By Chris Sheridan
NEW YORK — From what I can gather, it is looking more and more like a deal is going to be cut in the 51/49 or 50/50 range when it comes to the split of basketball related income.
It’ll probably take the sides a couple of days to get to that point when negotiations resume Friday, with the owners currently offering only 46-48 percent (down from 57 percent in the last deal) and the players at 54 (but having shown a willlingness to drop to the 52 range).
The owners also have moved only slightly off their late June flatlined offer of $2 billion per season with no increases over the following six seasons. But move they will, and if they come to the table with an offer that keeps salaries and benefits close to where they were in 2010-11 — $2.19 billion, that’ll be the clincher in getting players to ratify the deal.
I have been telling you since this site opened for business early this month that the two main words to keep in mind throughout this process were “aggregate dollars” — especially the number of dollars that are separating the sides in Years 1-6. That remains the key point, with the settlement number coming in somewhere between $12 and $15 billion over the first six years, as I wrote in my debut column for this site.
Here is what I believe the deal will look like, dollar-wise in terms of player salaries, when this thing gets settled within the next week: (And in the meantime, the doomsday rhetoric meter is likely to hit 11 at some point, and the words “best and final offer” are guaranteed to be uttered).
2011-12: $2.19 billion. (No reduction)
2012-13: $2.2 billion.
2013-14: $2.25 billion
2014-15: $2.3 billion
2015-16: $2.4 billion
2016-17: $2.5 billion — with a mechanism for bumping that number upward if the NBA’s new TV deal provides a windfall, and/or an opt-out for the players that would allow them to keep the deal from running longer than six years.
That would give the players $13.84 billion in salaries and benefits over six years, an average of $2.307 billion per season. It is a far cry from what the players were getting percentage-wise under the old deal, but it is palatable enough — no matter how it is categorized percentage-wise — to ensure a high probability that it will pass a ratification vote.
And again, once they agree to terms on the money, the remaining aspects of the deal (including an amnesty clause that would likely remove at least $100 million from payrolls for the upcoming season, thereby allowing players to avoid salary shrinkage through the escrow tax, the phasing in of a more punitive luxury tax, adjustments to the mid-level exception, etc.) could be worked out quickly. Then they take two weeks to put the thing on paper, and camps can open in mid-October with enough time to save the scheduled Nov. 1 start of the regular season.
So that is my prediction.
Now, let’s have a look around the Web to see what other writers who are well-versed in labor lingo are writing today:
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: “In addition to what they presented as hard cap alternatives — which also included a reduction in the Bird and mid-level exceptions — league negotiators also have presented a concept that could drive a wedge in the players’ association. In exchange for keeping certain spending exceptions in place — albeit in a reduced form — one idea floated by the owners was a gradual reduction in existing contracts — the “R” word, as in rollbacks — that would minimize the financial hit for players who will be signing deals under the new system. Such a proposal would alleviate the problem of players such as James, Wade, Stoudemire, Anthony, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson having outsized contracts compared to stars who’d be faced with signing lesser deals under a new system. In essence, the players who already are under contract would take a percentage cut in the early years of a new CBA — 5 percent the first year, 7.5 the second and 10 percent in the third year, sources said — so that players like Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams wouldn’t bear a disproportionate share of the burden when they sign their max deals under the reduced salary structure the owners are seeking. The provisions are not geared strictly for the star class of players; in fact, the proposed rollbacks would be across the board, “for everyone,” a person with knowledge of the idea said. And while this concept may alleviate the problem of having future stars bear more of a burden, it would create other problems — not the least of which is the players’ unwillingness to accept a percentage of BRI in the mid 40s that would make such rollbacks necessary. It is for this, and other reasons — such as restrictions the owners would want even in a soft-cap system — that a person familiar with the owners’ ideas told CBSSports.com Tuesday night that what they were proposing was deemed “alarming” by union officials. And it is why Stern said Wednesday, “We are not near a deal.”
Sam Amick of SI.com: “The National Basketball Players’ Association has asked stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant to join the efforts on the public front by meeting in New York on Friday. The rank-and-file players are expected to be represented as well, with one source saying that NBPA executive director Billy Hunter wants “as many guys there as possible.” The negotiations are also expected to continue on Friday, with as many as 15 owners reportedly planning to attend the next session. Unless major concessions are made by the owners by then, the sources said players are prepared to show a united front and express their willingness to sit out the entire season — if not more. There is a growing sentiment that missing the start of the regular season could mean missing the entire season, one that was recently reflected in the comments of agent David Falk. There has even been renewed talk of players starting a league of their own, which may or may not be realistic but is certainly indicative of their level of frustration and the types of strategies being considered.”
Henry Abbott of ESPN.com’s TrueHoop: “Stern has assessed it’s deal time. In other words, he likes his negotiating position now, and is genuinely happy to have everything come to a head immediately. People who do lots of deals talk a lot about the importance of recognizing deal time when it comes around. What better card to play to sharpen everyone’s focus this weekend? Stern wants to eliminate the possibility of talks dragging on through the autumn. It’s interesting to speculate as to why. Maybe he doesn’t want fans and the media to demonize the players he’s counting on to carry his league. Maybe he’s scared of what could happen to the talks — he has intimated in the past that if it gets ugly, it could get really ugly, which could mean the decertification of the union, litigation galore, and who knows what else. An on-time start to the season does carry significant benefits to many owners and the league, and not to mention fans. For moneymaking teams, the benefits are obvious. Some other teams have short championship windows. And then there are all those corporate sponsorship and advertising revenues that might find new homes in a lockout.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports: “When Stern decides to give Hunter an escape valve, this is over. When Stern can convince his owners to back off, this is over. Stern needs to give Hunter something to take back to the union, and say, “We won.” Maybe it’s the illusion of a soft salary cap, the preservation of the midlevel exception, a 50-50 revenue percentage split. Whatever. This isn’t about a fair deal, it’s about a deal the union can rationalize to the players for ratification. Hunter has no leverage, and no way out. This isn’t about getting the players a great deal, it’s about getting out of this without the agents overthrowing him. The union keeps insisting its players will go the distance, sit out the season, and that’s not happening. It sounds noble and strong, and there are players with the stomach to do it. Yet, there aren’t enough of them. What’s more, there’s the sobering understanding that the bad deal being offered now becomes worse in December.”