Lockout update: The morning after

NEW YORK — Good morning — even though it isn’t such a good morning, is it?

The whole thing blew up last night and got downright nasty afterward, and it now looks like David Stern’s Grinch prediction might actually come true. Except for two things: Stern was sidelined with flu-like symptoms and did not attend last night’s Armageddon, and Derek Fisher said he is staying in town in case talks are suddenly revived.

It appears the sides need a cooling-off day, and they’ll probably take one today. But there is always Saturday, there is always Sunday, and they are only $100 million per season apart on the financial end of the negotiations.

So anything could happen. Keep that in mind. And one other thing: Stern has been the public villain here, and he was absent yesterday. If he parachutes back in and closes the deal, he looks like a savior. Remember, this is his legacy deal. And what a tainted legacy it would be if he lost an entire season to stubbornness after a season in which the NBA reached a popularity peak not seen since Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls.

Let’s have a look around the Web:

Bil Simmons, Grantland.com: The NBA owners and players made countless mistakes during these past few months, but over everything else, one stands out: They assumed fans would stick by them through thick and thin. They were wrong. Fans do what’s best for themselves. It was funny to read about the length of yesterday’s NBA meeting — a whopping 16 hours with a federal mediator, double the duration of every other unproductive powwow — if only because they waited until October 18 to show that much urgency. October 18??? If you were on the verge of obliterating the momentum of one of your five best seasons ever, wouldn’t you spend your summer chained to a radiator in a conference room to prevent that from happening? Wouldn’t you say to each other, “We can’t do this, we’re going to drive a good chunk of our fans away?” That desperate “we can’t leave this room without an answer” moment didn’t happen in February or March or April or May or June or July or August or September … I mean, what the #$&@ were these people doing this whole time? I will never feel the same about David Stern and Billy Hunter, both of whom irrevocably tarnished their legacies these past few months. Their lack of imagination and urgency was absolutely perplexing. Talk to any NBA employee, player or agent off the record and they all say the same thing in one shape or another: Both of these guys are old, they’re stubborn, and they’re terrified to think outside the box. What’s funny is that, once upon a time, Stern lived outside the box. No longer.

Ken Berger, CBSSports.com: “The ultimate optimist, the one who has spent hours thinking about and writing about solutions, indulging fellow optimists involved in the talks who thought right up until Thursday that a deal was possible — I’m done. No more circus tickets for me. No more bearded ladies and men on stilts. No more clown shows, and no more spin. No more believing in reason and compromise. No more Mr. Nice Guy. What happened Thursday was irresponsible and gutless — which shouldn’t come as a surprise in sports, where the irresponsible and gutless go to make their millions (or billions) and play us for fools. They take our money to finance their palaces, gouge us for pretzels, beer and parking, and laugh all the way to the country club. All they want, said labor relations committee chairman Peter Holt of the San Antonio Spurs, whose arena was built with $145 million in public funds, is the chance to “make a few bucks.” … When they pick up the phone in a day or two — and they will, they always do — they’ll expect you to care that they’re getting together to try this again. Don’t. Don’t get played again. When the news release goes out announcing the canceling of another chunk of your games, they’ll expect you to understand — and come back when it’s all over. Do that at your own peril. I’m mad at everybody right now, but do you know who I’m angrier at? The owners. Why? Because I believe Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher when they say it was an ultimatum from the owners that shattered these talks. … If they want to set $800 million aflame — the total carnage once the next two weeks of games are canceled — over a $100 million annual difference in BRI, why should I try to stop them? Silver reminded me Thursday that $100 million a year is $1 billion over 10 years, which is true. But it’s also true that the NBA and its players will lose 80 percent of that simply by canceling one month of games. They have a name for this. It’s called asshattery. Asshattery with a circus tent over it, and soon, no audience — no one left who cares.”

Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports: ” Union attorney Jeffrey Kessler said Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, a newcomer to the talks, came to the mediation session to represent the hard-line stance of the board of governors. “Something happened in that board of governors meeting,” Kessler said. “Yesterday we thought we were moving toward a deal. Suddenly, today, they spend very little time negotiating. As soon as we got in there and presented our offer and without caucusing, they said, ‘We don’t have to do anything else. We can tell you right now we’re at 50 percent, and it has to be our way.’ “We adjourned, we came back with the players. They said, ‘We will not agree to anything else unless you agree to 50 percent. I couldn’t believe it. … Union officials think the league’s hard-line owners – most of them in small markets who aren’t on the labor relations committee – are making it difficult for the two sides to reach a compromise. Hunter cited the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jerry Buss, the New York Knicks’ Jim Dolan, the Miami Heat’s Micky Arison and the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban as owners who are willing to make a deal. “But I think there are a group of small-market owners who are dug in, and they’re carrying the day,” Hunter said.”

