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Former players union head says 2017 lockout coming, owners already ahead

Mar 6, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT

NBPA Representatives Meet To Discuss NBA Lockout Getty Images

If you ask league executives, pretty much everyone expects a 2017 lockout. They see the owners putting in the groundwork now for another work stoppage in three years and most people see it as inevitable. The only question is how long it lasts and if it costs games.

Three years from now, the summer of 2017, is the first year that either the players or owners can opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement — one that came after a lockout that almost cost the NBA a full season. You can be sure one side will opt out (probably the owners, who even though they made massive financial gains in the last CBA want more, because when did you ever know a rich business owner to say “we’re doing well enough now, let’s spread the wealth around”?).

Adam Silver is already throwing out some priority issues — raising the age limit is one we’ve discussed— and marshaling forces. The players are way behind on this as they continue the search for a new executive director (remember Billy Hunter was ousted after the last lockout), said former players union executive director Charles Grantham speaking with Sean Deveney of the Sporting News.

“Ideally, whether labor or management, you begin work on the next negotiation the day after you sign the last agreement,” said Grantham. “For the players, they have not been able to do that. They still need to find a director, and once they have one, they need to assemble a team and work on a strategy. They’re way behind.”

“You’re seeing somewhat of a notice put out by the NBA and the new commissioner that they have an interest in increasing the age to 20, they want a hard cap,” Grantham said. “The NBA is going to want more.”

When we say the owners are laying the groundwork, know we are talking first and foremost about the new television deal. Those negotiations are going on now, with existing rights holders ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports (TNT and the NBA Network) as well as others in on the talks. The last rights deal got the league $7.5 billion over eight years and the next deal may well double that.

Why that matters — a chuck of that money is non-refundable and will get paid in the event of a lockout. While the players will not be getting checks the owners will be to help ease the pain of keeping the business operations of the team afloat. The owners can simply hold out longer than the players.

The players and their new executive director — they are reportedly down to two candidates, both of whom spoke to the player union All-Star weekend in New Orleans — have some very basic strategy to figure out.

In the last lockout the share of the “basketball related income” (BRI) that the players got went from 57 percent of the pool to basically 50 percent. That was a massive giveback. They are never getting all of that back. The question is do the players want to “go to the mattresses” (to use the Godfather term) for maybe a percentage point, or do they hold fast on the percentage (no way the players go for a hard cap, that will cost a season at least), focus on what other things they want out of a negotiation and go in with a plan to get those things. Then say they want to find a way to increase that BRI pool as a way to increase salaries (a new national television deal certainly helps that, it will jump the salary cap/luxury tax numbers considerably when it kicks in a few years down the line).

Whatever the players grand plan ends up being, they are not strategizing that right now, Grantham is right in noting. And he’s also spot on that the owners are.

  1. brianjoates - Mar 6, 2014 at 6:30 PM

    Can there not be a work stoppage again? Start communicating as soon as possible, players need to get it together. This is why if there were a league still like the ABA the fans would have choices, as well as the players and owners, plus networks. Now everyone gets screwed with a stop in play.

    • therealhtj - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:04 PM

      The players won’t give up their guaranteed contracts without feeling a world of hurt first – maybe a lost season. If that’s what it takes, then so be it.

      Seeing a teams stuck with overpaid, injured, or otherwise underperforming players at the end of their benches is just painful for us fans. No opportunity to improve other than to ride it out for years is no way to bring the quality product to the fanbase.

      • Kevin S. - Mar 7, 2014 at 7:31 AM

        Why should players sacrifice to protect incompetent management from itself? Or do you support players who get locked into below-market deals being able to rip up their contacts after they break out?

      • therealhtj - Mar 7, 2014 at 11:29 AM

        But you expect the teams to stink it up for years with no out because a guy got hurt or just stopped caring? You Cesar Chavez types can’t have it both way.

        I’ve got no problem with rookies having market value deals. The reason the rookie scale, age limit, and luxury taxes exist are because of guaranteed contracts. It’s the existing players with guaranteed contracts that agreed to throw the rookies under the bus to protect their precious guaranteed contracts. Combine that with the small market owners who’ll absolutely never agree to a free market system, and you’ve got a league full of unwatchable teams.

        All the billionaire v. millionaire crap matters 0 to me, as it should any fan. Knowing the small markets will never go for a free market system as they make up around 80% if the league, the only option left for us fans is to get the players to give up their guarantees. At the very least the majority of the “union” should vote an actual max contract that won’t ever exceed the 25% of the cap it starts at, and never more. The raises and grandfathered deals clearly have them outpacing that number, and in Kobe’s case it’s more than 50% this season. That’d be a start.

