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The 2011-2012 season may be lost because of… the sign-and-trade?

Nov 6, 2011, 12:30 PM EDT

National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern answers questions from members of the media regarding failed contract negotiations between the NBA and the players association in New York Reuters

My wife got me started on using the phrase “Is that the hill you want to die on?” and it’s become something of a widespread philosophy-solver for me. You have to pick your battles, and you have to decide what is so important to you that you’re willing to lose substantial capital (be it time, energy, leverage, money, whatever) in order to win it, and what’s just not worth the reward. Both the NBPA and NBA have very poor understandings of this concept. Every little thing in these negotiations have been hills they want to die on. Everything is so important. Everything is vital.

The latest thing to prevent a deal and potentially kill a season is the sign-and-trade. Here’s how this works:

  1. The players don’t want the 49-51 BRI band, they want a 51-53 band, and they might more easily accept a 50-52 band, but they’ll take the 49-51 band if they get systemic concessions.
  2. Instead, the owners are getting massive systemic changes, which in the owners’ minds are still a concession because they don’t involve a hard cap. Among the elements in the latest offer is the elimination of the sign-and-trade for teams paying the luxury tax.
  3. The sign-and-trade is a pretty huge deal because without it, players can’t really get a max deal in unrestricted free agency, get their extra year from Bird rights, and go to the team they want. So if the Knicks, for example, are in the luxury tax when they attempt to sign Chris Paul, they can’t execute a sign-and-trade to get the extra year or fit him in when they’re over the cap. It restricts player movement.
  4. It doesn’t restrict player movement as much as a hard cap, but the union feels that it does. The union thinks this is their hill to die on.

The league has not relented on its insistence that tax-paying teams be forbidden to execute sign-and-trade transactions, which the union argues — when coupled with the other system restrictions — would dry up the market for free agents in a way that imitates a hard team salary cap.

“They want it all,” Kessler said. “They want the system where tax payers will never be in the marketplace and that for repeat tax payers, it’s going to be like a hard salary cap. And those deals are not acceptable for players today, and it’s not acceptable for future generations of players. … The players will not be intimidated.”

via Talks blow up with ultimatum, Wednesday deadline –

So that’s a huge part of where we’re at. It’s not everything. The union doesn’t like anything about the league’s latest offer, despite it being comprised of suggestions from federal mediator George Cohen, who the union wanted back in talks. They want a higher BRI, they want a better system for player movement, they want lighter penalties for tax-paying teams, etc.

But the sign-and-trade has become this big thing. Because that’s what happens when people are so into an argument they can’t see the forest for the trees.

  1. rreducla1 - Nov 6, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    It doesn’t restrict player movement as much as a hard cap, but the union feels that it does


    It is basically the “We don’t want LeBron Part II” or the “Keep Dwight Howard off the Lakers and Chris Paul off the Knicks” rule.

    That said, it does restrict stars from going to capped-out big-market teams if that is what they want to do. So it makes free agency significantly less free for the most desirable FAs.

    • madnova - Nov 6, 2011 at 1:31 PM

      It doesn’t restrict the players at all actually. It just makes them choose- What is more important to them- location/winning, or money.

      They can take less money to go to a cap strapped team on an exception, or they can get their max deal with a team with the cap space.

  2. vansaints26 - Nov 6, 2011 at 1:15 PM

    We need parity for this league to prosper. As a hornets fan, this rule is the minimium i would like to see.

    • rreducla1 - Nov 7, 2011 at 10:44 AM

      Again: revenues have been steadily rising, not falling. And the league was very popular in the 1980s, when 3-4 teams dominated. It also did well during the Jordan Era.

      Also, the Hornets had the 10th-highest payroll in the league last year.

      I get it: you don’t want Chris Paul to leave, and I don’t blame you. But that really has little to do with market size or “parity.” Before the Gasol deal, Kobe was pushing to leave LA. LIke I said above, Durant has already re-upped in Oklahoma City. Orlando has a huge payroll. Cleveland had one before James left. Paul wants to leave for the same reason Howard does: because he doesn’t think the talent around him is good enougjh to win with. Durant thinks it is on his team, so he stayed.

      Another example: the Knicks has huge payrolls–and bad teams–for years.

      The league will always be about getting stars and building intelligently around themm whether you are in New York or Salt Lake City,

  3. rreducla1 - Nov 6, 2011 at 1:50 PM

    It doesn’t restrict the players at all actually.


    Sure it does. Look at your own words:

    It MAKES THEM choose.

    It restricts some teams from paying them what they are worth, which reduces their choices and constricts the type of choices they can make. You may think that’s a good thing, but call it what it is.

    People at this site seem to have a very hard time understanding that famous pro jocks making millions working for what amounts to a cartel are not part of the same type of labor force that they themselves are.

  4. frankenderek - Nov 6, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    I’m confused, how does a 51-53 or a 50-52 split work exactly?

  5. marcusfitzhugh - Nov 6, 2011 at 5:14 PM

    Doesn’t what the owners are proposing level the playing field somewhat?

    Lets use Howard as an example.

    Suppose he goes to the Lakers. LA then continues to be a dominant force in the west and probably will continue making somewhat regular trips to the Finals. This allows them to continue making mega-dollar TV deals and packing Staples with wealthy clientele. This makes them boatloads of money, so they won’t care that they’re over the cap because they still make money. Smaller markets can’t compete with that.

    If Howard can’t go to the Lakers, he can still go to a team that’s not capped out. Howard will still get his money and he still gets to leave Orlando. He just can’t play with Kobe and Gasol. I can see the smaller market owners pushing for this. No one wants to buy an NBA team and then have it used as a farm club. Donald Sterling may be the exception.

