It looks like we finally have a tentative deal between the NBA and the NBPA. The terms are sketchy as the deal must be approved by the union members and the owners council. Both parties also admit that they need to iron out differences on the “b issues” too but the implication is that a deal will be done. What we do know is that the deal will drop the split in basketball related income from 57% down to 49-51% over the course of the agreement and that the luxury tax is more punitive but that a hard salary cap will not be imposed. So, what have we learned from all this? It’s a little premature to make any final conclusions but much of what has happened seemed predictable and I think we can run through FAQ style and address a few of the glaring questions:
Who “won” the negotiations?
Normal people might point out that the relationship between the NBA and NBPA is symbiotic and the notion that one side can crush the other doesn’t totally make sense, as neither side can survive without the other. That being said, the NBA won in the sense that they knocked down BRI significantly. The NBA didn’t get the hard cap on salaries it was agitating for but my sense was that this was an extreme position intended to force the players to cave on BRI and luxury taxes and it worked quite well.
Did the recently filed antitrust lawsuits help the NBPA at all?
No. As seen in the NFL dispute, in a bona fide antitrust suit, the players must demonstrate a true decertification (i.e. that the union is done and will not reform), not to mention causation and damages (i.e. that anti-competitive behavior killed the union and resulting loss). The NBPA likely could not have proven any of this, since the NBA had set forth its financials proving that the lockout was done to stop losses and even the NBPA conceded that the NBA was suffering losses (but just disagreed on the extent). No reasonable court or jury would have compelled the NBA to open its doors under such circumstances. I believe that the lawsuits had the owners pretty nonplussed and, conversely, that the NBPA was pretty relaxed about the NBA lawsuit filed a few months ago as well.
The practical effect, if any, of any of the lawsuits was to allow Billy Hunter/David Stern to broadcast to his constituents that he was “really mad” at the other side and wasn’t going to take it anymore. The lawsuits then were more valuable in the rally troops sense than in terms of any tangible gains in the negotiations. I’m sure David Boies and the rest are happy for the cash they were paid to file essentially meaningless complaints.
Will a higher luxury tax do anything?
I don’t know the exact details of the hard cap but the penalties are supposed to be triggered at a lower number than in previous CBAs and the amount of tax is supposed to be higher. Past history indicates that no matter what the luxury tax threshold is certain teams will always be willing to go over. I suppose if the tax was ridiculous it would even dissuade Mark Cuban but I presume that we haven’t reached that stage. You can bank on the fact that certain teams will exceed this new threshold. I assume the NBA knows this but takes some solace in the fact that a higher luxury tax will redistribute income a little more efficiently to the poorer teams.
What about restricted/semi-restricted free agents?
Not exactly sure but Stern was stating that there would be some measure to allow teams to more effectively retain their own free agents. I assume there is some quasi-Larry Bird Rule in the offing.
What should the NBPA done in retrospect?
Unless the NBPA was prepared to start its own competing league, they should have taken a deal on the eve of season back in October. The deal didn’t change much since then and there was no need to sacrifice game checks unless the NBPA had a real backup plan or intended to sit out until they got the terms they wanted (which they rightly weren’t willing to do). Absent leverage, Billy Hunter had to balance the shortcomings of a deal with the lost money from not playing. With no better deal in sight, you just take your best option and end this thing (as the NFLPA did). It was a tough situation for Hunter because the NBA was so vociferous about its position and to concede would’ve made Hunter and the NBPA look weak. Still, this pride has cost the NBPA 16 games of paychecks that are never coming back. Pragmatism should have ruled the day. The best you can say for the NBPA is: (1) they did not let this go on too long as they did in 1998-99 and (2) not matter the system, the NBA will pay the players quite a bit of cash anyway.
What was the funniest/ironic moment of the lockout?
Michael Jordan’s conversion from player to hardliner from the 1998 lockout to the current dispute. I’m not the first to notice the irony of Jordan yelling at Abe Pollin in 1998 that any owner who can’t make money should sell his team. MJ circa 2011 has had a change of heart on that one.
What is the toughest thing about being the NBPA President?
The odd thing about being NBPA president is that it is typically given to a veteran older player who is also not a star (Michael Curry, Antoinio Davis) but most vets, like current president Derek Fisher, will be out of the league pretty quickly. Since 1980, no NBPA president has lasted more than five years (Fisher actually just hit his five-year anniversary) and most of the player immediately become coaches or GMs after retiring, instantly flipping to management. This reminds of the story when the Nets cut Jack Haley in 1998 and named him an assistant coach. Haley joked with his former teammates that he now totally disagreed with all their positions in the pending labor dispute. While the NBPA does have representatives that are permanent in Billy Hunter (though he’ll be gone soon probably) and attorney Jeffrey Kessler, the lack of continuity of the players can create problems. This is less of a problem now since Fisher has had such a long tenure but he won’t be in the NBA too much longer and the cycle will have to start over again.
Have you had enough watching the NBA’s Greatest Games series?
Yes. I think I’ve seen Magic and Bird enough, though I did have some fun watching random playoffs games from the 1980s and 1990s.
What have we learned about international basketball?
That it really isn’t a viable option for NBA players on a larger scale. Between the need to procure insurance and all the local rules, very few NBA players actually could go abroad and make enough guaranteed money to make it worth their while. Special kudos to Deron Williams for realizing the finite amount of real options and jumping on the best option available (i.e. big money and an NBA opt-out clause). A few players are also stuck in China for the year with no opt-out clause. Per ESPN, the list of NBAers in China will be Aaron Brooks, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Dan Gadzuric, Luther Head, Yi Jianlian (his deal is said to have an NBA out), and Josh Powell. Unless these NBA players in China are making big money or were desperate for immediate paychecks, they likely would’ve been better off waiting out the lockout.
Are we ready for some frantic free agency?
Yes. Accelerating an entire off season into less than four weeks will be fun. It won’t make up for the lost games but at least it’s something. Let’s play ball.