No signs of labour peace in NBA

The Mavericks celebrate their victory over the Heat for the NBA championship earlier this month....

The Mavericks celebrate their victory over the Heat for the NBA championship earlier this month. With the NBA headed for a lockout, that could have been the last game fans see for many months to come. (Reuters)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:08 PM ET

TORONTO - Hopefully basketball fans enjoyed last Thursday’s NBA draft.

Because, sadly, come midnight, July 1, the sport is going on a hiatus.

An extended one.

The gulf between the owners and players is simply too massive at this point to make up in a few days.

True, negotiations seem to have been more civil than what we have seen recently from pro leagues that have gotten to this point, but that doesn’t count for much in the grand scheme of things.

Not when the owners are convinced the system is not working and needs to be reformatted, no matter the cost and don’t seem willing to budge.

“Players have benefited more than the teams,” NBA commissioner David Stern told reporters last week.

“Their demand is gargantuan and we just can’t meet it,” responded NBA Players’ Association boss Billy Hunter.

What are the major issues?

Money, of course. The owners want a hard salary cap that will protect them from themselves (and the ridiculous contracts they dole out such as the mega-watt ones given to the likes of Rashard Lewis, Joe Johnson and the insane overpayments to role players like Dan Gadzuric, Mike Dunleavy, Vladimir Radmanovic and others).

They also want to make all or part of contracts unguaranteed and they want a higher share of basketball-related-income (BRI).

Currently, the players receive 57% of the BRI — they get it in August after 8% of their pay cheques are held in escrow during the season, but the owners have said they even want to keep this year’s portion which had already been bargained for, back when the previous lockout ended in 1999.

The players rightly have viewed that posturing as a slap in the face.

The NBA owners’ planning committee met on Monday to discuss revenue sharing and other issues. The board of governors will convene on Tuesday in Dallas. Then on Wednesday or Thursday the owners and players will sit down in a last-ditch effort to avoid a shutdown.

Small market teams are looking for a bigger piece of the revenue sharing pie. Luxury tax payouts from the sharks (Lakers, Knicks, Mavericks, etc.) to the minnows (Memphis, Charlotte, New Orleans, etc.) aren’t getting it done.

Not when Ken Berger of cbssports.com is reporting teams like the Knicks and Lakers generate more than five times the gate revenue of teams like Memphis and Minnesota and dwarf other teams with their local broadcast deals.

According to Berger, the players want to know how the owners will solve the revenue sharing problem before they come back to the table.

The gap has closed since the NBA made its original, highly restrictive offer back in January of 2010 — the owners wanted a 33% rollback in player salaries and non-guaranteed contracts, among other things. They have also gone from demanding a $45 million US hard cap to a $65 million “flex-cap.”

The players reportedly have agreed to take $500 million in pay-cuts over a five-year deal.

Is a long lockout really necessary? No, both sides probably could be satisfied with a little give-and-take, but that doesn’t seem to be the goal here.

The players seem to know they are getting a fair shake and are willing to give money back but the owners are adamant that the agreement of 1999 — widely hailed as a clear victory at the time, did not turn out as advertised.

“It would take a miracle on (Stern’s) part not to have a lockout and I truly believe that,” Charles Barkley told ESPN Radio.

“I think there’s going to be a lockout, I think the owners are dug in, I think they want to send a message to these players.”

Other than the big/small market conundrum, it wouldn’t be that hard to work something out — why not make the final year of all contracts non-guaranteed, put in a reasonably high hard cap and drop the BRI to 50%, for example?

That’s probably where we’re heading.

Unfortunately, don’t expect to get there in 2011.

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos