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Maybe it’s a little too early to freak out about a lockout

Nov 23, 2010, 6:33 PM EDT

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Welcome to the world of my contradictions. Put up your feet, make yourself at home.

On one hand, I am fully convinced there will be an NBA lockout come next July 1. Talk to both sides informally and that feels like the only possible outcome.

But I think that Darren Rovell at CNBC is right as well — it is far too early to read much into what either side is saying about the negotiations.

You see, history shows us in labor negotiations both in sports and the real world, that true negotiating doesn’t begin until at least one side feels pressured by a deadline. With so much time left, there’s no reason for either side to buckle. An artificial deadline of making substantive progress by the All-Star Break in February has been set, that deadline is exactly what it’s called — “artificial.”

Until a group of workers stare unemployment in the face and an owner or a company truly contemplates not being able to sell his product or service, there’s no reason to step forward and make a deal. The new terms wouldn’t start until the current deal expires and who knows what will change between now and then.

Perhaps the owners, coming off $170 million in new season ticket sales, realize by June that the financial system needs to be tweaked less. Perhaps the union, which has been presented with some $350 million in audited losses from the owners last year, realizes by May that the ultimate driver of casual fan interest — the Miami Heat — isn’t even going to make it to the NBA Finals and the buzz they were counting on just won’t be there. It’s very possible that conditions over the next couple months can change that lead to greater compromise. But there’s simply no reason for either side to be close now.

Let me reiterate one other point as well: A two-day or even two-month lockout that starts July 1 really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme. We fans who love to play GM every July will lose out on some fun (or have it postponed really), those of us who find Summer League in Vegas one of the joys of the NBA calendar will be disappointed. But so long as training camps open on time and games start on schedule, the casual sports fan will not notice. We die hards will forgive. Nothing of real substance to the NBA would be lost.

So that deadline of pressure Rovell speaks of comes with July 1, but really only starts to build over the summer. Which means that I can say that there will be a lockout this July, but anything being said by Billy Hunter or David Stern right now borders on meaningless.

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