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Winderman: CBA talks time to address contraction, schedule

Jun 28, 2011, 11:26 AM EDT

David Stern

To some, these are the worst of times for the NBA.

An impending lockout. The drafting of a new collective-bargaining agreement. Big-money teams vs. low-revenue franchises in what might set up as its own civil war.

And yet this also can be the best of times in at least one respect, in the void of a working agreement.

What the NBA needs as much as Tuesday’s Board of Governors meeting or the ensuing negotiating sessions with the players’ union in advance of the July 1 start of the lockout is a good-of-the-game summit.

Once a new CBA is in place, for whatever the term, so will be a blueprint moving forward. That makes now the perfect time, even amid this distressing time, to reshape the workplace, perhaps the final opportunity for the balance of the decade.

First, start with those owners whining because they’re losing money or not making enough money.

This was never a place for a high-profit return. That’s called the NFL. The NBA is a place where Micky Arison and Mark Cuban and Mikhail Prokhorov spend because they want to be viewed as winners. This is their hobby, their passion.

For most of the league’s successful owners, the view is similar.

The hard-line insurgency is being led by the league’s lesser half, owners David Stern never should have allowed to the table in the first place, his Frank McCourts, if you will.

So buy ‘em out. Contract ‘em. (It sure seems at this point as if no one wants to own the Hawks, anyway.)

The outlay now could be offset by a larger split among a smaller group of owners when it comes to television and marketing revenues. The playoffs drew record ratings because of the select group of teams viewers prefer to watch. A smaller league will allow more opportunities for Heat-Bulls, Mavericks-Lakers, Knicks-Celtics, games that will produce higher ratings than some of what is being offered nationally now.

The added benefit would be less dilution of talent. Perhaps now every team could actually field a legitimate center, quality depth.

Such contraction also would send a message to the players that your ranks will thin, so start working with us. In essence, the NBA could shrink the union.

Beyond that, address the schedule.

Among the reasons a lengthy lockout is forecast is because the NBA doesn’t truly gain traction until its Christmas games. Everything else seemingly is scheduled around Sunday and Monday NFL, and, to a degree, Saturday college football.

There has never been a groundswell for weeknight basketball from those rushing to arenas from work and then needing to get up early the following morning.

This should be a league of Friday, Saturday and Sunday (after NFL season) games, as the NBA has learned with its D-League scheduling.

A 60-game schedule would work just fine. The league still could sprinkle in Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday games to keep the ESPN and TNT schedules viable, only with less competition from local broadcasts, thus potentially higher ratings in that respect, as well.

These are not changes that can come in the middle of a collective-bargaining agreement.

They have to be part of the framework of a new CBA.

So if ownership insists on a lockout, if the players’ union can’t abide by management’s terms, then step back from the table and assess not only what is best from a revenue standpoint, but, dare we say it, what is best for the game, itself.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

  1. purdueman - Jun 28, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    Contraction makes perfect sense for both the NBA and NHL (where I maintain it’s silly to have teams south of the Mason-Dixon line), but you either have to buy the current owners out (unless of course the league has had to take over a team or two), as well as settle what surely would be messy and expensive long term leases with many arenas that are usually owned and operated by the cities that they are in.

    With West and Gray leaving New Orleans and Paul dying to get out, New Orleans should be the first team to go. The Atlanta Hawks have too good of a roster to simply pull the plug, but I could easily envision the Los Angeles Hawks of Anaheim happening before the start of next season if no new owners step up to buy the team (there’s plenty of money in LA to find a buyer to relocate the team).

    For scheduling purposes, you need to keep an even number of teams, so who else do you contract along with New Orleans? Too bad tiny market Memphis made the playoffs last year, because they would be #1 on my list, followed by Sacramento, but now neither of those moves seems likely.

    Cleveland just got a much needed infusion of talent so at least for now seems safe. The hapless Nets are of course now owned by a goofy Russian billionaire. The bickering Pistons just got a new owner too. Looks to me as if contraction is now out of the question.

    I don’t like the idea of a 60 game regular season at all, and the players would have to agree to their current contracts pro-rated for a significant drop in game day pay checks. That ain’t gonna happen either.

    If any of you think that teams who have huge season ticket bases are going to simply give up 20-22 games at the gate, you’re sadly mistaken.

