We can all agree that this absurd process has gotten out of hand. Both sides have squabbled and have gone from being "far apart" on a deal to "seemingly close" to a "nuclear winter."
Now this article is not to place the blame solely on the players.
After all, it does take two sides to agree to a compromise and ultimately the owners know what their employees are looking for in a deal and could soften certain stances to accomplish that goal.
Having said that, if the 2011-2012 season is lost, a majority of the blame needs to be placed on the players.
NBA Players Do Not Know How Good They Have It
I can not stress this point enough.
Let's start with the guarantee contracts.
Unlike in the NFL or in the Euroleague, NBA players sign guaranteed contracts which usually span up to six years.
That means if a player gets injured (e.g. Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Tracy McGrady), starts dogging games or even seasons (Baron Davis, Vince Carter, Gilbert Arenas), or was simply not the talent the team thought he was (Jerome James, Eddy Curry, Bobby Simmons) that player still gets paid 100 percent of the contract he signed over the length of the deal.
This point needs to be stressed further.
Who is to blame for the current lockout?
Overseas, which would predominantly mean the Euroleague for most players looking to export their talents, players have no guaranteed contracts.
A team could sign you for X amount, but if you get injured or your play is not up to their par, they can just as easily terminate your contract.
Players like Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis, Eddy Curry, etc, would barely make it through one pay check before their Euroleague teams would void their contracts, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars versus what the NBA guarantees them.
Next we have the middle class.
Players are currently whining that the owners' newly proposed harsher restrictions on luxury taxes would essentially get rid of the NBA's "middle class."
Is that a bad thing?
First, most teams in the NBA work via the Pareto Analysis, meaning that roughly 80 percent of a team's total wins is usually contributed by 20 percent of their players (3-4 members).
While this notion is not true with every team, it does work with the vast majority of teams, specifically the ones most fans care about (ex: Miami: James/Wade/Bosh, Boston: Garnett/Pierce/Rondo/Allen, Chicago: Rose/Noah/Boozer, Dallas: Nowitzki/Chandler/Kidd/Terry, LA Lakers: Bryant/Gasol/Odom/Bynum, New York: Stoudemire, Anthony, OKC: Durant/Westbrook).
Since that is the case, the top 3-4 players on a team are vastly superior in importance to the rest of the squad. Sorry Derrick Fisher.
Perhaps they do inhibit some small role within the grand scheme of the team's philosophy, but not one that can't be easily replaced.
With this being the case, the top tier of talent in the league should be taking a larger cut of the salary pie, specifically within one team.
Each team has glaring inconsistencies between players' salaries, usually favoring the NBA "middle class."
In Phoenix, Steve Nash is far more crucial to the team's success than Josh Childress, Mickael Pietrus, Hakim Warrick and Jared Dudley, yet his salary is not even three times as great than that of these players.
Ditto with Chris Paul in New Orleans, who has a similar disproportionate importance ratio with teammates like Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack, despite being paid less than four times as much.
Second, since most teams' success is typically confined among the top 3-4 players, those are the ones that fans are coming to the stadiums to watch.
Many casual fans pay admission or watch NBA games on television to see star player X, not Jared Dudley.
If the NBA simply kept the top 20 percent of its performers, but outsourced the bottom 80 percent with replacement players, would attendance and overall league popularity really diminish? Doubtful.
If you're decent enough (you may even be in the bottom 20 percent in talent, see Greg Buckner, Jerome James, Jared Jeffries, Jared Dudley, DeSagana Diop as past/present examples) you can even sign a pre-determined salary figure which guarantees you roughly the average salary of the league (MLE - Mid Level Exception), which by the way, over the past decade was between $5 million to $7 million a year for up to five years for those who signed it.
If you barely make it on with an NBA team, you can still sign minimum salaries (pending on your tenure in the league) for at least one year which would still put you in the top 0.1 percent of the U.S bracket in income.
The Players Have No Leverage
While leverage has been a running theme over the course of the lockout, it has begun to seem more evident that the players have next to zero leverage in this whole ordeal.
Players have a clock on their athletic peaks and playing capabilities.
Most players also don't really have viable fall back options that would come close to what they could make in the NBA, and yes that includes playing overseas.
Meanwhile, owners have been making money for most of their careers.
They are typically business savvy and have thus placed themselves in a nice financial cushion that allows them to own their current NBA team.
Owners Do Own The Players
The above statement has received much ridicule in the media, especially when NBA owners were compared to slave owners by Bryant Gumbel (do slaves get to sign an MLE contract guaranteeing them financial security for their next several generations?).
That is not the intent here. But the above bold statement does warrant some credibility.
After all, don't owners kinda own their players?
Well...owners own the team these players play for, and these players are employees of the owners, so in essence, owners at least own the players' employment status with their team.
Players hate this concept.
They seem to be bitter by the fact that they have bosses, that someone owns this aspect of their lives, and are trying to battle that very concept.
The fact is, employees everywhere have this same struggle, but such is life.
Most people in the world, and this includes professional athletes, have bosses who do obtain this power over what typically amounts to the financial aspect of our lives.
Who really "owns" the NBA?
It's Not The Players' League
Players indicate that they are the product (again, roughly 20 percent of them make up more than 80 percent worth of this product), which is truer for the top tier.
Having said that, the owners own this product.
They can dictate the amount of money to pay their employees and restrict limitations of them to their liking.
It is the players' choice to agree to those terms or not.
The truth is, the owners could easily be harsher.
Looking at the other options for players (overseas), the owners can make just enough tweaks to the league to ensure that the NBA is a better overall place for the basketball elite than anywhere else.
These tweaks could include a far diminished BRI (basketball related income), one where the NBA players make percentage points greater than that of Euroleague talent (something like a 35-65 split may do this).
Owners could also eradicate the concept of the guaranteed contract, after all, what other basketball league offers such a gift to its players?
Finally, owners do own a better marketing brand for their employees to in turn make more money through endorsement deals, etc.
What will you do with no NBA?
The NBA brand also carries its own valuable cache around the world.
The players will claim that they have already given enough in these negotiations and such "tweaks" would be drastic.
Yes it is true that players have already been willing to reduce their BRI share by seven percent (57 to 50), but they also need to understand how "great" they had it, and how "good" they will still have it.
Players may have restricted free-agent movement with a harsher luxury tax, but it will not deprive them of playing in the desired city of choice.
Just like many other regular employees, NBA players need to make those same internal compromises.
Do I work in my favorite city for less money, or do I try and make more money in a city I feel less accustomed to living in?
Do I sign a veteran contract in Miami in hopes of increasing my chances at winning a title and enjoying the weather, or do I choose the larger contract in Charlotte?
No one is forcing these players out of the bigger markets, but if they choose to do so it may mean smaller contracts.
At the end of the day players are simply clouded with delusional thinking.
They seem to believe they are the true owners of the sport, they are worth far more than their current contracts (again this is the case for the majority aka the middle class) and there are better options for them (see Euroleague).
This type of thinking mixed in with a macho sense of pride will be the reason for the lost season.
The only problem is that as much as it hurts your casual fan, nearby restaurant/bar or other team employee, it hurts the players themselves most of all.