As the 2011 NBA lockout approaches 120 days, American professional basketball remains hostage to the economic discontent of some of the nation's wealthiest men.
And no, I'm not referring to the NBA's owners specifically. I'm looking at everyone involved.
The truth of the matter is that the NBA and NBPA are closer to an agreement now than they were back in early July, but that's not saying much. Yes, some gulfs have been diminished to gaps, but the league and its players have yet to come to final terms on any substantial provision of the to-be-negotiated CBA.
What many in the press need to remain cognizant of is that collective bargaining and negotiating complex business arrangements is not always a puzzle. The process is not always one which can be negotiated "piece by piece." Still, that's what many in the media are suggesting the NBA and the union attempt to do. Easier said than done.
You don't negotiate the provisions of a deal in separate boxes and you never have a deal until you have a deal. I might give you something here, you return the favor later on. That's how it works. BRI is the economic godfather of the NBA's CBA. It it used to calculate everything from the salary cap to luxury tax threshold, down to maximum salaries and midlevel exceptions.
How, then, can you sit at the table and order for two before you ever even ask your prospective date out to dinner?
The NBA and NBPA have been criticized for not coming to terms of some of the smaller issues, but what the critics need to understand is that negotiating a collective bargaining agreement in any setting is tantamount to building a pyramid.
You start with a solid foundation. From there, you build upward on your good base. Keep moving until you build to the top. For sure, it requires willingness and giving and taking on both sides. But check this out:
Hypo: Mr. Stern wishes to purchase Mr. Hunter's home. Mr. Hunter wants $500,000 for his home, so he does what any other homeowner would do. He asks for $575,000. Why would Mr. Hunter begin his negotiation with Mr. Stern by discussing who pays the inspection costs or when the closing will occur? Why spend the time and energy when Mr. Stern insists on not spending one cent more than $300,000 on the home?
So continue listening to the rhetoric and posturing of the NBPA's legal advisors and members of the media in that the BRI split isn't the major hurdle to a new CBA. After all, what kind of public relations nightmare would it be for the PA if it plainly said "Yea, for us, it's about the money." So keep listening to their spinning; I'll just continue telling you the truth.
In the meantime, I'll also keep being upset with both the league and its players' union for childishly pointing fingers and failing to take ownership of each of its own's failures. We are here today because both parties screwed up in the past and each wants to protect its own interests moving forward. But each side wants its protection to be at the expense of the other party.
And you wonder why there's no deal?
Months ago, I insisted that the NBPA's only play was to engage the NBA and its owners in their high stakes game of chicken, wait for games to be canceled and hope that the big-market and small-market owners would begin fraying. That's why I've maintained that so long as the NBA insists on restricting team spending, the earliest the 2011-2012 season would begin would be in January.
(Full disclosure: I did think that we were close to an agreement a few weeks ago after I was told that the NBA dropped the demands for a "hard cap," but that was before I learned the details of the "Super Luxury Tax," which was a hard cap in disguise).
Now, as we approach the end of October, signs abound. While Peter Holt and Paul Allen drive the small market owners' bus, Jim Dolan and Mark Cuban (amongst others), rented a GMC Yukon; They're not totally on board.
After last Thursday's failed negotiating session, Hunter told the press that a small group of owners that included Dolan, Cuban and Jerry Buss (Los Angeles Lakers) do want a deal. Privately, my sources within the NBPA believe the same. It's a huge part of the reason why the PA has held out this long.
Like I said: this is a game of chicken.
Yes, the Miami Heat need to play because they need to win championships, and the longer it takes them the tougher it will get. The Bulls, Thunder and Knicks are only getting stronger from here. The Celtics do need to play—even though their owner doesn't care if they do—because they probably have one final chance to compete for a championship. That's especially true since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are both entering the final year of their respective deals.
Ah, but the Knicks: they need to play for many reasons.
They need to play because they need Carmelo and Amar'e Stoudemire to develop chemistry and prove that they can become more than an unstoppable 1-2 punch in NBA 2K12.
They need Mike D'Antoni to show up and prove that it was him and his philosophy, and not Steve Nash and a roster full of talent that many believe should have won a few championships, that are responsible for his success.
