NBA Lockout Update: Things Have Regressed

Roughly six weeks after the lockout began there's been no movement in negotiations...at least no forward movement. Things may have gotten worse than they were on June 30th.

Details of the owners' first proposal to the players union leaked out several months ago. A hard cap, rolled-back salaries, years taken off current deals. It was a shot across the players' bow. A wake up call. As the expiration of the previous CBA approached, the owners softened on many of those issues and details of a new proposal emerged. The hard cap of $45M became a flex cap with a target of $62M. Instead of the players giving back a huge portion of their money immediately, the giveback would be less upfront, but the players wouldn't share in any growth over the next decade. By all accounts, the league moved closer to the middle. Not close enough, but closer.

Where the negotiations stood on that day, June 30th, is apparently exactly where they stand today. In the six weeks in between, we've had one legitimate superstar sign a contract to play in Turkey (should the lockout leak into the season), a host of others intimate they would follow suit (without actually pulling the trigger), and just about everyone on the players' side seemingly resigned to the fact there will be no resolution in time to save the season, let alone start it on time. Yesterday, Billy Hunter met with about 60 members of his union and laid out the specifics of the owners latest proposal. If you believe Kevin Love's statment, not a thing has changed from the proposal first reported in June. The players response so far has been a resounding no and a refusal make a counter proposal.

While the players play the defeatist card, the owners are taking their fight to the people. The league was clearly the more prepared side here, and they've been wiping the floor with the union in the P.R. game. Their latest coup featured NBA Commissioner David Stern on Bill Simmons' B.S. Report for nearly an hour the other day. Stern seemed almost like a practiced witness on the show, with a quick (perhaps rehearsed) answer to every one of Simmons questions. When Simmons brought up contraction as possibly the ultimate revenue sharing mechanism, Stern deflected the blow saying the union would lose a number of jobs and he didn't think they'd OK that. In fact, he said the owners didn't have the right to contract a team under the current CBA.

Two bombshells, of sorts, came out of Stern's inteveriew. The first was the details behind exactly how they'd make contracts contingent on play/health, while still keeping them guaranteed. If a team was unhappy with a player's performance, they could presumably cut him, and instead of paying his remaining salary on the normal schedule, they could spread his remaining money out over several season. The lesser yearly amount would still count against the cap, and they'd still have to pay the full total, but this would give teams a way to spend at least a portion of the sunk cost in the underperforming player. To put this in tangible terms, Orlando could cut Gilbert Arenas and spread the $52M remaining on his contract over the next eight years, instead of the next three. This would free up over $14M in cap space for the Magic this year.

Stern equated himself very well in the podcast, and it's great that he's keeping a level head, but it's also pretty clear the owners have dug their feet in. Stern kept his composure and went out of his way to praise Hunter and Derek Fisher for their professionaism to this point. Of course, then he went on to say if the CBA negotiatinos weren't wrapped up by Labor Day weekend, the owners' proposal would most likley get worse. Not great news

At this point, it looks like the players will have to fight to get back to a proposal they found so offensive in June they refused to make a counter offer. They simply walked away from the negotiating table. In yesterday's meeting, Hunter laid out the parameters of the owners' original proposal. What that should tell all of us is these negotiations are beyond stalled. Stalled would have the two sides still sitting there trying to improve the amended proposal. At this point, that proposal isn't even on the table. The sides have met once and cancelled another meeting in the 6 weeks since the lockout began. Each side has spent more time talking to the press than each other.

One battle in this saga is clearly being won, however, and that's the public relations battle. If you need further evidence that the league is wiping the floor with Hunter and the union, just listen to the latest B.S. report in which David Stern chats with Bill Simmons. Stern sits down with Simmons and lays out the owners' side in common sense terms, he talks about the plight of the owners and the economics of the situation. He goes out of his way to avoid throwing stones at Hunter and the union, while still getting his point across. The owners can't make money unless the CBA changes, it's as simple as that. There's only so much they can do. Stern, however, did make it sound like the owners are still willing to honor their second proposal. Either Love is mistaken, Billy Hunter is misleading the union by focusing on the original proposal, or Stern is speaking out of turn. If the second proposal truly is off the table, I doubt Stern would be openly speaking as if that wasn't the case, but it's probably immaterial.

We're past the point of asking if games will be lost. The more pertinent question is whether any games will be saved. Considering where the two sides need to go and where they are right now, the smart money is on a lost season. If you hung in through the entire B.S. report, Stern intimates that if this thing drags out beyond Labor Day, the owners' offer will get even worse. That's not exactly an encouraging statement.

[Note by JasonB, 08/17/11 1:56 PM EDT ] ESPN has changed Kevin Love's quote to a proposed cap of $62 million

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