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Owners have a lot to prove in the life of this CBA

Nov 26, 2011, 11:30 AM EDT

Mark Cuban, David Stern AP

It’s over, and now we have to look back and survey the wreckage. 480 games lost. Millions of dollars in league revenue, local economy revenue, player salaries. Fans hurt by the way the league and players left them behind in pursuit of more money. Momentum lost after the most exciting season in over a decade. And for what?

Was any of this worth the effort? Was any of this worth the price?

For the owners, it better be.

The owners started this lockout, ending the structure of the league 149 days ago. They stood in pursuit of a total victory, wanting to crush the union, to instill measures to send the players’ economic influence in this league back to the stone ages, while removing the kind of power they had shown over the past 18 months in things like “The Decision” and Carmelo Anthony‘s move to New York. They used draconian tactics, forcing their way past precedents set by the last deal and flying in the face of well-reasoned arguments that competitive balance cannot exist in the NBA. They decided to show it was their league and they’d run it how they saw fit.

They’ve gotten their chance, now we’ll have to see whether the fragile peace can hold, and if any of what the owners believed was true turns out to be grounded in reality.

Over the course of the next six years (the players will undoubtedly opt-out before the ten-year agreement is up), the owners have a lot to prove. They have to prove they can profit under the new system, that their biggest enemy is not themselves and their own inabilities to control spending and make wise decisions. They have to prove that competitive balance can be achieved and that small markets can now compete with larger ones for free agents and on the floor. Failure to do so will render their philosophy in this debacle a falsehood and pave the way for a further, potentially longer lockout six years down the road.

The split of BRI should help, but there’s still  the capacity for teams to fail. And that’s not because of the drain from the players or wasteful positions the league mostly eliminated with layoffs. It’s because if you run your team badly, no one wants to watch them. It’s because you can’t profit if you don’t run your business well, and in the NBA, running your business well is winning games. So the league needs to prove all this talk about competitive balance will result in small market teams competing for championships. The Oklahoma City Thunder may wind up proving that the same way the Spurs did in the last agreement, by simply running their team well. But given that New York, Chicago, LA, and Boston are set to compete for at least two more years of this agreement (and most people consider Miami a large market even if it does not qualify as one under metrics), it’ll be a steep climb. Are we going to see conference champions in Indiana, Milwaukee, Memphis, Portland? Because if not, if things remain the same, the owners will have some explaining to do.

Games didn’t need to be lost. The season didn’t need to be shortened. A deal could have been struck months ago. The owners already won this battle in September, but they kept pushing until they had nearly no option left. They got what they wanted, a system more under their control and a bigger cut of the pie. The players got what they wanted, the opportunity to earn their money. The fans got what they wanted, a season, even if it is shortened. Now it’s time to see whether everything the owners went to war over was worth it at all.

  1. danielcp0303 - Nov 26, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    When we’re in this same situation 6 years from now, who will the owners blame then? Maybe they’ll finally realize they need better owners with more money, and to retract some teams that aren’t worth having. Then they can work on the system issues they didn’t fix.

  2. rreducla1 - Nov 26, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    The “competitive balance” and “big markets” arguments were just PR narratives, nothing more.

    As one example: one of Silver’s big talking points was contrasting the Lakers’ payroll with Sacramento’s. Funny that he didn’t talk much about Orlando’s payroll as contrasted with the Clippers.’

    And that is just one example. Anyone who understands the game and the history of the league is aware of the holes in this narrative.

    OKC and Memphis are the next places for the league to hang this narrative. OKC has built a contender the traditional way, but of course they did it under the old CBA. Memphis currently has the best shot to win a 2004 Pistons-style title, or at least to come close, like the 92 Blazers and 02 Kings did–by putting together a team that is strong at every position but has no Top-10 superstar. It will be kind of funny if the new CBA makes it too hard for them to keep Marc Gasol and perhaps Shane Battier.

    There, are, however, five clouds on Stern’s competitive balance narrative horizon. He can explain away any titles won by Dallas, Miami, the Lakers, Boston, or Chicago (although the Bulls are draft-built, most people will ignore that fact) as being products of the old CBA. But the clouds are:

    Chris Paul
    Dwight Howard
    Deron Williams
    Blake Griffin
    Mikhail Prokhorov

    If Paul actually lands in New York, I think we could see Howard and Williams teaming up in Brooklyn. ISTM that Prokhorov didn’t buy into the NBA to play .500 ball and be low-profile. TWO star-driven teams in the NY area under the new CBA would not look good for Stern.

    No one knows what Griffin will do, but it certainly seems possible that he will not want his NBA fate tied to Donald Sterling. If he leaves, he might try to go home to Oklahoma and team up with Durant, creating a SMALL-MARKET “superteam.” It is also conceivable that he might move “across the hall” to a cap-friendly re-booting post-Kobe Laker team if Griffin decides he like Los Angeles. Or if Griffin wants to be back in the southwest, Mark Cuban will probably have some cap space by then as well.

    All or any of these outcomes would be hard to explain for Stern and Silver.

    In the meantime, it will be good to have the game back.

  3. denverdude7 - Nov 26, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    Oh boy, here comes the 24/7 ESPN coverage of Bron-Bron. Tonight on NBA Live, Bron-Bron took a dump and it had peanuts in it !!! Catch the live video on SportsCenter.

    CAN’T WAIT !!!

    Just shoot me now…

  4. charger383 - Nov 26, 2011 at 10:05 PM

    TV sports will play up the return of the NBA to get ratings up. Great news fans, the NBA is back for you, the fan. Don’t miss it. It’s going to be even better than before.

  5. markjb1162 - Nov 26, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    Darn, I was hoping the league would fold, thugs and the rich elite.

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