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There’s still hope in NBA talks, but it comes down to money

Sep 13, 2011, 11:17 PM EDT

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Tuesday was not a good day for NBA fans.

If you were hoping for an NBA season that will start on time and have 82 games, Tuesday sucked. What is clear right now is that the two sides are far apart, and that while there is time to get a deal so training camps could start on time the first few days of October, that seems a lot less likely.

That said, there is still time. Almost every negotiation gets solved at the last minute when the pressure is on one or both sides to really reach a deal (like the NFL) and the NBA is not there yet. It will be a few more weeks.

There is still hope — if you believe that the cooler heads among the owners will start to make a push to get a deal done. You’ve seen the breakdown, there are plenty of doves among the owners who don’t want to punish the union and don’t want to lose the season. Right now they are not driving the bus, but that could start to change come Thursday’s Board of Governor’s meeting.

The theme out of Tuesday’s meeting was that this is about the salary cap, not about money (meaning the split of Basketball Related Income). Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver tried to seem confounded that the players considered a hard salary cap a deal breaker and what was tearing these talks apart.

Let’s be honest here — this is about the money. Always, on both sides. Anytime you are told it’s not about the money, that person is lying.

What the owners want is a larger slice of the overall pie — the BRI — and a hard cap that some in that group seem to think will lead to more competitive balance. The easy example is the NFL, with hard caps and a real parity where teams can go from last to first in a year or two with some shrewd moves.

With larger television deals to come and the belief that (like the NFL) parity and close games mean higher ratings, some are pushing competitive balance as an answer.

It’s not. Competitive balance in the NBA is never really going to happen. Because one superstar player can dominate a game and turn any team into a contender. If you have LeBron James you can surround him with pretty blah talent and still reach the NBA finals and have the best record in the league (see Cavaliers, Cleveland). Even if you flatten out the other talent in the league, if you have LeBron/Kobe/Wade/Durant you are going to win a lot of games.

Besides, when was the NBA the most popular and got the highest ratings? During the Michael Jordan era. When the Bulls dominated and the league had the least competitive balance.

What a salary cap does do is push the league toward a more NFL-style, non-guaranteed contract system. A lot of owners like this because it lets them undo their mistakes more quickly. The superstars like the guys mentioned above will still get guaranteed deals, but the guys on the middle and bottom will become much more disposable (as happens in the NFL, when good players get cut for cap and other reasons). A lot of owners want the ability to get out of their mistakes — a get out of jail free card for bad management decisions — and this looks like the fastest path there.

The cap is about money and the redistribution of it to the owners liking.

The players do not want to take a smaller percentage of the overall cut and take on a system where that cut is now not guaranteed. As Henry Abbott noted at TrueHoop, they don’t want to happen to them what is happening to much of the American workforce (where contract work is more and more replacing full time staffs).

The owners themselves are a divided group (even David Stern admitted that to a degree Tuesday) but right now they seem to be committed to the hard cap.

Bottom line — this is about the money. It’s about the cut of money and how much of it is guaranteed.

It’s just that the sums of money we’re talking about are astronomical (more than $4 billion in revenue and $2 billion in salary) to the average fan. And those casual fans are going to be hard to win back if the league actually strikes and misses games in the middle of a recession because they can’t divide that money up. Both the owners and players get that, or at least give lip service to it. So you can hold that out as hope if you want. But I’m losing what little hope I had pretty fast.

  1. akismet-9bfac212a93c64c2c1abe56138b8286a - Sep 14, 2011 at 1:05 AM

    I agree. This whole CBA discussion is all about money. What I don’t understand is how some owners won’t own up to their bad decisions. Owning a team is a business. A multi-million dollar business at that. And if you decide to buy or create a team, its your decision to make. But if it turns out to be a bad decision, then you chalk it up and move forward, not cry about it to the league.

    Here’s an example of what I see going on. Granted, there are some markets that are great for basketball, and some not so great. Take the Bobcats for example. They are a team in a smaller, not-so-great market. Charlotte, along with other smaller market teams are complaining about not making profit. Whose fault is that? I honestly just can’t picture Michael Jordan calling up Jerry Buss and asking for some money, but this is similar to what’s going on!

    I hope we can mostly agree that basketball, or any other paid pro sport is all about opportunity. Taking advantage of those opportunities is what makes the world go ’round and ’round. Take player salaries for example. Do you think that KG could even consider asking/taking $120 million if it wasn’t there to be had? Of course not, but the opportunity arose, and he took it. Just like my example, the current debate about the CBA is exactly about opportunity. It’s an opportunity for the losing owners to recoup their losses and they’re making it out to be some sob story about how competition isn’t fair and that the league will implode if revenue sharing isn’t done. Bull crap. The Clippers are generally on the bottom rung of the league (no offense to Sterling) and yet find a way to survive because they’re in a big market (mad props for Sterling here).

    Fact of the matter is, most fans don’t care if teams are making money or not. It’s the sport we care about, not the money, so I think losing owners should close up shop if they can’t find a way to make their own ends meet. After all, the fans have no say in who owns a team anyway, so why should we or anyone else care about sharing revenue?