  2. bballhistorian - Mar 6, 2014 at 6:45 PM

    There needs to be a 2nd league (as a backup) before 2017 before this lockout comes…so we can at least still see some basketball.

    • RavenzGunnerz - Mar 6, 2014 at 7:48 PM

      College Ball.

  3. tfilarski - Mar 6, 2014 at 8:14 PM

    hopefully it last till at least january of 2018 again. 66 games was great

    • money2long - Mar 6, 2014 at 9:42 PM

      They crammed a bunch of games in week long time periods. The players I don’t think liked that. Everything seemed rushed. Including the post season. The total may look good to u. But the back to back to back sets must have plagued the players and it must have been some annoying travel schedules.

      If I were a player id be saving MOST of my money now and only buying what is important. Jr smith, did u really need that hummer ?

    • chunkala - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:32 PM

      Agree but 58 would be even better, place each team twice.
      The regular season means little, so getting to playoffs quicker is a good thing.

  4. sportsnut101 - Mar 6, 2014 at 8:20 PM

    What a bunch of spoiled rich brats i could care less if there is a lockout
    I wanna see a billionaire lose his franchise

  5. eugenesaxe1 - Mar 6, 2014 at 9:03 PM

    Both sides knew this was coming before the ink dried on the last CBA.

  6. therealhtj - Mar 6, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    If the new CBA does nothing to remedy the guaranteed contracts, it’s a loss for everyone but the guys not living up to them.

    • deadeyedesign23 - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:13 PM

      Guaranteed contracts are not the problem. If you want to make that system fair to everyone make all contracts one year and no cap. That’ll never happen though because then owners would have to pay players what they’re worth…god forbid.

      • therealhtj - Mar 7, 2014 at 11:32 AM

        The players wouldn’t go for that, no way. They love guaranteed contracts like they’re a birthright.

  7. tcclark - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:08 PM

    I know I’m gonna get a good amount of thumbs down for this but, good. I hope they get locked out. Priority needs to be the hard cap. A hard cap will help create a more balanced league. The soft cap is the only reason the Heat are able to field a team. Without a hard cap the Heat were able to sign three of the best players in the league all the way up to the salary cap and then fill out the rest of their roster with players on minimum contracts. Since then they’ve been able to continually add over the salary cap to get even better.

    It’s ridiculous what some teams have to do to get better in the NBA while other teams just keep spending over the “limit” that they’re supposed to spend. (Anyone watch a Sixers game recently?) People want a fix to the lottery system so that teams won’t tank. Well if there was a hard salary cap teams would be able to improve in other ways other than the draft. They won’t need to tank.

    These are the changes that need to be made.
    1. Hard Cap
    2. Eliminate Max Contracts
    3. Raise the draft age
    4. Expand the D-League so that every NBA team has a D-League team
    5. Adjust the schedule so that teams play more divisional games

    1-4 will help create greater parity in the NBA. This will make the NBA matter more. Playoff positioning will mean something. The first round of the playoffs won’t be pointless. THis will make for a more exciting (and therefore, profitable) league.

    The last one will help create stronger rivalries. As a Sixers fan I wish there was bad blood between my favorite team and really any other team in the NBA. The Nets, Celtics, Knicks, and raptors are our divisional “rivals” But it’s basically like playing any other team. The best rivalries in the NBA were playoff match-ups. Celtics/Lakers, Bulls/Pistons…. Um….. Heat/Every other team. The NBA is too friendly. Paul George wants Lebron to be his mentor when he should hate him. Lebron and KD are in an MVP race, but they’re good friends. I want to see some passion and killer instinct.

    The NBA gets by because basketball is awesome. It’s a great game and it’s fun to watch, but the league is terrible. There are only a handful of teams every year that have even a remote chance to win the championship. In every other league, it’s anyone’s game once you get to the playoffs. Two years ago an 8th seed beat a 7th seed to win the Stanley cup. The NBA equivalent this year would be the Mavericks beating the Bobcats to win the NBA Championship. There is a 0% chance that either one of these teams makes it to the finals let alone both. I’d be willing to bet $10,000 that neither of these teams make it out of the first round. I want a league where that is possible – a league where it’s not a forgone conclusion that the Heat and Pacers will meet in the ECF. The NBA is so predictable. I’d be ok with a year long lockout in order to get a more balanced league.

