If NBA talks weren’t already hot enough right now, David Stern just cranked up the heat a little more.
During one of the busiest weeks these NBA labor negotiations have seen in the 91 days of the lockout, Stern announced that the 2011-12 season could be cancelled if major strides aren’t made in talks by the end of the weekend.
The NBA has already postponed training camps and cancelled preseason games scheduled for October 9-15. Additionally, it has been speculated that the league would like to all together avoid an abbreviated season like the one in 1998-99, which means any cancelled games would ultimately lead to a cancelled season.
However, some have stated that Stern is using such words as more of a negotiation tactic in order to help get the ball moving before the biggest day of talks starting tomorrow in New York. The NBA Players Association has asked several players such as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to be present at Friday’s talks.
Wade, who is already in the Big Apple for business meetings has stated that he is ready to get involved. He was present in Dallas for the meetings surrounding the 2009 All-Star Game when players were first briefed about the impeding lockout. Bryant is currently in Asia for a Nike promotional tour and most likely wont be in town for the meetings. If LeBron shows, it will be the first time he’s been in the same room with Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert since he left for the Heat.
Just a few days ago, NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher urged players to be patient and unify during these negotiations. In his letter he sent to players on September 27, he stated that players should not back down to the league seeing as they are the key assets of the league. Not to mention they have become entrepreneurs themselves with their own companies and business ventures that go beyond the NBA.
According to NBA agent David Falk, it’s the players that have more to loose. If talks fail and the season is cancelled, they will loose $2.16 billion, which was their 57 percent cut of NBA revenue last season. Falk is best known for representing Michael Jordan and was an instrumental part of the negotiations during the 1995 and 1999 lockouts. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, he stated that time is running out.
“It’s time to stop fooling around and make a deal. The waiting out period is over,” Falk said. “I can’t prove this and I may be wrong, but if I had to bet a lot of money I would bet that if we miss one game – one – the season will not happen. There are going to be no do-overs this time. That’s what I believe.”
Regardless of his comments, Falk isn’t as prominent in these talks as he was in the past. He thinks that it’s time for the younger agents and players to step up and educate themselves.
The biggest hurdle in these talks is basketball related income and how it needs to be divided in the league. Owners want to lower the players’ cut down to 46 or 48 percent while the players wont go lower than 52 percent. The league’s revenues totaled $4 billion last season, which adds up to each percentage point representing approximately $40 million.
While the issue of BRI stands at the forefront, owners have stated that they will relax on their stance on the hard cap but only if certain conditions are met:
• The “Larry Bird exception,” which allows teams to exceed the cap to retain their own free agents regardless of their other committed salaries, is limited to one player per team per season. In the past, it could be applied to any amount free agents on a team’s roster.
• The mid-level exception, which the league valued at $5.8 million last season and could be extended by as many as five years, is reduced in length and size.
• The current luxury tax, the $1-for-$1 penalty a team must pay to the league for the amount it exceeds the salary cap, is to be severely increased. It has been said that they are seeking $4 for every $1 over the cap.
Owners also want a five percent reduction on all existing salaries for the season, a 7.5 percent reduction of all 2012-13 salaries and 10 percent reduction of 2013-14 salaries.
At the end of last season, several owners announced that they had lost millions, now it seems as though they are trying to set up rules to protect themselves from hemorrhaging even more. Players and agents seek big salaries behind the notion stated above by Fisher: they are the league’s primary assets.
However, the underlying problem is that the NBA has it’s own market and rules that apply to it. Players expect a certain amount and owners know this. Each has to outbid others to either attract or resign a certain player. It’s money that controls where they play in most instances and that’s certainly not about to change. With this lockout, foreign teams have become even more present in this bidding war and to be frank, they are gaining more and more power in this game as the lockout continues. Even five-time champion Bryant has stated that playing in Italy is an option.
The 1998-99 season is regarded as a joke and ironically resonates as an important season in NBA history due to how short it was. With that said, Stern and the players would like to avoid repeating history 12 years later. Though a shortened season would be another embarrassment for the NBA, it shouldn’t be ruled out. More players will leave the league and both parties will loose billions. With more money lost, sitting down at the negotiating table will be even harder.
More importantly though is that the NBA product will suffer. Younger players that are missing games will loose the playing time that eventually develops NBA stars, older players will loose another year of their career and coaches will have a possible hangover to overcome in order to get their squads ready once the lockout finally ends.
A lot of money is on the table but if the play in the NBA is hurt, that money would have never been worth fighting for.