    In the meantime, the irony here is that it’s the fans that are getting the shaft if the season doesn’t start when we expect it to, even though its OUR hard-earned dollars that make up your revenue, either directly or indirectly. If I had just one thing to say it’d be, “Don’t piss off the fans. Just shut up and play some basketball already”.

  2. borderline1988 - Sep 14, 2011 at 8:18 AM

    The problem that you’re not addressing is that owners can argue that they are often railroaded into poor decisions because they need to offer more money to compete with larger, more attractive teams.

    Obviously, New York and Miami were pretty bad in recent years. But when they are ready to step it up, they don’t have an issue attracting all of the biggest names, and turning their teams into instant contenders.
    Teams like Toronto don’t have that luxury. So when Hedo Turkoglu comes on the market, and Toronto actually believes they have a chance at a sought-after free agent, they are willing to overpay like crazy. It’s the only way a marquee free agent would ever play in Toronto. It’s not a poor business decision by Toronto’s owners – if they don’t try something, they are resigning themselves to another losing season.

    Granted, there are exceptions in both the smaller and larger markets (portland, KC on one side, Clippers on the other).

    But they are exceptions, not the general rule. Think about it. I mean, the Nets best business decision they can make in the current NBA environment is to move to Brooklyn and hope for the best. People can criticize them for that Deron Williams trade…but let’s face it – that Nets team wasn’t going anywhere. They had to try something. Unlike NY, who can dump their entire roster, and then still expect stars to sign with them. The Nets had to give away the farm to get a star player.

    But in the end, the model of having teams like Dallas, Miami, Boston, LA, etc. in the Finals will look good on paper for the league. The League has a choice – go in the direction of baseball or football. Granted one player (Lebron) can make parity disappear quickly…but maybe that’s why we need more than ever to increase parity in other areas of the game.

  3. Josh Perez - Sep 14, 2011 at 8:31 AM

    Here we have the owners making yet another big mistake. They keep pushing towards more NFL-like systems because they believe the success of the NFL relies on the systems. The success of American Football relies in itself, in the fact that American Football is, always been and always will be the #1 sport in the USA. Fans rather buy and NFL than NBA ticket, fans buy TV package deals, jerseys, collectables items and anything else regardless of economy. I think NBA ownersshould finally understand that there being an NBA team owner requires being a fan of such sport considering earnings are lower.

    The soft cap system in the last CBA was good. Teams had. The options of going a little beyond the limits to have a better team at a cost of course. Hard cap system is simply going to work as an excuse for owners to tell players they can’t give them more money and is not going to be the solution to find parity, players will just accept less money cause nowadays that is better than playing for the Timberwolves. If something the hard cap will just mean more money to the Lakers and Mavericks cause they won’t to over the cap in the exact same market (that is considering the hard cap ceiling is the same as the last CBA).

    BRI gives 57% of te money to the players, I understand the players argument but the truth is that one wa or another they are paid millions for playing a game, the lowest salary is $400,000/ year for rookie contracts that meet very small court time (Hassan Whiteside anyone?). If my boss offered me $400,000/ year I would smile and shout out YES! So I think in numbers between two parties there is never anything more fair the halfs (50/50). So in that sense players should beb willing to give, let’s meet in 50% and let’s not talk about this for the rest of eternity.

    Non- guaranteed deals is a dumb topic that even my grandma could solve by saying: “if you said you will pay you have to pay”. And to be honest at this point it feels idiotic to see the owners whinning about that.

    What is more sad is how games could be missed because millionaires and billionaires can’t decide how to divide the money they get from us, people who work harder than them to get a dwarf amount of money compared to how much they make. Meetings haven’t been productive without an actual solid and valid reason and the jerks in charge meet once every century, if it was to me I put them in a room for 12 hours a day until they decide what to do and find a solution.

  4. akismet-9bfac212a93c64c2c1abe56138b8286a - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Owners can argue all they want, but it doesn’t mean that the folks on the other end should give anything up. If you have to take out a double mortgage to get or keep a superstar, it may or may not be a good decision, but a decision nonetheless. No different than the decision made to buy or start a team. If you can’t find a way to tap into the secret (there really is no secret) of the “exception” teams, then get out of the business. Not every city needs/wants a team and I’m sure they’re are other ways to spend millions of dollars to make more millions of dollars from a potential owner’s perspective.

    I find it interesting when the hawk owners argue about revenue sharing (i.e. due to not enough money to get a superstar), they don’t talk about player development. Could it be possible that there are not enough superstars to go around? I can understand and appreciate the situation, but its a case of, “too bad, so sad, your dad”. The league has done relatively well without extensive revenue sharing, but now that the hawk owners see the opportunity for more money, they demand it as if they were entitled to it. Ridiculous. I just can’t support a group of wealthy people arguing with other wealthy people about how the money that’s going around isn’t being spread out enough. Just play ball for crying out loud.

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