothered all talk of revenue sharing because they don't want to give away their profits to failing teams, even if it benefits the overall health of the league.
Until now, those owners, Jerry Buss of the Lakers, Donald Sterling of the Clippers and others, have successfully convinced their peers that the players were the problem, not the rich owners.
With the owners' accord on revenue sharing, they can finally look across the table at the waiting Players' Association to address a new CBA.
The players have been pleading for the owners to get their house in order all along and are now much more amenable to prolonged talks and overcoming differences.
Both Sides Have Shown Willingness to Compromise
The NBPA made the breakdown of Basketball Related Income (BRI) the hill that it would die on early on.
Last year's 57 percent of total league revenue was a number they liked but knew the owners would balk at. Realistically, the players have been content with dropping that number down to around 52 or 53 percent going forward.
However, the owners demanded that the players drop down to around 46 percent of BRI, a number that is unacceptable to the players. Recently, the owners and players have honed in on an acceptable range of BRI breakdown, but still have a long distance to travel between the owners' 46 percent and the players' 52 percent.
To say that the owners are being unreasonable on the BRI issue would be like to calling Shaq a big guy; the lack of description and detail robs the term of its impact. The players are willing to cover roughly $200 million of the owners' $300 million in losses by dropping to around 53 percent BRI, but the league is inexplicably dissatisfied with that concession, wanting to bleed the players bone-dry.
If someone offered to cover two-thirds of my losses annually, I'd first fear that I'm about to be arrested for grand theft, then ask if I could take the other side out for lunch. The players are constantly vilified for being greedy because they're the face of the league, but the owners are running greed laps around the players right now.
The owners have demands that the players need them to come down on as well. The owners' banner of this summer's lockout has been a hard salary cap which will not permit teams to exceed the cap in any circumstances, thereby driving player salaries down across the board.
The players have defiantly insisted that the current soft cap be retained by the owners.
Progress is being made on this front, with some distance still to travel. The owners reportedly backed down on their need for a hard cap, proposing an extremely more stringent luxury tax system that would hope to deter the bankrolled franchises from spending as lavishly as they've done in the past.
This compromise is refreshingly organic and harmonious, because instead of shoving all the blame and responsibility across the table onto the players and demanding they give up some of their money, the owners are taking a solutions-oriented approach that acknowledges their own responsibility.
Instead of brazenly grabbing for money out of the players' pockets and acting entitled to do so, the owners are resolving to become more frugal and thrifty themselves.
Derek Fisher said that the proposed system still won't work for the players, but it's hard to deny that significant headway has been made on the salary cap issue.
The Stars Have Finally Joined the Discussion
If you're bargaining for your livelihood and paycheck, you'd probably make sure that your best people were present for the proceedings, right?
Well, NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter has asked nothing of his most talented and popular clients thus far.
The likes of Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Paul have stayed in the dark, while Derek Fisher, Roger Mason Jr. and Mo Evans have been left to represent the player population in pressure-packed meetings.
This weekend, the players seemed to sense the urgency and that their season might be on the brink. The stars came out of the woodwork to attend the New York meetings, which can only be seen as a good sign for negotiations. The heavy hitters don't show up until the most important phase of negotiations, which, by all indications, are taking place right now.
Kobe Bryant is expected to join his peers for this week's talks, adding more momentum and purpose to a process that has stalled and stagnated at many junctures thus far.
More Meetings Are Better Than Less or No Meetings
Amid all the reports and murmurs swirling around the meetings on Friday and Saturday, I focused singularly on one thing to diagnose how the meetings actually went:
Did they leave the bargaining table with more meetings scheduled or not?
To me, the news of continued meetings this week provided more comfort and hope than any other aspect of Friday and Saturday's events.
It means they have more to talk about and that both sides are getting along to the degree that they can tolerate speaking to each other without lunging across the table and grabbing for throats.
The bargainers probably have to nail down a detailed CBA within the next 10 days in order to start the season on November 1. As things get more urgent on Monday and Tuesday, listen for further meetings being scheduled as the sign of progress.
How Close Are We?
It's impossible to determine how close the owners and players are to a signed and ratified agreement.
However, we do know that there are two issues that persist of utmost importance: the division of BRI and the salary cap structure.
We know that the range of acceptable BRI for the players will be lower than the incumbent 57 percent and (hopefully) above a 50-50 split. This should be seen as promising, as the distance to travel is a lot shorter than it was a month ago.
The salary cap issue is the linchpin that will either hold a new CBA together or cause it to fall apart.
It must involve mutual compromise. Both sides have shown willingness to do so, with the owners relinquishing the hard cap and the players giving up a noticeable chunk of league revenue, but they'll need to go further to strike an accord.
Most of the minor issues have proven to be speed bumps that have ostensibly been bypassed. Only two remain.
Whether they are speed bumps or mountain peaks will be revealed as negotiations continue in this pivotal first week of October.