    Do the players really have to say which teams they play for? I can see NOT wanting to play for a specific club. Maybe two clubs, but that leaves 28 others.

    If you’re an LA / NY / Chicago / Boston / Miami fan, you feel one way. If you’re a fan of the Warriors, Bobcats, or Raptors you may feel differently.

    • texmex2 - Nov 6, 2011 at 10:07 PM

      das rightttt….

  6. rreducla1 - Nov 6, 2011 at 8:30 PM

    Doesn’t what the owners are proposing level the playing field somewhat?


    No. The playing field is pretty level now. People have very short memories, and Stern is taking advantage of that + LakerHate + LeBron. Here are some facts:

    1. Cleveland had a massive payroll before James left. They came up short due to bad management, particularly the decision to keep JJ Hickson rather than trade him for Amare Stoudemire, and then go with Antawn Jamsion at the 4 in 2010 at the deadline.
    2. Orlando has a big payroll now–higher than Miami’s–and Orlando was spending as much as anyone last year. They have tried, unsuccessfully, to get the right pieces around Howard, overpaying Rashard Lewis, then trying Vince Carter, and finally Jason Richardson. They are well into tax territory, which means, if this rule is adopted, they will have a harder time getting Chris Paul in a deal, which in turn makes it more likely that Howard will leave Orlando, not less.
    3. One of the best teams in basketball, and a young team, plays in one of the league’s smallest markets, Oklahoma City. How did this happen? First, the league greased the skids to get the franchise out of Seattle when Seattle wouldn’t fund a new arena. Second, Portland, with the #1 pick a few years ago, took Greg Oden, rather than Kevin Durant. Third, OKC is well-run and has convinced Durant that he has a chance for a title there. So, he has already re-upped to a long-term deal. OTOH, his organization badly damaged by that mistake and by Brandon Roy’s knees, Portland owner Paul Allen has now–for reasons purely of principle, I am sure–become a labor hawk after being over the cap for years.
    4. Going back ten years, Tim Duncan, back in 2001, had a chance to team up with Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in Orlando. Since Duncan believed in the organization he was with, he stayed in San Antonio. The rest is NBA history. Not all superstars are The Three MiEgos.
    5. Another good young team plays in Memphis. They have gotten there in part because of getting Marc Gasol and a lot of cap space when they traded MGasol’s older brother to the Lakers.
    6. Jerry West got rid of six guys to clear enough space to sign Shaq and add Kobe back in the 1990s.
    7. The Knicks spent big for years and sucked. Just to get to where they are now, they had to clear cap space for three years and trade four guys to get Carmelo Anthony.

    Stacked against this, we have the Miami situation, the Lakers and Mavericks’ payrolls, and as noted indirectly a 42-40 Knicks team that people talk about as if they were a league power. The bottom line is simple: the NBA will still revolve mostly around getting superstars on draft night, and running your franchise intelligently. Due to the star-driven nature of the sport, it will never–ever–be like the NFL.

    The system is broken/competitive balance meme appeals to small-market fans of bad teams because it sounds like hope. It appeals to small-market owners because it soothes the ego issues they have to confront when their teams suck. It appeals to David Stern because he can sell it to both groups.

    But as many writers have shown, it is mostly LeBron-driven bullshitt.

  7. snoopy2014 - Nov 6, 2011 at 9:37 PM

    If this goes through, there may be an unintended consequence on the quality of play. If the S&T is eliminated and teams are required to open up cap space for max contracts, you could see a lot of what Miami did from 2008-2010: desperately throwing away players and contracts in order to grab cap space. In other words, you could have teams mailing in an entire season or more just so they can get cap space in a particular year. If several teams do this, this could actually hurt the quality of play.

    If the S&T elimination is only for tax-paying teams and not all capped-out teams, as is being reported, it’s a little bit different – but the above scenario could still potentially happen.

    • chargerdillon - Nov 6, 2011 at 10:37 PM

      Quality of play? Really?? Are we watching the same NBA?

      Of the 30 NBA teams, there’s 8 maybe 10 at the most that are actual contenders to win a championship.

      More than half of the teams are craploaded teams with 1 superstar and 4 scrubs on the court, and as soon as the 1 superstars contract is up, he decides if he wants to take max money or go to a contender.

      You can’t even take the quality of play serious in the NBA when you have an owner like Donald Sterling who has never been in the business to even put a winning product on the court. Owners like MJ are the examples of where the NBA is at, poor owners who shouldn’t be owners holding up the the players and real owners all from making money.

      All you idiot fans of small market teams, I’m sorry that’s the city you were born in and you feel obligated to support a dumpsterfire franchise your whole life.

      The NBA is a business, the same teams that have always won will continue to win, and the same dumpsterfire small market teams will continue to be farm systems for the winning franchises.

      Some of you people need to wake up and realize the only source of revenue the NBA has is THE PLAYERS, as long as you have idiot poor owners like MJ holding winning franchises hostage, this is what you get.

      • berto55 - Nov 7, 2011 at 9:36 AM

        So your argument is to fold all the franchises save for the 8 big teams? Let’s just have 8 teams and have them play each other ten times a year? What you fail to realize is that the small market teams are what allow the big market teams to hold 41 cash grabs a season plus playoffs. Additionally, the health of the small market teams effects the health of the large market teams eventually. Lebron sold out arenas even when the Cavs were bad, so Miami would sell out when LBJ was in town, but no other time.

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