    • Professor Fate - Mar 7, 2014 at 11:13 PM

      Eight-seeded Kings beat sixth-seeded Devils to win the cup. And that was after the Kings beat the top three seeds in the West. The NBA can’t really be compared to any of the other pro leagues because the other leagues have multiple players on the field vs. just five for NBA teams. An NBA player thus has a much greater impact on the game than a player in football, baseball, or hockey.

      I’m not sure I agree with a hard cap since the league already has a high tax on overspenders and an even higher tax on repeat overspenders. That money is distributed to teams that haven’t overspent, yet many of them still cannot field competitive squads.

      One of the reasons the league is already looking for ways to alter the landscape with a new CBA is because their lame efforts to make the game more competitive fell flat with the last one. They got plenty of concessions from the players, but those were apparently all about money. The Heat built a squad of guys who wanted a championship and were willing to take less money to do it. That, along with other trades that were viewed as one-sided in favor of established powers, motivated the league to try to limit those tactics.

      When N.O. agreed to trade Chris Paul to the Lakers (right after the new CBA went into effect) the small-market owners immediately whined to Stern that this was something they had tried to stop. Stern tacitly admitted the owners had missed the mark with their new CBA when he stepped in to negate a trade negotiated by his own hand-picked GM in N.O.

      There are some things any new CBA simply can’t fix. One of those things is poor team management, others are unforeseen circumstances like injuries and the league’s own crap-shoot known as the draft. Sometimes the only way to stop a large-market, big-name franchise from dominating the landscape is pure chance in the form of incompetent ownership(see N.Y. Knicks, possibly L.A. Lakers).

      Any league that attempts to incorporate as many franchises as possible, in markets that can be dramatically different, faces the simple fact that it may not be able to produce a completely level playing field. Revenue sharing, luxury tax redistribution, even the commissioner making himself look like a dictator while claiming “basketball reasons,” are not going to alter the simple fact that the bright lights and bigger stage of certain cities will continue to attract the top players.

      • tcclark - Mar 8, 2014 at 8:07 AM

        You are absolutely right that an NBA players has more effect on the outcome of a game than any other league, so why not create a system where more teams can have one of those impact players? The NBA has no shortage of talent, but the current system allows most of the talent to clump itself into a handful of teams. The two factors that have the largest impact on this phenomenon are the soft cap and max contracts.

        Strict penalties do very little to help create a competitive balance in the NBA. They actually tilt the advantage to the large market teams even more, since they’re really the only ones who can afford the strict penalties. The NBA needs a Hard salary cap. If we look at the 2010 free agency you’ll see how a hard cap can create more balance. When Chris Bosh, Dywane Wade, and Lebron James decided to sign in Miami, the team (if memory serves me correctly) contained 7 players – James, Wade, Bosh, Mike Miller, Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman, and Mario Chalmers. There are some talented players on that roster, but you are never going to be able to win an NBA championship with 7 players. The soft cap allowed them to re-sign James jones, and sign other guys over the salary cap like Eddie House and Juwon Howard. These guys created depth and gave the star players rest throughout the year.

        If there was a hard salary cap, maybe just Wade and Bosh sign in Miami and they fill out the roster with inexpensive role players. Lebron then probably signs in Cleveland and there are now two competitive teams instead of one. Or maybe Wade signs in Miami, James signs in Cleveland, Bosh Signs in Chicago, and Boozer stays in Utah. Because teams can only spend a certain amount of money they aren’t able to pursue multiple game changing players and those players are forced to sign with different teams. Players will have to follow the money and sign with the team that has the salary cap space to sign them. Players will have less leverage over their teams, and they’ll have a harder time forcing a trade to another team. This helps create competitive balance. It also increase the effect that role players have on an NBA game. With a hard cap a team can great a team full of good role players that is just as good as a team with a superstar and average role players. Nothing is going to stop a team from poor management, but at least with a hard cap, a teams only excuse would be poor management and not market size.

        The other factor contributing to the lack of prity in the league is Max Contracts. If the Lakers and Bobcats can offer you the same amount of money, who are you going to sign with? If the Bobcats are willing to give you twice the amount of money that the Lakers are, you’ll probably sign with the Bobcats. MAx contracts force players to look at market size as a way to make more money. When looking at two identical contracts from the Lakers and Bobcats, the players have to think, “Where would I make more money in endorsements?” If there weren’t max contracts, the Bobcats would be able to spend as much as they want on a player as long as they could afford it and the player wouldn’t have to worry about other factors. Look at the NFL. The Vikings don’t have any problems getting players to sign with their team as free agents even though they play in Minnesota and have never won a Super Bowl. Heck, even the Minnesota Wild were able to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a couple years ago and they were the two best free agents available. The Timberwolves however will never be able to sign high priced free agents as long as they can only spend as much money as everyone else with max contracts.

