Heisler column: Only Stern knows true timetable

By Mark Heisler 

Mama, put my guns in the ground, I can’t shoot them anymore.

That long, black cloud is comin’ down. Feel like I’m knocking …


Oh, not yet?

This just in: The NBA season, preseason, training camps and even the pre-camp media days aren’t over yet!

As for those hopelessly stalemated talks with rifts reportedly opening on both sides? Yeah, right.

Everything you’ve seen and heard to this point is play-acting. As far as actual negotiations, neither side has even started yet.

Given the NBA owners’ demands, which dwarf anything they’ve ever demanded — there was never a chance of making a deal at this early point.

Nothing in labor in labor negotiations happens without a deadline, and the full-dress, all-committees-in-the-room session in New York that just went splat wasn’t it.

Despite all you’ve heard about what they’ve lost, or hangs by a thread, this is what the lockout has cost the owners and players:


The first real deadline is the one that cancels opening night Nov. 1, including the nationally televised doubleheader: Chicago vs. Dallas and Oklahoma City at the Los Angeles Lakers.

With the four weeks it takes teams to get ready, that makes the true deadline Oct. 1-5.

Every week they haggle after, assuming it results in lost games, will cost the involved parties $167 million, based upon revenue projections of $4 billion.

Then, and not until then, we’ll start to see who’s really serious about what.

Nevertheless, between now and then, there will be two more weeks of reporting, analysis, speculation, which these days we call “the news.”

I would have sworn the world as the NBA knew it ended last week when the, quote, critical negotiating session went splat, David Stern and his Not So Men pulled their usual long faces, and the big player agents decided to take over and decertify the union.

Of course, the silver-tongued Stern is the Leonard Bernstein of labor relations in sports, so looking resigned to the worst was no trick for him.

And the big agents are always trying to take over. They even did it once in the ’90s when incoming Billy Hunter found his executive board packed with agent-to-the-superstars David Falk clients, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Juwan Howard, and President Howdy Doody, er, Patrick Ewing.

Falk almost got the Armageddon he was threatening. The rank and file had to push his people aside at the drop-dead date so Hunter could make a deal with Stern, who had already decided to pull the plug.

Nevertheless, these negotiations are different, for two reasons.

1) Having gotten givebacks in 1995 (luxury tax, rookie scale), 1999 (capping top salaries) and 2005 (raising the age limit, cutting contract lengths and raises), the owners are now seeking an unprecedented package.

2) The press, now-Internet driven, fixated on the moment and sensation-addicted, are a pushover for the dire labor posturing.

There has never been anything like this drumbeat, going back, at last, to Bill Simmons’ No Benjamins Assn. piece (Will the league survive a yearlong disappearance? What about two years? We’re less than 29 months from starting to find out.”)

That’s right. He wrote that in Feb. 2009, two and a half years ago.

Not that anyone figured to notice NBA woes, since the NFL contract would be up that same summer and its season was supposed to be toast, too.

How did that come out?

Oh, right, the NFL didn’t miss a game.

And, coincidentally or not, as soon as Roger Goodell had a labor deal, ESPN gave him extensions through 2021, bumping  the annual take from $1.1 billion to $1.9 billion.

The NBA actually had problems … just not as bad as they looked in the 2008 when the financial system cratered and it looked like the old arrangements would have to be redrawn throughout the economy.

Stern now reports $350-$400 million annual losses, until he knocks that number down bit by bit to $300 million. There’s no doubt revenue distribution is, how to out it delicately … for shit … but by longstanding NBA metrics, there was one down season, when the salary cap dropped 1.7 percent before breaking revenue records the last two.

Unfortunately, since 2008, NBA owners have counted on the fact that they will not only improve their lot, they’ll create a new paradigm.

Their opening offer — we’ll take the players’ 57 percent of revenue — was so nonsensical, NBA people complained they couldn’t get the union to take it seriously.

Insiders say Stern rally wants 50-50, which would mean a 12 percent cut for the players. Oh, and a hard cap.

