First let me say this: I love basketball at all levels, from High School to the Association, I love to watch basketball. Right now it hurts to see that the NBA is mired in a lockout and the start of the season has been delayed, with the threat of the entire schedule of 2,460 games being wiped away. It’s easy to choose sides in this dispute, are you with the Players Association or the NBA ownership group? Most of mainstream America will likely find fault with the players, while most die-hard fans will find fault with the owners. There are two ways of looking at this quarrel, what is fair and what will be the outcome due to leverage. The word “leverage” is key because he who possesses the most leverage will win this battle.
It is easy to take the players side in this dispute because we love watching these athletes perform and after all it was the owners who “locked out” the players. Let’s get one thing clear though, the owners have a number of worthy gripes that need to be addressed and eradicated before there can be a season. The biggest problem the owners have now is the length of guaranteed contracts, simply put the contracts are far too long. Imagine being the owner of a team who signed a star player to a six or seven year max contract, only to have that player get injured, become disinterested after getting paid or even worse, both. Some examples of this are Jerome James, Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury, Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis, Luke Walton, Larry Hughes, Austin Croshere, Brendan Haywood, Eric Dampier, Brian Grant and Adonal Foyle. I will not bore you with each individual salary but, these players basically robbed their respective teams without a ski-mask. You could say it was ownerships fault for handing out bad contracts, but they are under pressure to keep their teams competitive and relevant, so there will be mistakes and lots of them due to pressure from fans to stay competitive.
In the words of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, “My wife told me to bring home the mid-level exception in a designer hand bag.” Sarver is a terrible owner, he traded away Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Rajon Rondo, Loul Deng and Nate Robinson for basically nothing. Although what he said was a very poor choice of words, he’s absolutely right. The mid-level exception has got to go, or be significantly reduced from the up to 5 year, 6 million dollar a year albatross it currently is. First and foremost the mid-level exception is usually spent on a player who doesn’t warrant a large guaranteed contract and rarely produces results on the court. Sure the mid-level exception worked for the Lakers in 2010 when they used it on Ron Artest, but when spent on players like Al Harrington, Jermaine O’Neal, Travis Outlaw or Fransisco Garcia it is a gargantuan waste of money. The mid-level exception should be changed from 5 years at 6 million per season, to 2 to 3 years max, with a salary of 3 million dollars per year.
Another major problem the owners have with the players, even though they wont come right out and say it, is player movement. What the big three did down in Miami or what Carmelo Anthony did to get to the Knicks might seem like the cool thing to do, but what it did was rob three small-market franchises of their best players and most importantly their biggest revenue generators. The owners will try to say that it’s all about keeping a competitive balance throughout the NBA, but its really about money, its ALWAYS about money. When LeBron left Cleveland, the franchise lost 30% of its value, and after catering to LeBron James every wish and desire, Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavalier Owner) felt burned. What Carmelo Anthony did was worse then what James did, because he was under contract and being paid 17,149,243 dollars by the Denver Nuggets, who had a good roster and were spending over the Luxury Tax threshold in order to surround him with talent. Their needs to be protections put into the new collective bargaining agreement in order to help the owners keep the best players on their team, and make sure there aren’t 6 or 7 super teams in the big cities while the rest of the small market teams are left with rookies and players that no one else wants.
My major problem with the owners is the fact that they are lying about the financial numbers and not owning up for making poor roster decisions. Under the old CBA the players got a 57% percent split of Basketball Related Income, while the owners took home 43%. At first blush this may seem like a big win for the players until you realize that the owners took 600 million dollars of off the top of the 4.3 billion dollar total income. That means the players took home a little bit less than 50% of the total revenue that was generated by the NBA, which seems fair. So when David Stern goes on TV and says we offered the players a 50/50 split he is trying to get public opinion on the owner’s side, because to most people feel that a 50/50 split would be fair. What they don’t tell you is that that number is 50% of BRI, which under the old agreement would have given the players 1.7 billion dollars of the 4.3 billion dollar pie. That is simply not fair, and the “50/50” split is the owner’s best offer to date.
The owners have to be honest when talking about the economics of the lockout, they have made some very dumb decisions in regards to how they fill out their 15 man roster. Lets go through a few examples, the Phoenix Suns, aside from the players like Loul Deng, Rajon Rondo and Nate Robinson that they gave away for 3 million dollars each, we have the Amare Stoudemire fiasco. In 2010 the Suns were two games away from playing in the finals, but during the off-season they let their 27 year old franchise corner stone walk away in free agency because they didn’t want to guarantee the last 2 years of a proposed 5 year, 99 million dollar deal. Robert Sarver, the Suns owner tried to spin it as Stoudemire wanted to leave for a bigger market(he ended up in New York), when in reality he didn’t match the offer made by another team to keep the power forward on his roster. After letting one of the top 10 players in the league walk away, the Suns went out and signed Hakeem Warrick, Josh Childress and Channing Frye for 16.5 million dollars a year if you combine all their salaries. They could have kept their franchise player for 3 million more dollars a year, I know makes no sense. Another example of this is what the Milwaukee Bucks did in the 2010 off-season, after they had their best season is years and had a great young core led By Rookie Point Guard Brandon Jennings and young Center Andrew Bogut. They went out and signed John Salmons to a 5 year 40 million dollar deal, Drew Gooden for 5 years 32 million dollars, and traded for ball hog Corey Maggette who makes 10 million dollars per season. The Bucks go out and make three boneheaded decisions, and now want the players union to give back Billions of dollars to subsidize their mistakes? These points are never brought up, but they should be talked about more.
The key to this lockout is understanding. The owners have to understand that the NBA is a players league and the league thrives when all the big stars are playing in the major markets like Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, New York, Miami, Dallas and Philadelphia. In 2007 with Lebron James playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, against the San Antonio Spurs in the finals, the NBA had the lowest ratings in finals history, notching a 6.2 rating. While in 2010 a finals that featured the Lakers and the Celtics boasted a robust 10.6 rating, this was not an accident. For the NBA to thrive and maximize profits the big market teams have to be good, there is no getting around this fact. The NBA has the most talent in the league that there has been in 2 decades, and yet are on the verge of missing an entire season. The worst part of this whole dispute is that we all know how it is going to end, the owners will get most of what they want and the players will get 1 or 2 small things so they can claim “victory”. But, David Stern and the owners are doing their best to tear the players down in the public eye, and it doesn’t make sense because once this impasse is over, they will have to spend millions of dollars trying to “sell” those same players back to the general public. This is a colossal waste of time and energy for a league that had gone a long way to win fans back from the last lockout in 1999. As a final note, for a league that has 22 teams “losing” money, they just completed the sale of thePhiladelphia76ers to an Investment group led by business tycoon Joshua Harris. So I guess being an NBA owner isn’t such a “non profitable” venture. Its funny how all this has slipped under the radar. This just goes to show that the owners will get their way whenever the lockout has ended.