If the big issues can be settled this week, we may have a full slate of 82 games to watch this season. As a Sixers fan, that's great news on a couple of different levels.
With the rhetoric stowed away, the NBA and NBAPA finally got down to some serious negotiating this week, and appear to be on the verge of a deal that could not only end this four-month lockout, but might allow the league to play a full 82-game schedule. In a nutshell, here's what happened.
When talks broke down last week, it was over an ultimatum delivered by Paul Allen, owner of the Trailblazers, "50/50 split of BRI or there are no negotiations." This declaration was eerily reminiscent of Kevin Garnett's chest-thumping ultimatum earlier in the negotiations, and had about as much of an impact on the actual negotiations - none. Both sides retreated to their corners and took at a look at where things stood, and what was about to be lost, and realized they could get a little if they gave a little. The issue, on both sides, has been a burning desire to not lose on both big issues. The split of revenues (the 50/50 line), and the luxury tax system. Allen's comments were reactionary and short-sighted. The players who were so united at 53% have since slid to 52% on the BRI split, and Billy Hunter has hinted they'd move even more if the sides could agree on a luxury tax system that wasn't punitive.
When the sides resumed negotiations, they left the BRI split on the back burner and concentrated on the system. Roughly 22 hours of negotiations later, the sides are set to begin meeting at 10:30 today, and the BRI split is back on the table. You don't have to squint too hard to see between the lines. The luxury tax and exceptions have been bargained, and probably agreed to in principal, the union is at least satisfied with what they got, and now they can get down to negotiating a final percentage point or two of the BRI and hopefully get a deal done today or over the weekend.
They're close, very close probably, but when you're dealing with egos of this size, it doesn't take much to completely derail the talks. I think it's a positive sign the sides haven't invited a ton of people into the negotiations this time. Keep the groups small, come to a reasonable agreement, then it's the leadership's job to sell their sides on the deal they've cut.
If everything is agreed upon over the weekend, we're probably looking at a late November, early December start. If the entire month of November is lost, the Sixers will have lost 15 games. The players definitely want to play all 82 games (and collect their entire salaries), the league is probably motivated to play a full slate as well, or at least David Stern certainly wouldn't like to have more lost games tarnishing his legacy. Henry Abbott of ESPN's True Hoop doesn't think forcing 82 games into an abbreviated schedule is a good idea. In the abstract, he's probably right, but as a Sixers fan, we should be clamoring for them to use up as many off days as possible to make this work.
The Sixers are one of the youngest teams in the league, and youth will be served by a condensed schedule. The more back-to-backs, the better. Every team ahead of the Sixers in the Eastern Conference is older, or completely reliant on one or two players to play 40+ minutes and carry the load. The Sixers can ride different guys on a nightly basis, they can rely on their bench for long stretches and they should be able to pick up a handful of wins purely by attrition. Forget the back-to-backs, bring on three games in three nights. I'd absolutely love to see Garnett, Pierce and Allen sucking wind by the trade deadline. For years, the schedule makers have coddled the veteran teams like the Lakers and the Celtics, a condensed schedule (both in the regular season and the playoffs) will make them earn whatever they get, and swing the pendulum ever so slightly to the younger teams.
Keep one eye on the news today and throughout the weekend, if the season is going to be saved, it has to happen this weekend. If the BRI domino falls, everything else will as well and before you know it we're going to be talking about Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday instead of Billy Hunter and David Stern. It's about time. One final, sobering thought, though. If the month of November is erased, the Sixers will start the season with a four-game homestand, then they'll play 12 of 14 games on the road, including the annual Ice Capades trip out west (unless the league shoehorns some games for the scheduled off days). They better be ready to play right from the jump or they're going to spend the season digging themselves out of a big hole...again.