NBA Lockout: Have Owners' Bargaining Positions Changed?

Reservoir GodCorrespondent IISeptember 12, 2011

NBA Lockout: Have Owners' Bargaining Positions Changed?

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    The bargaining positions of NBA owners reported by Henry Abbott from ESPN last week differ from those reported by Mark Heisler for the LA Times at the NBA all-star break.

    The question is, “How much have the owners' bargaining positions changed?”

    For example, Heisler reported that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was not willing to sacrifice the season but Abbott's article claimed that has changed. How many other owners made such a big change since the lockout started? This spreadsheet compares the reporting of NBA owners’ bargaining positions by Abbott and Heisler.

    In February, Heisler reported nine of 12 members on the NBA’s labor relations committee wanted to drive a hard bargain with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) but only one member wanted to cancel games. Last week, Abbott reported only seven of 12 owners on the committee wanted to take a “hard line” with the players but two of them wanted to cancel games. Voting on the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is not limited to the committee, however. According to Abbott, it requires a majority vote of 16 owners to ratify a new CBA.

    Heisler reported at the all-star break that 24 of 30 NBA owners wanted to drive a hard bargain with the players and at least four of them would be willing to cancel games to get the collective bargaining agreement they wanted. Last week, Abbott reported that 17 of 30 NBA owners wanted to drive a hard bargain with the players and at least three to six owners would be willing to cancel games.

    The following slides highlight changes in the bargaining positions of nine owners that would have the biggest impacts on the NBA lockout. The owners are ordered from most positive impact to most negative impact.

9. Herb Simon from the Indiana Pacers and NBA Labor Relations Committee

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    Heisler reported that Herb Simon was a hawk in the CBA negotiations since he’s lost eight figures owning the team but he did not want to cancel games or the season. Abbott reported the Pacers’ owner should not be considered a hawk because he does not want a long lockout, just a “reasonable” CBA with a decent portion of revenue sharing on the side.

    Impact Analysis: Positive

    It seems reasonable that Simon’s position could change after seeing the Pacers make the playoffs and push the Bulls in four close games before being eliminated in five.

8. Glen Taylor from the Minnesota Timberwolves and NBA Labor Relations Committee

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    Heisler reported that Glen Taylor would go with whatever commissioner David Stern wanted in February. Abbott reported a slight shift in Taylor’s position that has the Timberwolves’ owner driving a harder bargain for incremental improvement but not a completely new system.

    Impact Analysis: Potentially Positive

    The difference in Heisler and Abbott’s reporting of Taylor’s position shouldn’t make a big difference when it comes down to canceling games. Either way, he’s voting with Stern. If Stern plays hardball, then Taylor probably will, too, and vice versa.

7. Clay Bennett from the Oklahoma City Thunder and NBA Labor Relations Committee

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    Heisler reported Clay Bennett’s small market and expiring rookie contracts for star players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made him a hawk in CBA negotiations, but he also noted the Thunder owner may owe Stern allegiance for backing their move from Seattle. Abbott reported Bennett was a dove, not a hawk, because the Thunder wouldn’t want to miss a season coming off their playoff run to the Western Conference Finals.

    Impact Analysis: Potentially Positive

    The most important reporting on Bennett was his relationship with Stern. The documentary Sonicsgate also reported the longstanding connection between the Thunder owner and NBA commissioner. Like Taylor, it’s very believable that Bennett will go whichever way Stern wants.

6. Bob Vander Weide from the Orlando Magic and NBA Labor Relations Committee

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    Heisler reported Bob Vander Weide was a hawk in CBA negotiations with a focus on adding rules that would facilitate re-signing Dwight Howard. Abbott reported the same concern over Howard but said Magic ownership was a dove in CBA negotiations because they were more concerned about having the best center in the NBA on the court for one last run in their brand new arena.

    Impact Analysis: Potentially Negative

    It doesn’t really make sense for the Magic to be soft in CBA negotiations because that would be incredibly short-sighted. Why settle for one year of Howard in an expensive, new arena when they could potentially have Howard for multiple years in an expensive, new arena if they just drive a harder bargain with the NBPA?

5. Larry Tanenbaum from the Toronto Raptors

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    Heisler reported the Raptors were relatively secure financially with fans buying NBA tickets to ensure good seats for hockey games. Abbott implied Larry Tanenbaum’s experience with the NHL lockout and the love of hockey in Canada could result in the Raptors ownership supporting a move to cancel the NBA season.

    Impact Analysis: Potentially Negative

    With the NHL potentially staring another lockout in the face, Tanenbaum should know that canceling a season isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if a team makes money. Heisler may be closer to the mark on this one but it’s impossible to get a good read on this one.

4. Maloof Brothers from the Sacramento Kings

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    Heisler reported Joe and Gavin Maloof were not the “burn-the-village-to-save-it types” and thus not likely to support cancellation of games but Abbott reported the Kings owners could potentially profit from the lockout.

    Impact Analysis: Potentially Negative

    If the Maloofs’ willingness to work with the city of Sacramento is altruistic, then perhaps they’re not the scorched earth types. If they’re as phony as Clay Bennett and Abbott’s reporting is accurate, then it’s more potential bad news that NBA fans could face an even longer lockout.

3. Dan Gilbert from the Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA Labor Relations Committee

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    In February, Heisler reported that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wouldn’t be willing to cancel games because he could make over $20 million dollars operating his team since they cut payroll after trading LeBron James. Abbott reported that Gilbert would be willing to miss the season because 1) the Cavs stink, 2) it’s one less year Baron Davis gets paid and 3) it’s one less title for LeBron to win.

    Impact Analysis: Potentially Negative

    Abbott’s justifications for Gilbert to cancel games and forgo a profitable season don’t pass muster. It seems more credible that the profit motive would supersede spite when it came down to the “Comic Sans Man” voting to cancel a season.

2. Herb Kohl from the Milwaukee Bucks

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    Heisler reported that Herb Kohl absorbed big losses owning the Bucks, but did not report that he would support canceling the season. Abbott reported those losses resulted in Kohl being "as hardcore as anyone" looking to overhaul the system.

    Impact Analysis: Negative

    It’s bad news for fans if the Bucks owner would vote to cancel the season. While the number of owners willing to go that far still constitute a minority, it decreases the pool of owners that would potentially ratify a new CBA that did not meet all of the owners' demands and thus extend the lockout.

1. Donald Sterling from the Los Angeles Clippers

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    Heisler reported that Donald Sterling was a CBA hawk “sharpening talons” at the all-star break, but Abbott reported the Clippers owner was a dove who wanted to “let the Blake Griffin money machine keep rolling.”

    Impact Analysis: Negative

    It’s good news for fans if Sterling’s position has changed but Heisler’s reporting in February may have been more accurate since he worked for the LA Times while Abbott lives in New Jersey. TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz ran a blog about the Clippers but it’s a good bet he did not have Heisler’s sources. Additionally, Abbott admitted that Sterling thought the last CBA was a horrible deal for the owners so it’s unlikely that he would completely reverse his position. Bad news for fans is that Sterling would likely vote to cancel games and perhaps the season.

A Reason to Be Optimistic or Pessimistic?

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    This spreadsheet lists the bargaining positions of all owners reported by Mark Heisler and Henry Abbott. Hopefully, Abbott is right and the owners are softening since Heisler reported their bargaining positions seven months ago.

    The NBA labor relations committee and NBPA executive board are scheduled to meet Tuesday for another collective bargaining session before they each go back to their constituents with a report on the progress made so far. Fans will know this week whether the owners have truly softened their bargaining position since the lockout started.