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Dismay, Delay, and Deadlock

Hello everyone out there in Internet-Land. I figured I’d try to put together some cheery news for us and to let you all know that I’m not dead. The breaking news right now is that the NBA is STILL locked out! Fortunate for us, we have people like me, who feel guilty for not contributing for long stints of time, to arbitrarily toss up a write up on the main page so this horse twitches with some semblance of life. As it stands I’ve been swamped with schoolwork, personal life, and the Bills 4-1 start (as of writing this) so life has been hectic and news has been slow. The more I read Twitter and the more articles I can find of the basketball nature I felt as though contributing a brief summary on the lockout as it stands today would be fun. By brief summary I mean I voice my baseless opinions, my usual fans critique my writing and try to insult me, and the rest of you make some good conversation and comments. More fun after the jump.

The Players Unity Movement

In their attempt to aggressively market their solidarity Derek Fisher and Union rep Billy Hunter have decided that the Players Union should take to Twitter with their arbitrary hashtag that lets you, the fan, know that the players are standing tall against those evil team owners! Why this is important to us? I guess because when multi-millionaires with huge endorsement deals, guaranteed contracts, and entitlement issues come together nothing can stop them (Look at the GOP). As it stands I find myself bewildered by the fact that the players are digging in so deeply and calling a 51-49 split a major concession offer. Granted, that BRI (Basketball Related Income) speaks to the split of payments of salaries versus take home to the owners but we’re still only talking a 6% difference overall from the previous split of the old Collective Bargaining Agreement.

My biggest question regarding this solidarity movement is that it’s solidarity towards who? When we turn to face the facts of the NBA we see that in the United States’ most notable professional leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL) the NBA is firmly entrenched in second as far as comfort and job security that the players enjoy. NBA Players on average have contracts that last for upwards of 5 years and the money is guaranteed in the mass majority of cases. Cutting a player still imparts the full salary, unless they were in that rare non-guaranteed spot, the player is free to go elsewhere and the team is stuck footing his bill. NBA players have the most exposure amongst professional athletes because the NFL doesn’t get off North America very far in popularity, the MLB is huge in Japan and the US, and the NHL, well, Russians don’t buy merchandise. The NBA has the China market, Europe, North America, and even parts of South America. NBA Athletes are major global figures and its reflected in their endorsement deals. When you have a class of athletes who are well compensated with guaranteed funds and plenty of non-basketball related income to make up virtually any and all surrendered income in these negotiations I have to ask; "Where is your strength of position?" Your supplemental income puts you back to where you are in the previous CBA after greater concessions than you’re offering now. You get no pity from me.

Cancellation of Games and Stern’s "Gut"

Anyone shocked by the fact that Stern is feeling that a fair portion of the NBA season is going to be cancelled? If you are, please, ask for my phone number, we’ll arrange a meeting, and I’ll come slap you. The forecast at the beginning of all this was a lost season and it looks like we’re headed to it. As soon as the first news leaked of a guy like Deron Williams heading to Turkey broke it became apparent the players were chasing their paychecks to make sure the rent on the estates is covered. As it stands now we’re out of training camp, summer league, and two weeks of the regular season. This means my birthday party will only consist of a Halloween dance the legal fraternity puts on rather than tip off to the NBA season. In all sincerity Stern’s "Gut" should just be replaced with the common sense forecast everyone saw coming. The owners are fine with losing a season, and I don’t hold them liable one bit for that as a negative. If you operate a business and it’s failing, I don’t force you to stay open and hemorrhage money, do I? You can close shop and leave at any time, you can file bankruptcy, and you can sell off your assets and bow out of the market. Professional sports owners are only allowed out of the market by transferring ownership, debt, and obligations.

The NBA saw a spike in popularity last year. What the Player’s Union neglects is that spikes are formed when you have a sharp rise and a sharp decline. Unfortunately in Billy Hunter’s logic spikes continue to shoot up, which theoretically makes them slopes, if I’m not as graphically challenged as my education implies. Fan interest shot up because of the Miami Heat, but now that the novelty has worn off, to what extent can that be expected to maintain profitability of the league? It’s precisely that lack of profitability that drove us to this point and the owners have a right to seek a fix of that flaw.