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: It makes sense for the owners to wait to see what the players have to say when their bank accounts start dwindling. It’s the difference between offering someone dessert after a full meal or offering a fruit roll-up after a cross-country flight. The players have to hold on to the hope that they’ll get a favorable ruling in November from the National Labor Relations Board, which could ultimately impose an injunction that lifts the lockout, at least temporarily. It’s a long shot, but it’s the only hope for leverage that they have. You know a deal is nowhere close when the owners’ side has Dan Gilbert telling the players to trust him. Yeah, that’ll work. It’s the same Dan Gilbert who went from sweet-talking LeBron James and offering him $125 million to shooting arrows at his back after he left. Put it this way: How seriously would the owners take it if LeBron came into the room and told the Cavs’ owner to take the players’ proposal and trust him on it?

Howard Beck, New York Times: “Silver said he began the day feeling optimistic. Officials from the players’ side also felt that progress was possible when the talks reconvened early Thursday afternoon, after the N.B.A.’s board of governors meeting. Union officials suggested that something changed during that owners meeting. According to the union, Paul Allen, the Portland Trail Blazers’ owner, was a surprise participants at the labor talks, and had been sent to deliver the owners’ message — that they would move no further. “This meeting was hijacked,” said Jeffrey Kessler, the union’s outside counsel and its lead negotiator. “Something happened in that board of governors meeting. We were making progress.” Allen was sent, Kessler said, to deliver a message from the owners — “and that view was, ‘Our way or the highway.’ That’s what we were told. We were shocked.” Kessler spoke long after league officials had departed. The N.B.A. did not immediately respond to his remarks.

David Aldridge of NBA.com, via NBA TV:  Aldridge: “We are running out of time with regard to a full season, certainly it doesn’t look like there will be a full season, but we are running out of time to have any season at all. How concerned are you that we are getting to the point where there might not be a season at all?” Fisher: “We’ve always been concerned for two years that we could find ourselves in this position.  That’s why we continued to prepare our players for the worst case, which is a lost season, but we will continue to put our time and effort in and will be here if there is a meeting to be had right now or tomorrow or the next day, we will be here.  That’s the responsibility that I have.  That’s what I was elected to do – to try to find a deal and find a fair resolution and continue to meet.” 




  1. S. Sebastian says

    There appear to be too many disconnects on the players side to expect a deal anytime soon.

    For example:

    The rhetoric.
    Hunter says this was all pre-ordained, pre-destined etc. on the part of the owners. However, Hunter said himself that he told Stern two years ago that the owners should be prepared to cancel the season given the changes they wanted to make.

    Acknowledging the problem while denying it.
    By offering to reduce their share of BRI from 57% to 53% the players are acknowledging that the leagues losses are a problem and that it makes sense for them to make financial concessions. It doesn’t matter if we believe the $300 million number or not. The game the players are in now is to determine how much is enough. Either the owners are lying and will crack or there is a real financial deficit that hasn’t been resolved yet. Not both.

    Publicly misrepresenting the numbers.
    Hunter said yesterday that the players proposal got the owners to break-even. If the loss is
    $300 million and your offer is to give back 4 BRI points, then 4 X $45 million equals $180 million. That’s not break-even. Moreover, is Hunter saying that the players objective is to give back enough dollars to ensure that the league collectively breaks even. He can’t win by saying that. The owners want profits. Hunter instead should stick to the word reasonable.

    The message from the players:
    The union says they have given enough, which is understandable. However, player after player says they just want to play and the believe the lockout will end soon. The players say they are prepared for a cancelled season but they don’t seem to believe it will happen. They seem to believe that if they hold their ground the owners will realize the players position is what’s best for the league. If the players are willing to sacrifice a season and future income on principle, good for them. But if they don’t believe this can happen, they should re-assess the numbers and be certain the price is worth the gain.

    Jim Brown quit football at the height of his career based upon his personal principals and he never looked back. Will these nba players be able to do the same if the season is cancelled?

  2. William Hughes says

    What I will also add is that the whole Paul Allen debacle was probably just the owners’ chance to put the kibosh on the deal to make honours even.

    Now with both sides having seemingly ruined negotiations once, we can get down to business.

  3. paulpressey25 says

    One last edit to add. A number of scribes keep highlighting the fact that the sides are only “x” dollars apart and that they’d be foolish to lose perhaps “$400 million dollars” in not starting the season on time.

    That argument always assumes that the league isn’t broken and that the pie can’t grow. The NBA takes in $4 billion a year. The NFL takes in $9 billion a year. That is a massive difference in popularity between the two leagues.

    Put a better system together that brings in more fans and more casual fans and it is plausible that by the end of year 3 under a 7 year deal the NBA takes in $5 billion a year by virtue of being more popular in the sports world here in the US. That means $1 billion more a year not from inflation but from creating a league that gets closer to the stature of the NFL. A growing pie based on a better product.

    For the last four years of the deal both sides earn money from having a better product. Divide that on a 50-50 split and it means the owners and players EACH make $2 billion more than they would have otherwise.

    Sometimes you have to see the forest for the trees. Losing $400 million this year might be more than worth it to the owners over the long-run.

    • ignarus says

      See, the changes being proposed aren’t ones that have the potential to grow the game. They’re changes that just make the owners richer at the expense of the players. None of this has anything to do with taking parity and competitive balance seriously, so don’t get mixed up thinking that the owners want a larger cut of the BRI so they can run their teams better. They’ll pocket that money and charge even more for tickets as long as people will buy them.