    • 440shane - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:27 PM

      Sure I have a biased view being a Cleveland fan, but the Cavaliers will not be contracted. No chance, no way. Stern likes Gilbert too much, he is the same ‘type’ of owner as Prokohrov, Cuban and the likes. He has deep, deep pockets and is more than willing to spend. Just because LeBron left and we had a bad record don’t for one second think the NBA in Cleveland doesn’t work. Look at the top earning teams of last year. Small market, little old Cleveland was right in the middle of the whole league, in spite of setting the new consecutive loss record and having an absolutely dismal season. If contraction is in the works it will start with the teams that don’t make “enough” money and have to get loans from the league itself or in New Orleans’ case have the league take them over all together. Contraction will start with teams like New Orleans, Milwaukee, Sacramento, Memphis, Atlanta, Phoenix….. All these teams are run/owned by guys that don’t have the funds to keep up or are unwilling to spend the funds to keep up.

      • philtration - Jun 28, 2011 at 2:09 PM

        I gotta agree.
        What about Minnesota?
        Is there any real reason to keep that train wreck going?
        They should go before Atlanta in my book.

        I don’t see Memphis finally having one good season as a valid reason to keep them around.
        New Orleans should have NEVER gotten another team and to make matters worse you put another expansion team in Charlotte to replace the team that moved to New Orleans.
        Dumb.

        Pull the plug on 6 teams and have two 12 team conferences.
        Break them up into 3 divisions of 4 teams each and have one wild card from each conference.
        That is it.
        8 teams make the playoffs and you don’t have to snooze your way through these boring # 1 seed vs. # 8 seed match ups before the real action starts.

      • mogogo1 - Jun 28, 2011 at 3:00 PM

        @philtration
        What was dumb is the league not solving the real problem that Charlotte originally had…its crappy owner. Charlotte fans supported the Hornets quite well right up until George Shinn quit trying to win, got into a sex scandal, and alienated everybody. Rather than deal with the problem, the NBA let him take his problems to New Orleans which was shortsighted and stupid. So, fast forward a few years later and you’ve got the Hornets failing in New Orleans just like the Jazz did all those years ago. Meanwhile, Charlotte was 21st in attendance last year…not great, but well ahead of a fair chunk of other more established franchises.

    • trbowman - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:55 PM

      Contract doesn’t make sense for the NHL.

      • ac0117 - Jun 28, 2011 at 2:18 PM

        Wow I would say that of all the major leagues it makes the MOST sense for the NHL

    • david8726 - Jun 29, 2011 at 3:04 AM

      Uh, you realize that players would get paid the same amount for a 60 game schedule as they would for an 82 game schedule, right? They would just get paid more for each game.

      Ditto for ticket prices. You raise ticket prices to reflect the decrease in the number of games so that, at the end of the day, season tickets cost what they do now.

  2. royalsfaninfargo - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    So this is a Heat beat writer talking about contracting teams so the Heat get more exposure? Is the Heat getting more exposure even possible?

    • david8726 - Jun 29, 2011 at 3:10 AM

      It’s not just about the Heat. Ira was pretty clear that it’s about ALL the big market teams that people actually care about getting more exposure.

      This NBA playoffs this year was fantastic as far as big market, A-list franchises going deep into the playoffs. The ratings reflected how much people like to see the Bostons, New Yorks, Chicagos, Miamis, Dallas’, and LAs of the world in the playoffs.

      I’m sorry to say this, but people just didn’t tune in as much when it was San Antonio in the finals.

  3. dennisjustice - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    If there was a professional sports league (besides “Mediocre League Soccer”) that needed promotion and relegation, it would be the NBA. Seattle wouldn’t have had their team taken from them and Oklahoma City would have built their own team. Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Birmingham, etc. could try to earn their way up top. I mean really, does anyone seriously think Blake Griffin is staying with the Clippers? He’ll bolt first chance he gets because the owner is cheap.

    The D-League, granted it’s the only “legitimate” minor basketball league in America. But the D-League is a terrible model unless you have a one team per NBA team system, with that D-League team being somewhat close to the NBA team. The Warriors just bought out the N. Dakota franchise and everybody seems to think they’re moving the team to San Jose after this next season. One of those two things needs to happen.

    As to the season itself, 70 games is fine, it’s baseball that needs to shorten it’s season the most. The NBA numbers are not that bad, except for bad owners who make bad business decisions. I mean really, $20 million for Darko? That’s not the players’ fault. Promotion and relegation would punish bad owners more quickly, which will force them to be better smarter owners or get out of the business.

  4. tashkalucy - Jun 28, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    I said it a year ago and will say it again……

    The NBA is at a tipping point. Either it becomes like MLB where the good players migrate to half a dozen glamour markets where they’re guaranteed gobs of national hype so that ESPN can get interest in the teams and score viewers on the national broadcasts, or the NBA becomes like the NFL where all teams have a legitimate chance of winning and 60% of a teams starters don’t decide that they’re buds and want to go to a glamour city and play together.