They need the $1 billion renovation to get prime time action. Although there's a chance that the Knicks could fail to qualify for the playoffs this season (very small chance), you can rest assured that Dolan and his cronies wouldn't have thought it possible that MSG would be dark for the entire season. If they did, they probably would have stuck to their original plans of spending "only" $500 million on the renovation.
The Knicks also need this season as a way to say "thank you" to their fans.
I've come under fire for tooting the horn of Gotham's faithful, but there are no hard feelings on my part. For what Knicks fans have put up with, they deserve more than this. Do they "deserve" a championship?
I won't go that far.
But damn it, they deserve an opportunity to watch their core—even if it's not good enough to realistically challenge for all the marbles—compete for it.
Let's remind you: the organization hasn't won a playoff game since it defeated Vince Carter's Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the 2001 first round.
I'll repeat that for effect: The organization hasn't won a playoff game since it defeated Vince Carter and his Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of their 2001 NBA Playoff match up.
Vince has played for three different teams since then.
Ten years' worth of Stephon Marbury, Keith Van Horn, Bruno Sundov, Maciej Lampe, Eddy Curry and Jerome James later… There's finally something to be excited about.
Oh wait. My mistake. No there isn't.
But there should be.
And thank goodness Dolan realizes that.
Yes, I'm going to pretend that his want for a season is because he wants to deliver to Knicks fans what they've been waiting for, and not because he needs to recoup his money after raising average ticket prices in Madison Square Garden by more than 49 percent.
Whatever the real reason, though, Knicks fans should hope that, for once, Dolan comes to their rescue. Few owners have more of a need for the 2011-12 NBA Season than him.
Hope the owners fray and give a little more, because the NBPA has proven that it's not rolling over anytime soon.
Yes, you read that right. Hope that Jimmy comes to the rescue. Knicks fans may have sworn him as their bitter enemy, but in times of conflict, the enemy (Dolan) of your enemy (no basketball) can be your friend.
At the end of the day, the NBA's labor situation is an unfortunate reality of professional sports. Truth is, though, Dolan probably wants to see basketball played in the Garden for another reason: he doesn't want to lose to the Nets.
Roger Mason said it, Dolan knows Knicks fans are excited and he needs to take advantage of it. That's why he pushed the envelope on the Carmelo trade. That and, oh yeah, the fact that Brooklyn-born Carmelo playing in Brooklyn would have been a marketing nightmare for Mr. Dolan's Knicks to compete with.
Make no mistake, he sees the Nets as a very credible threat that may actually be able to compete with the Knicks for the New York City NBA market. Let's not forget something mega important here, too: the Brooklyn Nets will be opening play in their brand spanking new Barclays Center for the 2012-2013 season.
Think Mr. Dolan wants to beat them to the punch and show off his new digs before Mr. Prokhorov and Jay-Z get the chance?
I do. Choice is great for consumers, not business owners. So Jimmy wants to hook Knicks fans and casual NBA game goers alike, before they realize they have a choice. He wants to hook them before the Barclays Center opens its doors and offers a comparable entertainment experience.
For those of you that doubt whether or not something like this would have any effect on Dolan and his operations: recall that he opposed the West Side Stadium. Why do you think that was?
So yes, Mr. Dolan wants basketball this season. He might not necessarily want it because of basketball. But he does want it.
It's no stretch to say he might even need it.
He needs the momentum before casual Knicks fans who own season tickets and live in Brooklyn and Queens realize that they can have Nets season tickets at a fraction of the cost.
He needs it to empower his front office, sans Donnie Walsh, to make wise decisions with its personnel. The importance of this can't be overstated since the NBA is likely to be operating under a more restrictive economic system.
He needs it to recoup the money spent on the shiny renovation and the $160 million investment made in Stat-e-Melo over the next four years.
Coach D'Antoni? Yep. Him, too. He's the Knick with the most to prove this season.
And for sure, because of the aforementioned reasons, if Mr. Dolan had his way, he'd change the current meaning of NBA.
From Nothing Beginning Anyway to Now Back to Action.
I'm convinced. Hell hath frozen over. Diehards and Dolan.
Different motivations, for sure.
But finally on the same side.
Moke Hamilton is a Featured NBA Columnist for Bleacher Report and the NBA Salary Cap Analyst for SNY's TheKnicksBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on the NBA Lockout and all things NBA.