Players v. Owners v. Fans

This has to be fleshed out a little bit. You are a fan. You are not an owner, you are not a player, so inherently you fit into my last category. You do not share the interests of the players, you do not share the interest of the owners. The owners are management seeking a model more favorable to them and marketing of the league. The players are seeking a model favorable to them as labor providers. You just want basketball. Their dispute is over money and longevity. This is the inherent problem with ALL property in that one side wants the most gain short term and there are long term interests that must be balanced so as not to deplete the coffers for one generation and leave future generations with nothing. As a fan, I come down on the side of long-term interests, which rests in the owners. The owners will not see a flood of talent leave the NBA because rather than Joe Johnson getting 20 million a year he comes down to 10-13 million a year. Athletes will not migrate to another profession with non-guaranteed contracts for comparable to "lesser" money. The players are currently mired in a stalemate because their greed is getting in the way of compromising. You can say that this is the owner’s lockout but it takes two sides unable to compromise to get us to where we are.

Let us not be mistaken either, no one is going to represent your interest in these bargains. Well, someone is, but he’s my next point.

Missing Ingredients

Isn’t Twitter grand? A place where every person gets 140 characters to tell you a dumb joke, use a hashtag that comes off as moderately racist, or even spread some useful information to the public. It’s this last prong that gives us Shane Battier (@ShaneBattier). Our former starting Small Forward, a beloved man of intellect, and, to me at least, the only man who actually cares or knows what’s going on and what needs to be accomplished. Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter are focused on the wrong issues, payment and extortion of the owners. As much bad press as Stern gets you have to concede his job IS to represent the interest of the owners, and he’s doing that. Shane Battier has taken to Twitter as of last season and his thoughts on the lockout are wonderful. Unfortunately I recall hostilities between the Players Union and Shane at the beginning of this lockout. Granted this is because I believe Battier has to be one of twelve players in the NBA with his head out of the sand and it’s refreshing. His most recent string of tweets have centered around the idea that the BRI compromise should come from the players in exchange for a promise of affordable NBA tickets. This is a basic idea of economics but it touches so much. The basic idea is volume over price. Offer a lot at less and you tend to make more than you do selling fewer at higher prices. This in turn grants accessibility, which grows popularity, which spurs investment, which protects long term viability. Shane acknowledges the players have the wherewithal to give up some of their compensation to make this happen. This is a basic tenet but it should be the crux of negotiations because it speaks directly to the needs of the owners and shows a willingness of the players to make something work. Unfortunately for us, it seems like only Shane has had this stroke of genius.

You know what’s worth talking about? Horrible segues and my inability to introduce this easily. Dennis Rodman. He was interviewed earlier today or last night (I’m not paid to fact check) that the players need to "bow down" to the owners. One could ask "What’s Dennis Rodman doing NOT in a wedding dress?" or "What does he know?" Well, he was an active NBA player during the 1999 NBA Lockout, admitted this is the owner’s lockout, and he questioned the players motives when he said they’re only interested in the payment. I’m prone to agreeing with Dennis for the sheer fact that he’s been through this, he knows about losing sight of basketball, and he knows that the owners are the driving force in this but for good reason. Negotiations can only work when the side that feels slighted can suck it up and begin discussions. Shy of that, there will be no progress because if you take a seat at the negotiation table expecting a pound of flesh or with the preconceived notion that they must appease you, you’ll be sitting there staring at each other awkwardly.

Where I See This

The season will be gone, Billy Hunter needs to go, Derek Fisher needs to not be the union head anymore, and David Stern needs to bow out. The CBA needs to be amended to favor the owners, the players need to accept shorter contract durations for less money, the NBA Draft system needs to be re-worked to reward well run teams barely missing the mark but also give teams that hit the skids for a year or two a shot at a franchise changer (Teams like the Wolves lose their picks for 5-7 years of horrible play, teams move up like the Rockets), the owners need to work out a better profit share through pooling of their local market contracts and national contracts, use revenue sharing and a better BRI split favoring the owners to bring down costs for vendor rentals in NBA stadiums to reduce the cost of attendance, and import some value to the NBA All Star Game (Maybe treat it like the MLB All Star Game’s home field advantage stakes). There’s a long list of things that need to change for the NBA but I think the leadership at the top of both ends of the bargaining table need to be swapped and a equitable share or a favorable to the owners share of income needs to come into being.