      If owners wanted competitive balance more than $$$, they’d push to get rid of max salaries and long rookie contracts. Parity is impossible when only *some* teams get to pay discount rates on superstars while others pay market value for Michael Redd.

      They could also try a much more random playoff system — single elimination adds an enormous amount of random error into the outcome, but THEN teams wouldn’t necessarily get home games in the playoffs and wouldn’t be able to sell out at arena over the course of a best of seven.

      But this lockout has always been all about money. If they cared primarily about “fixing a broken system” they’d be offering the players MORE money to make sure it happened. Instead, they’ll cave in on a hard cap to get themselves a larger BRI cut.

      • paulpressey25 says

        Ignarus, these changes can grow the game.

        As we’ve seen the last ten years, superstars on their own can’t win titles. See Kobe, Wade, Dwight and LeBron.

        The team that wins the titles are the ones that go way over the luxury tax to pull additional all-stars. See Dallas, LA, Boston or Miami of recent years.

        Put in a hard cap or limits on Bird rights with a punitive luxury tax and you force the Lakers to make a decision whether to keep Bynum or Odom. You force Boston to make a decision on keeping Rondo or Ray Allen. You prevent Mark Cuban from loading up on Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler.

        Those players then get pushed out to lesser teams. The mid and small market teams that get these players can then try to assemble contenders along the lines of how the Pistons got their title. A number of really good players. It makes for a lot more parity and a lot more excitement for different markets. And ultimately much, much more money for both owners and players. The NFL is proof of this.

        I’d could care less how greedy the owners are. I just want a product where good management allows all teams to have a chance at a title over a prolonged window of opportunity. I don’t want a system where the stars all go to Miami, New York and then Dwight Howard forces a “Bynum for Howard” deal to land himself on the Lakers.

  4. paulpressey25 says

    I think a few of the scribes (not necessarily you Chris) should take a step back from the cliff in proclaiming all sorts of irreparable harm to the league being done here because the NBA (read owners) aren’t going to start the season on time.

    The NBA has already inflicted a ton of damage on itself over the last 20-years by a complete lack of competitive balance, combined with scores of players who are awarded $50 million dollar contracts and then dog it. Add in the WWE nature of the reffing ala Dwayne Wade’s 25 free throw performance in the Finals in 2006 and you’ve got a large portion of the sporting public who really don’t care about the NBA. Sure, they’ll tune in for a couple finals games but they aren’t filling the arenas and the soccer moms aren’t into the game and players like they were during the Bird-Magic era. Save for a couple hoops big market hotbeds like Laker fans and the New York market, the rest of the country can take or leave the NBA product that has been on the shelf in years past.

    Do I think the NBA owners are “greedy”? Sure. But who cares? Casual fans don’t care that Jerry Jones is greedy. They just want to see a great product from a great league, the NFL.

    The NBA and its players and certain media scribes can write about the damage being inflicted, but the fans who loved the NBA will all come back once things start up again and they will. This fight is more about making the game and league great again, where the casual fans will consider following the game again.

    • G Bombay says

      Extremely well said. In LA, the lady at Supercuts got into a nice heated debate with me about the trade value of Andrew Bynum with respect to Dwight Howard, which shows a ton of basketball knowledge from a pretty casual fan (she didn’t know diddly about any other team). But I know that in my hometown Bay Area, I probably couldn’t find a soccer mom type that would know about… say Reggie Williams’ college resume or whether David Lee is overpaid.

  5. Eric says

    The longer the situation lingers, the obvious far greater long-term damage to the NBA “brand” will occur here. To me, both parties are easy to dislike. I don’t like how it’s made to be a crime for the owners to want to not only own a successful team, but also to make money. The irony here, though, is that the majority of these owners have teams that play in arenas that have paid for by the public and they’ve fleeced the cities that supposedly care about for hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Many players don’t seem to be concerned with the fact that the majority out there see them as vastly overpaid and it’s ridiculous to be crying about money when tens of millions are under/unemployed. There are far too many of these narcissistic cry babies who’ve been coddled since they were in high school and just sound like they’re whiny little children groveling over millions. However, they too, have a point in the fact that revenues continue to skyrocket in the league, yet the league wants to clamp down on their salaries.

    The NBA has 8 or 9 different champions the past three decades. That says it all about the lopsided balance in the NBA and the owners are clearly right to address this problem.

    Chris, you’ve done an outstanding job with your coverage. Your reasons as to why they would settle this before losing any games made plenty of sense. Far too much sense with the parties involved as we’ve now seen.

  6. William Hughes says

    First I was irritated. Then I was fascinated. Now I’m irritated again. Soon I may be bored.

    It seems now that they are fighting over who will win the PR battle rather than getting the deal done. Owners: if you’re offering a 50-50, give the players something that will make them listen. Players: if you want 53%, tell the owners what you will give up in order to get it.

    We may need to get to December 1 before people start to panic. Which, as fans, is what we need.


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