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Pointing out hypocrisy of NBA owners lockout position

Nov 1, 2011, 9:36 AM EDT

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Let’s be clear about two things. First, the NBA owners are going to win the lockout. Big. Just how big remains to be seen, but even if they took the players terms last Friday they would have had a massive win. It’s just not enough for them.

Second, they are fighting to save themselves from themselves.

The owners speak of a couple things in justifying their need to lockout the players and hurt the game. One is “competitive balance,” something that will never really exist in the NBA and has never been part of its success in the past (was the league balanced when Michael Jordan and the Bulls led it to new heights of popularity?).

The other thing the league and owners push is the right for every team to make money. Which really means want the teams to be able to control costs better and get more revenue in the door (through revenue sharing).

When it comes to controlling costs and competitive balance, they speak of the bad contracts that weigh teams down. Hence the “amnesty clause” that would allow them to waive a bad deal and restore some financial sanity to the game.

Except it’s not about that, as Henry Abbott pointed out at TrueHoop.

Meanwhile, the 20 players (ESPN analysts think will be waived with an amnesty clause) are due nearly $500 million combined over the rest of their current deals. Those NBA owners will likely, as a league, pay an extra $500 million just to tweak rosters here and there.

In other words, before all the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men have put the league’s economic model back together again, owners have already asked themselves: Would they like the right to pay players an extra $500 million to be a bit more competitive?

And to that they have said a resounding “Yes, we’d love to!”

Remember, the owners still have to pay whoever they waive with the amnesty clause, those contracts are still valid. Said deals will be dramatically reduced (by 75 percent) on NBA books, but that is a paper savings and is still cash flow out the door for the owners.

Then, once you waive a guy, you have to pay someone to come on the roster and take his place. Owners are not going to try and fill that spot with a rookie or minimum player, they are going to go after a good free agent who ca contribute. Someone who makes $5 million a year or more, most likely.

They are going to spend money to be more competitive. Willingly. Eagerly.

But we sit here on Nov. 1 locked out because the owners are driving a harder bargain to balance the league’s books on the backs of the players. We are without games because the owners don’t think they’ve gotten enough financial concessions from the players yet. Right. Remember players were a fixed cost (57 percent of league revenue), it was the cost of everything else that went up for the owners, in many cases debt service on money borrowed to buy the team in the first place.

What the amnesty clause really shows is the owners will not blink at spending more and doing it fast if they think it helps them win. The owners are hypocrites on this and in the end they are the ones to blame for this lockout and lost games.

  1. skids003 - Nov 1, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    Slanted aarticle to the players. Kurt, is there anything about the owners you agree with?

  2. santolonius - Nov 1, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    500 million in contracts to players will be paid but the line item of that money against the cap will be voided so that more money can be paid to whom… players. that looks like players drinking from both ends of the straw on this part of the dispute. they may lose other battles, but amnesty seems like something the players can feel good about.

    • ghelton03 - Nov 1, 2011 at 8:38 PM

      I agree that players are not hurt by this, but it also shows that the owners have no shortage of money. They claim to be losing $500M a year, yet they are asking for a provision that will enable them to spend a years worth of alleged losses on this clause alone. Keep in mind, the players are not asking for this, the owners are.

  3. somekat - Nov 1, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    As always, Kurt just passes out the union press release. When D fisher has to urinate, do you let go then, or just hold it for him?

  4. buckifan4life - Nov 1, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Owners will win,…this time. They lost BIG last time. i don’t see you writing about that… Owners should keep the pressure on and get the 50-50 split. Boy, when did 50-50 become so sinister?

  5. professoressadiesel - Nov 1, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    I love how the players want more money for the group. But does anyone really think bench players and role players will get this money? It’s really just to get more money for the star players and soon to be free agents that play extremely well in a 7 game playoff series.

    Players, let it go. Take what they are offering you. Or go work at Wal-Mart.

    • ghelton03 - Nov 1, 2011 at 8:50 PM

      Players don’t want more money. They have already agreed to take less and have said they will go lower. The owners on the other hand have offered nothing and want much more than the players have already offered. Once they have the pay cuts, then the owners want to talk about the other things they want to do to the system to further restrict the players ability to make money. The players are the ones giving and the owners are the ones taking.

  6. sonofsambowie - Nov 1, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    Pointing out hypocrisy of this blog post.

  7. bj1980 - Nov 1, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    I’ll defer to you in most things, Mr. Helin — you know more about the situation than I do. But I beg of you, please; internalize this concept when it comes to any production stoppage because of labor disputes:


  8. zblott - Nov 1, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    I think we can all agree that most teams’ managements have been pretty terrible recently and made some really stupid financial and roster decisions. To then blame the result of this on the players who make none of those decisions is a little nuts. I understand that people are upset when the economy is down and guys who make $5 million a year are complaining that amount will drop, but owners are making crazy money (hundreds of millions) on the sale of their teams and through side deals they only have access to because they own an NBA franchise. No owners are getting poorer. None. That alone should tell you how truthful they’re being.

