NBA Labor Wars: A much different fight from the NFL battle

Posted: June 9, 2011 in NBA
Tags: , , , ,

The NBA and its players have met now quite a few times in serious discussions on the subject of a new cba.  Unfortunately, all parties have come out of these talks saying only pessimistic things, ‘we are very far apart on a new deal’ and the like.

My first thoughts upon hearing the owners proposal of a $45 million hard cap, no exeptions, along with shorter contracts, significantly smaller pay increases and only guaranteed to 25%, I thought they were insane.  I’ve heard it said that you want to over-reach on your opening offer, but this is ridiculous.  This’ll be the NFL mess all over again.

Then the players started talking about salary concessions now in exchange for a bigger slice of future growth.  Very forward-thinking, I thought.  But they still want the sieve-like soft cap and full guaranteed contracts, so the owners won’t go for that.  That leaves them in the same escalating salary boat they’re trying to get out of, and the hole will only get bigger as the league continues to grow.

So, yes, these guys are very likely far, far apart on a new deal.  Especially when I hear player rep Derek Fisher say things like its not the employees responsibility to guarantee the league is profitable. 

Um, maybe my math skills are a little rusty, but if the league isn’t profitable, exactly how long would you expect them to continue to be around to pay your salary?  It’s in the best interest of every employee that the guy cutting their check is seeing some benefit from that relationship.  That’s just common sense. 

I have been rather completely on the players’ side in the NFL lockout battle.  That situation is entirely different from this NBA conflict.  The NFL isn’t losing money, they’re rolling in it, in fact, like they’ve got they’re own little printing press.  No, that fight is a straight cash grab from the players.  It’s unnecessary, stupid and greedy. 

The NBA owners, on the other hand, have a point.  They are unquestionably losing money, in the hundreds of millions each year.  That’s no small pittance.  It’s certainly not the NFL slanting the books to show two or three low revenue franchises losing $10-15 million or so combined in a $9 billion industry and using that as an excuse to snatch back a billion or so from the players.

There is little doubt that the current salary structure and soft cap system in the NBA doesn’t work.  It leaves too much room for the high revenue clubs to horde players and with the luxury tax, it becomes too expensive for the small market teams to keep up.  What happened in Boston a few season ago predicated what happened in Miami this year, and that is predicating what will happen with the Knicks and maybe the Nets this year.  Then it will be someone else following that.  We, under the current system, are heading for a league with 5 or 6 superteams and a permanent class of Washington Generals type teams at the bottom.

No, Derek Fisher, it’s the current system that’s not good for basketball.

That said, a hard cap at $45 million is extreme.  It’ll virtually gut every good team in the league.  Besides, if the owners were to get, say, the non-guaranteed contracts, that would wipe out literally 75% of the dead salary sitting at the end of benches around the league.  That, alone, brings down player costs in a big way.  With that, you could afford a higher hard cap figure, say $55 million, and a few limited exeptions.

In a league with a hard cap, no team would be able to have three max salary guys because you would be unable to flesh out the roster, even at league minimum salaries. 

There would be no superteams, at least not built of superstars in their prime through free agency. That means more quality plyers spread throughout the league, more parity than even before, and competitive balance that rivals the NFL.  Would you rather enter a season with 15 to 20 teams fan-bases having legitimate championship aspirations, or four?

How many players, if you asked them to a man, would trade some salary for increased career-long opportunities to win a ring?  I bet more would than wouldn’t.

To me, there’s room for both sides here to make a deal.  The players know salary give backs are needed.  They just need to see that a hard cap doesn’t spell the end of their ability to have a very lucrative, rewarding career in basketball.  In point of fact, it could possibly increase their chances.  More teams with title aspirations means more fan interest which means more money. 

The owners need to strike a balance in what they want, too. They can get a system that increases competitiveness league wide and keeps salaries under control.  But they can’t have it all.  The players are willing to go for reductions now with a bigger share of the growth later.  That sounds reasonable to me.

There is also a combination of numbers somewhere that generates a profitable salary system with a hard cap, a few exceptions, a nonguaranteed percentage on contracts and proportional annual raises.  They’re going to have to give and take to make the numbers fit to allow everyone, owners and players alike, room to grow as the league grows.

Of course, either side could go nuclear.  The owners demand it all and impose a lockout NFL style, or the players refuse to budge and end up on the road to antitrust litigation.  I certainly hope they have more collective sense than that.

Unlike the NFL, the NBA’s issues are clear, and all the elements of an economic system that works for everyone are on the table.  We, as NBA fans can only hope that compromise for long-term gain wins out over short-term self interest. 

Unfortunately for those of us in this country, that kind of result hasn’t been seen very often of late, anywhere money is involved.

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