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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.

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