        The league opporates under one of the dumbest, most complicated systems I’ve ever seen. In order to create competitive balance, the league needs to level the playing field. A hard cap does that. the elimination of max contracts does that as well. The league needs this and must be willing to lose a season or even two in order to gain this.

  8. campcouch - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:17 PM

    Sports. A strange business where employees can demand half or more of the business owner’s profits. Any savvy business owner doesn’t start one to break even or be a charity,they do it to be their own boss and turn a profit. Athletes are more than fairly compensated for something most of us do on a weekend for fun. I wonder what owners think when they see a guy go bankrupt after receiving millions of dollars for services rendered. Do they laugh or cry over the waste of cash. I’d like to see a player offer to defer a payment in exchange for an intern opportunity with the team or the owner’s primary business. Obviously the guy who is paying your salary is probably the guy that you want to make money like. Bird,Magic,Jordan,Mashburn…a few guys who thought beyond the 15,000 square foot mansion and gold plated Bentley.

    • Kurt Helin - Mar 7, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      But the players are more than just the labor building a widget here, they are the entertainers the fans are paying big money to see. You can’t simply replace them. Which makes the owner/worker dynamic different than other businesses. It’s the same reason actors get paid — if you’re name can draw people to the theater you are worth the $$.

    • Professor Fate - Mar 7, 2014 at 11:30 PM

      Sports is a subset of the entertainment industry, one that has little to nothing in common with pretty much any other business in existence.

      A great many sports franchises are nothing more than a tax write-off for the owner(s). While many of the franchises in the major sports leagues have a large perceived value, many of them don’t actually make money. They don’t have to in order to provide the owners with an income. The owner of the Florida Marlins makes money each year despite purposefully fielding a poor team due to revenue sharing. To top that off some pro leagues pay no income tax. The NFL, NHL, Pro Golfers Association, and the Ladies Professional Golf Association all claim tax exemptions by operating as non-profits.

      Owners are “more than fairly compensated” for simply owning a franchise by the ability to revenue share, collude to set prices, negotiate to have tax payers build their stadiums/arenas, collectively sell broadcast rights (Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961), merchandising, etc. The best way to tell entertainment-oriented sports leagues from other businesses? Who else gets to rake in billions of dollars while enjoying exemptions from federal anti-trust laws? To put the onus on players who are simply demanding their more-than-fair-share of that fat pie is disingenuous at best, ignorant at worst.

  9. chunkala - Mar 6, 2014 at 11:32 PM

    A 5-10 year lockout would be perfect.

    • Professor Fate - Mar 7, 2014 at 11:32 PM

      To coincide with the sentence the judge gave you?

  10. usm418 - Mar 7, 2014 at 12:23 AM

    The greed of the owners knows no bounds. I hope there isn’t another lockout. The last one made turn my nose up at college ball. It’s a very poor substitute for the NBA.

    • unxpexted1 - Mar 7, 2014 at 8:59 AM

      college basketball has been been pretty awful

  11. mortalkondek - Mar 7, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    Back to back lock outs would put me off this league for good.

  12. ryanaammess - Mar 7, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    I hope the league goes under. The players should just start a new league. Plenty of arenas, 12 teams top 140 players or so. The games would be better and i wouldnt have to read about a bunch of billionaires trying to squeeze every nickle they can out of the game. The players are screwed. They’ve wasted 2 years, and before that they had that snake Hunter in charge. The last CBA was a horrible deal for them and if im them im looking for 70/30 split on revenue and a higher cap. If they stars start a new league people will watch and if they NBA tried to trot replacement players itd be a joke.

    • con4dentual - Mar 7, 2014 at 4:10 PM

      What stars Jason Collins sold a lot of jerseys top ten that’s speaks volumes to your stars 70/30 split hehehe

  13. con4dentual - Mar 7, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    I remember charting progress on the last negotians on MySpace blog, it’s two things that is going cause the lockout one unless society can cleanse their mind and have clean white board as far as probably think this is cliche I’m being serious to turn on cable and view more diversity, turn on t.v. It’s not something I want to watch afford. persay than the chances of all the lost cable subscribers particularly in Los Angeles your not going to get back. The nba instead of working with TNT espn, abc strike deal wit apple, stream games on app then it’s a chance, but I doubt it. And or cable has to come down to around 20$ instead of 40$ a month it got to be around 20$, secondly the lack of the next Lebron visible Lebron is a star superstar and can carry it so far, and I don’t see a superstar like Lebron coming anytime between now and 2017. The owners save yourself some money hopefully figure a way

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