    I’m not sure why most fans gloss over how teams have been managing that other 43%. Owners have been getting that same percentage for years, the $ that is worth has been going up for years, and now they claim to be losing money on it (they can’t lose money on the 57% owed to players – it’s a set % and the BRI keeps going up). Then we find out they’re throwing in all sorts of non-basketball related costs into that 43% to make it look worse than it really is (for example, debt from buying the team, lending the owner money, “roster depreciation”). Not only that, owners make over 50% of the sale of luxury boxes, and naming rights to the arena and everything in it (which are worth tens of millions of dollars), so BRI doesn’t really include everything fans thought it did. Now owners want more things including in this category that’s taken off the top before it goes into the BRI poll that players get a split of. That means this 50-50 split they keep pushing covers less BRI than it did before, so it’s a fancy way of saying 48-52 or even worse. Please stay informed, fans, or we’ll keep splitting ourselves between the players who make us love the game and billionaires who use the league as an ego-boosting investment.

    • sonofsambowie - Nov 1, 2011 at 1:44 PM

      This doesn’t make sense. How does the owners asking for a bigger split of the revenue translate to blaming the players on bad roster decisions? First of all, plenty of teams are run well and spend frugally. Secondly, the league needs as many teams in the black as possible, period. If you want the NBA to continue to thrive, limits on spending and a better cut of the revenue for the teams will go as long way toward making this happen. The players are more concerned with their cut of the pie than the long term sustainability of the league, and yet the owners somehow get the bad guy rap here.

      • mrlucky11 - Nov 1, 2011 at 4:54 PM

        Hey sonofsambowie, can you read? You make about as much sense as the brilliant NBA owner that picked your father ahead of MJ. The muck that these owners find themselves in are ONLY THEIR OWN DOING.

        By the way, you may also be surprised to know that the definition of the word negotiation requires a give and take from BOTH of the bargaining sides. This is NOT a negotiation, when owners demands allow for NO allowances towards the players. OPEN THE BOOKS and lets see what’s causing 22 of these esteem business owners to be losing money. Was it really the big salaries? Hmmm… who offered those salaries? That’s right – you the owners.

        This is just a pitiful microcosm of the sissyfication of our great county. “I own a bb team and I can’t manage it” Well that doesn’t make you a victim and entitled to a government-like bailout.

        Here’s an option – sell your team to someone that has a clue!

        Tonight should be opening night folks and there is only 1 reason I’m not able to watch my beloved Thunder open in the Staples Ctr against the Lakers. Because Fuhror Stern and the owners can’t manage their own sh@t!

      • ghelton03 - Nov 1, 2011 at 9:26 PM

        How do you know that all of the teams are not in the black? Do you really blindly trust the numbers that the owners are throwing out? Are you not the least bit curious as to how they came up with these numbers or what they are including in their losses?

  9. rreducla1 - Nov 1, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    If the owners #1 concern were the “long-term sustainablity” of the NBA, their #1 priority would be revenue sharing. It isn’t. If their #1 concern were competitive balance, their #1 priority would be a superstar franchise tag. It isn’t.

    Their #1 priority is using their leverage to get as much money back from the NBAPA as possible, as they have demosntrated with their words and actions for months now. I am totally OK with people being OK with that for the reasons zblott outlined in his fine post, and for other reasons.

    But turning the owners into good guys and the players into bad guys is dumb.

    Also, the amnesty clause will probably make free talent available to big-money contenders to ill out roster holes. I expect we will see Baron Davis in Miami and Brandon Roy in Chicago if they are in fact cut.

    • sonofsambowie - Nov 1, 2011 at 2:08 PM

      I don’t think this is a good guy bad guy thing at all. I think at it’s essence, this is merely about the owners recovering from the bad deals they worked under for the least decade.

      • eazye76 - Nov 2, 2011 at 5:56 PM

        I think you forgot to mention who decided to sign the players to those bad deals.

    • texmex2 - Nov 1, 2011 at 2:09 PM

      There has always been ageing ex-NBA Stars who are chasing theirdream of a “ring” nothing new there…

      • sonofsambowie - Nov 1, 2011 at 2:14 PM

        God, I hope the Heat are foolish/desperate enough to bring in that fat, 25 foot J-heaving bum.

  10. texmex2 - Nov 1, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    Yeah Kurt you’re right, the players are going to lose, and big because of idiots like you pushing them to stay the course that will only lead to more loses. 50/50 is more than fair, stop with the before CBA of 43/57which was NUTS of the owners to agree too. Our economy is in the tank and will not get much better, we are a “benefit” or welfare driven society, who’s going to pay for all the retiring Govt. sector citizens after 20 hard years of work and receiving 80% of their pay plus benefits forever.