Unfortunately, to the players, “hard cap” means “fight to the death,” or however long they can hold out.

It’s not like no one knows what’s really going on. Stern does.

Everyone else is only guessing, daily, or every hour or every day, picking through stray comments from marginal actors, reporting hopes (few), fears (lots), and (overblown, to this point) rifts in the warring camps.

Not to pick on HoopsWorld, because lots of people are doing this,  but after last week’s meeting in New York, it reported:

“With less than three weeks to go until training camps are scheduled to open, Tuesday negotiating was crucial to keeping the season intact. As HoopsWorld (had) reported on Friday, there was some reason for optimism that this would be the day the sides finally moved in the right direction.

“Sources told us, and several other news outlets, that if the players would agree to the owners owners’ demands on a revenue split, the owners would likely walk away from their mechanical demands such as a hard salary cap, three-year deals and fewer guarantees in contracts.

“Apparently, that did not happen.”

Whoever told anyone the owners were about to walk away from anything was on mushrooms.

I’m all for acknowledging your mistakes (since my average is one or two every time I hit the “send” button), but if I can make a suggestion, folks:

Next time, save the stuff sources tell you for a time when they and you are right.

In the real world, this thing will get a lot worse before it gets better. In the real timetable, our heroes haven’t even begun to screw with each other. That’ll happen over the next two weeks, and perhaps a little beyond.

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops. His columns will appear each Monday — once there is basketball being played.


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  6. TD says

    These guys must be kidding, if you’re in business to make money and you have already positioned yourself to do that (best two season’s ever). You must not like to make money. Let’s get it together gentleman. And concerning salaries, let us not forget teams make offers, players decline or sign. So “hard-cap” which seems to be the focal problem? Should be an area, controlled by TEAMS… not players. Let’s try and say “management” for starters.

    • Steward says

      TD Great insight…
      And if I may add- The NBA (consisting of All Teams), how about collaborating between yourselves and come up with fair revenue sharing amongst yourselves.

  7. ignarus says

    Good points in the article, but with no trades to judge harshly or overenthusiastically, all I’ve got to irrationally rant and rave about is stupid lockout rumors and Adelman getting hired by one of his former beat writers.

    Plus, we’ve been gearing up for this about as long as we geared up for Lebron’s free agency (if not as excitedly) and I’ve got this ledge right outside my window and I feel like people will really *listen* to me if I’m out there being emotional…

  8. DB says

    The thing that scares me the most is the owners’ patience. If they are truly looking for a deal that will serve them better for the long term, sacrificing one season may be worth it to them. If this deal is going to put them in a better spot in 2017 or 2018, why not? One lost year in exchange for seven good years?

  9. Let the season start says

    I hope your right, but if you think its all just been a show so far…. and both sides will get things done in time…. why did the 98 lock out cancel so much of the season? Has something big changed this year that wasnt in play then that leads us to believe that there will be a season?

    Also- do the teams who claim that they want to be competitive care if they give up their chance to get better by literally having no off season to add pieces to their rosters?

    • ignarus says

      bad teams might be willing to blow off a free agency season because it shifts the free agency market to the point that they can just call guys and make take-it-now-or-it’s-off-the-table deals. At least that’s what Shane Battier said happened last lockout. Even if it did hurt a little, almost NO bad teams become competitors by bringing in a free agent. Only glamorous warm weather franchises bring in those guys :)

  10. BillM says

    Mark, good article, except for: “since the NFL contract would be up that same summer and its season was supposed to be toast, too.”

    Nobody truly believed the NFL would miss any regular season games. Far too much money at stake, the NFL is far, far bigger than the NBA.

    All the howling was just fanboy hyperventilating based on ” The press, now-Internet driven, fixated on the moment and sensation-addicted, are a pushover for the dire labor posturing.”, like you said.

    • ignarus says

      That’s a lot of hours, though. They *can* do it if they’re truly not committed to seeing how much better their deal can be if people start losing paychecks.


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