Hopefully the Last NBA Lockout Column

By the time I finish writing this, NBA owners and players will have just started a meeting that by many accounts is the determinant as to whether there will or will not be a season. On Sunday, the NBA owners issued an ultimatum that the players accept their current offer by the end of the day today or face further rollbacks. The players have resigned themselves to a 50/50 split in basketball related income–the issue that for months was seen as the biggest obstacle in negotiations–but there still remain differences in various other system issues. ESPN’s Marc Stein writes:

The league’s weekend offer calls for players to receive between 49 percent and 51 percent of annual basketball-related income. Union officials argue that it would be nearly impossible for the league to generate sufficient revenue in any given season to earn the players more than 50.2 percent, but Hunter and Fisher now have the go-ahead for the first time all summer to go that low on BRI if the owners will agree to relax some of the various limits they want to impose on teams that stray into luxury-tax territory.

The tax penalties and other rules for tax-paying teams, one source told ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher, are where the two sides remain at complete odds.

The owners stated that if the players do not accept this offer by the deadline–which the players will not do with system issues in their current form–the BRI will rollback to a 53/47 split in favor of the owners. This would very likely cause the players union to de-certify and the odds of having a season would be low as the two sides battle it out in court. There is a faction of hard line owners that wants this to happen because it feels that the longer this goes, the more leverage it will have to ram through the most favorable deal from its perspective. ESPN’s Chris Broussard writes:

“There are at least 15 owners who are praying that the players say no,” one source said, “because then they’ll get the deal they want.”

Stern’s second, harsher proposal also calls for “existing contracts rolled back in proportion to system changes in order to ensure sufficient market for free agents,” a person who has been briefed on its contents told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the contents were supposed to remain private.

While this group of hard line owners is strong in numbers, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports today that David Stern does have the authority to “make minor system alterations,” but cautions:

The question: Will the owners compromise enough to make a deal happen? Despite the players now offering a 50-50 split in revenue – giving back as much as $375 million a year – owners are still threatening to pull the current offer and to reissue a previous draconian proposal that could set into motion union decertification – and the possible cancellation of the entire 2011-12 season.

Reading between the lines, it seems as though the reasonable parties on both sides have pushed enough that a deal is within reach, at this point precluded more by egos than dollars. Jeffrey Kessler, who was a divisive force in negotiations of the NFL collective bargaining agreement negotiations, is unsurprisingly not helping pursue resolution in the NBA either. Echoing Bryant Gumbel, Kessler told the Washington Post:

“To present that in the context of ‘take it or leave it,’ in our view, that is not good faith,” Kessler, who also represented the NFL players in their labor dispute with the NFL, said in a telephone interview Monday night. “Instead of treating the players like partners, they’re treating them like plantation workers.”

Kessler’s inflammatory rhetoric has not just offended the owners; in calling for Kessler to be removed from negotiations so that compromise can be reached, the Sporting News’s Sean Devaney writes:

“He walks into every meeting with dynamite in his briefcase,” one player agent told Sporting News. “It seems like he is going in intent on blowing things up. It’s only a matter of time from when the meeting starts to when it ends.”

What Kessler failed to mention when he called the league’s offer a “fraud” is that the league was working off suggestions made by [mediator George] Cohen, who was trying to find middle ground between the two sides on some of the toughest system issues, in particular the availability of exceptions to tax-paying teams. In fact, most of Cohen’s suggestions were reasonable. Thus, if Kessler is calling the NBA’s offer a fraud, he is also calling Cohen a fraud, even though it was the union that suggested Cohen be brought back in to mediate.

On Twitter, Bill Simmons and Jason Whitlock have called for a short-term collective bargaining agreement but do we really want to be re-visiting what will almost culminate in another labor stoppage in just two or three years? Perhaps this is the best solution but when it comes down to it, but I, along with most NBA fans, place seeing basketball as our first priority. Who does and doesn’t “win” the labor negotiations is of comparatively less importance–if the owners take too much, they will pay for it in the long-term as elite players seek more lucrative options elsewhere. A short-term CBA seems like a band-aid solution.

When this meeting ends tonight, it would be ideal to read quotes and stories about progress as opposed to bitterness. If there is going to be a season, a deal needs to get done extremely soon–preferably today. David Stern won’t be able to hold off the rabid faction of owners who want to take everything for too much longer and no concessions that the players can gain from continuing to fight will outweigh their lost income. If the season is lost and we have to endure a year where NBA stars are battling not on the court but in the courtroom, the terrorists win.



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