  11. adamthompson24 - Nov 1, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    The amnesty clause sounds great at first because as fans we all think of the awful deals offered and how much better teams could be without the awful contracts weighing on their rosters. But I expect that such an “out” for owners will prove to be a moderate disaster that will quickly be removed at the next opportunity. First of all it will just add to expenses for these “failing franchises” and lead to more owners spending with less discretion, as they will have a safety net in case they change their minds later. Such a clause actually encourages this irresponsibility. This in turn will inflate the contract values of the average to above average NBA talents. For example, we can agree that the recent Maggette contract was an epic mistake a couple years ago by GS. The same goes for many of the deals for players that fit above the Mid level range but are definitely not max players. Teams with cap space available yet no strong targets available in FA will begin bidding wars for mediocre talent, with the amnesty clause in the back of all their minds.They will know such contracts aren’t permanent so the decision to offer is much easier. In the long run this will hurt competition as a whole. It’s absurd and embarrassing to the league that executives making millions need this type of safety from themselves. I would use capitalism as a parallel of being accountable for mistakes, but unfortunately that doesn’t work anymore either…

  12. mrlucky11 - Nov 1, 2011 at 4:58 PM


    Let’s start the season!

  13. rreducla1 - Nov 1, 2011 at 5:01 PM


    The owners help to create and agree to the CBA; they don’t “work under” the CBA. They can sell and get out when they wish to.

    And, your wording in the post makes it clear that you see the owners as concerned about the league and the players as concerned about themsleves.

    Again: revenues went up–again–in 2010-11. The league as a whole was profitable. It is clear from the nature of the owners’ demands that they mostly just want a bigger piece of the pie, as you said about the players. The players of course OTOH would have been OK with the same size slices and have given back 4.5 percentage points of BRI–thus accepting a smaller slice to try to get a deal done.

    But because so many people assume that “50/50” = “fair” (and Stern knows this) and because of various emotional issues, a lot of people continue to jump on Kurt and hammer on the players.

    No one should lose any sleep over a deal that makes guys like Robert Sraver a little richer and guys like Kyle Korver a little poorer. The owners have the leverage, and they are using it. But it is nothing to celebrate, either.

  14. rreducla1 - Nov 1, 2011 at 7:56 PM

    There has always been ageing ex-NBA Stars who are chasing theirdream of a “ring” nothing new there…


    Wrong two ways:

    1. In the past, those types of players generally had to be paid the MLE, unless you had a weird situation like Karl Malone in 2004. Now, any amnesty guys will presumably be available at the minimum.
    2. To the extent there is “nothing new” (it pushes veterans to contenders on cheap contracts) that proves my point: the owners don’t give a crap about changing the system; they give a crap about making more money at the expense of the players.

    If you want that, that’s OK, but call it what it is instead of lecturing people, including Kurt, about how dumb they are for not being like you and buying into the owners’ narrative.

    As to the talent issue sosb brought up, guys like Roy and Davis will look different in smaller roles on contenders than they do now. Roy in particular will help a contender if he accepts a third guard role. Davis, playing 25 MPG backing up Wade and running the second unit, could help Miami, and could do the same for the Lakers. He is still probably better than Mike Bibby, Derek Fisher, or Steve Blake.

    And since these gusy wil be getting paid their full contracts by their previous teams, they can go anywhere they want, without much regard for money, if they so choose.

  15. ghelton03 - Nov 1, 2011 at 8:35 PM

    The amnesty clause is wrong on many levels. First and foremost it is unfair to the teams who have had to suffer through bad contracts to dump players. What if the Knicks could have dumped Eddie Curry a couple of years ago. That team may look very different today. There are other teams with similar stories. Why give teams a one time pass now? Some teams will benefit from a making a bad decision at the right time. I am all for giving a team a way out of a bad contract or out from under a player who has retired, or is seriuously injured, or dies, but it should be something perminent and it shouldn’t kick in until 2 years from now (to bring some fairness to the teams who have already worked through bad contracts). The owners wanting this one time clause is hypocritcal. They claim to be losing money, yet if the author of this articles numbers are correct and we are looking at owners spending $500M on this clause, that is equal to what they claim they are losing a year. So they will take their losses just to dump players. First of all, I believe the owners claims of losses are inflated if not total lies. The fact that they will not open their books or discuss ways to make the league successful, other than cutting player salaries and putting more restrictions on player’s to make money, tells me they are only looking for a big money grab from the players. Bring in the replacement owners! There seems to be no shortage of people wanting to purchase an NBA team.

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