    Last years Super Bowl featured teams from Green Bay and Pittsburgh – two areas that don’t even have an NBA franchise. Two areas that basketball players would laugh at playin in if they had NBA franhises there. Yet the public gave the Super Bowl record TV ratings, while the league sold too many tickets to the game due to demand. MLB has franchises in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, and the players that establish themselves always leave. As one reporter said – “these guys are making $16 million dollars to play basketball for 8 months. They can play in Sacramento if the team has their rights.”

    • kinggw - Jun 28, 2011 at 3:17 PM

      What are you talking about? What does Green Bay and Pittsburgh have to do with the NBA? Large markets arent the problem, manangement is. Good players will go to good teams, it doesnt matter where they are located. There are lots of players that will go play with Durant in OKC, and there were plenty of players that would have played with LeBron in Cleveland, Ferry never got them there. San Antonio isnt a big market and never has been, they have never had a problem getting quality players to come there. When Sacramento was in their prime 10 years ago quality players wanted to go there. Players want to play on competitive teams, the other stuff is just gravy.

      F what Winderman says, the length of the season is fine and so is the number of teams in it. If anything why dont they have owner relegation. Get rid of owners like Sterling and you will see drastic improvements in the NBA’s sub par franchises.

      • tashkalucy - Jun 28, 2011 at 4:06 PM

        Don’t agree at all.

        Name me a name free agent that went to the Bucks, Pacers or any cold weather city other than Chicago, which only got guys the past year and during the Jordan era.

        Did Carmelo Anthony and Leon Rose ties up 3 teams last year (Nuggets, Nets, Bucks) so he could go to Portland?

        What you don’t seem to get is that the landscape is changing…and that’s my point. If I paid the outrageous bucks for a season ticket with the Nuggets, Nets or Knicks last year, I’d wonder why the heck I’d put the money down. 2/3′rds of the season was where Anthony would go – and as Knick fans are about to find out…..he’s not that good.

        MLB is all about trading deadline rumors as well. One reason the fans love the NFL so is because once the teams start playing the season, there are few, if any, major trades. Fans can concentrate on the games being played.

      • Justin - Jun 28, 2011 at 4:31 PM

        Stop shoving San Antonio out there like it is the rule and not the exception. They have an amazing coach and GM. Please name all these big name free agents though.

        When 1 small market team does well and that is all we can hang our hat on it is a problem. Unless we are satisfied with only 8 of the 30 teams making money. I guess then it isn’t a problem.

  5. Justin - Jun 28, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    “The NBA is a place where Micky Arison and Mark Cuban and Mikhail Prokhorov spend because they want to be viewed as winners. This is their hobby, their passion”

    I’m sorry but putting the names of owners that had 2 teams in the finals and another who has a large market team soon to be moving into a new arena does not get the point across. Maybe throw up a name of a team that the owner spends in a small market? The 3 are spending but getting plenty back other than being “viewed as winners”. I’m sure Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s hobby and passion was computers but they didn’t invent windows just so they could feel like winners when using it.

  6. zblott - Jun 28, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    CBA primer if you haven’t been following all the issues:
    http://www.behindthebasket.com/btb/2011/6/28/the-cba-the-lockout-the-basics.html

  7. whatagreatfootballmind - Jun 28, 2011 at 10:22 PM

    Are you kidding? Contract the Minnesota Timberwolves? Yeah l guess if you want to contract a top 16 market. A market that is bigger than Orlando, San Antonio, and several others in the NBA? Contract a team that sells out games when the owner/GM puts just an average team on the court? Contract a team that sold out games during the Kevin Garnett era that had just slighty better, if that average teams? They never won a playoff series except the one year they made it to the Western Conference? Contract the same team that has sold 600 new season tickets in little over a week, mind you, everybody knows a lockout is coming, because a Spanish nappy haired kid is coming? Contract the same team that holds the single season attendance record in NBA history? Contract a team, who’s fan always get screwed? The years we have the worst record we never pick higher than 3rd except this year where they had their highest pick ever…#2.

    I guess that’s why they pay David Stern to be commissioner and not some of you idiots who think we should contract a team because they have sucked since 2004.

  8. david8726 - Jun 29, 2011 at 3:07 AM

    I would love to see the schedule cut down to 60 games.

    With a shorter season, every game would mean more. With more rest between games, you’d get consistently better performances from the players. Fans wouldn’t have to deal with watching players mail it in sometimes on the second night of a back to back at the end of a long road trip.

    Everyone would also be healthier and fresher when the playoffs roll around, leading to better games then too.

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