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Ball Don't Lie

Are the NBA and its players closer than they’re letting on?

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Early Tuesday morning former Associated Press and ESPN scribe Chris Sheridan announced that, well, he was a former ESPN scribe. Sheridan is starting up his own site, apparently with displaced former major NBA columnists Mark Heisler and Peter May in tow, and his leadoff article will warm the cockles of the respective hearts of the NBA nation.

It could be a ploy to launch some early hits to a fledgling site, but Sheridan has been keeping a tone like this throughout the now nine-week lockout. He thinks the NBA and its players aren't far apart, and even though we're just wishing him correct at this point, there are some salient points to work over.

From Sheridan's piece:

Yes, under the 10-year collective bargaining agreement the owners have proposed, the gap is indeed somewhere in the area of $7-8 billion range.

But if you look at the six-year deal the players have proposed, which includes $500 million less in annual revenue (than what they would have received under the old deal) over the six upcoming seasons, the simple math tells a different story:

Over those six years, the difference in proposed revenues that would go to the players adds up to $2.97 billion.

That is still a significant amount of money, but it is nowhere near as significant as what is being put out there publicly.

Sheridan goes on to point out that a true hard salary cap, as established in the third year of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, would scuttle any chances the Miami Heat had to keep LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh together (to say nothing of the top or eventually top-paid triptychs in Los Angeles or Chicago), and that the NBA will want nothing to do with breaking up such a cash cow.

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He also thinks that a new CBA will be ratified, lawyer'd-over, and put into writing sometime around the first or second week of October, and that the NBA will start on time in 2011-12. What a lovely thought.

It still doesn't address some clinging issues. New revenue sharing plans for owners from Manhattan to Memphis still have yet to be determined. Plus, the heretofore discounted costs of business in terms of travel expense, medical costs, per diems, and other daily benefits that owners pay for and yet don't get to count against the players while splitting up that revenue pie has yet to be sussed out.

Then there's the damning matter of the players' livelihood. Sure, the NBA Players Association has been warning its guys about the impending lockout for years, but rumors abound as to exactly how much a good chunk of these guys have in their savings accounts. It's true that even David Stern and some of the more hardline owners would still like to see games tip off (and gate receipts roll in) on time this year, but if Stern really wants to play tough with the players, he can.

Few players have missed a paycheck at this point, they won't for another month, and the NBA has yet to flex its toughest juice card. It hasn't even had the chance to mix its messiest of metaphors.

Another interesting approach was proffered over the Labor Day weekend by the minds at Game Time at the Garden of Good and Evil. They're proposing a novel, incentive-based way to keep both the owners and players (who would still receive 57 percent of basketball related income, in a way) happy with a new CBA:

Currently, the NBA Players get 57% of the "basketball-related" revenue.  Let's stick with that for this deal, too.  And I saw some figures that showed that NBA teams were averaging around $104M in basketball-related revenue.  Let's use $100M for the example, remembering that some teams may be under and some over.

Instead of giving players a guaranteed $57M per team (which ends up hurting the smaller markets), let's give them $57M (estimated) in "stock" instead.  Let's create non-tradable shares of stock with each share worth $50K (estimated).  We would probably want to create the shares with a $5K value but using $50K for the example keeps the numbers simpler and makes me feel like I'm investing in Berkshire Hathaway.  Well, at least investing in half shares of Berkshire Hathaway ($110K per share as I'm writing this!).

[…]

Back to the example: right out of the gate, we see some benefits.  If the team plays hard and plays well and its market embraces the players, revenues will go up.  And salaries go up with them.  If the team plays badly and alienates the fan base (as happened years ago in Portland and Indiana when some of the players repeatedly got into legal troubles), revenues go down.  And salaries go down with them.

It's an interesting and pretty fun read, there's a lot more to it than this pull quote, and it makes sense on a few levels.

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It also brings us back to some of the problems that caused the current lockout, though. Sometimes player effort and good intentions aren't enough to win games and fill seats. Sometimes GMs make terrible moves, damning certain players to years stuck with dodgy teammates, and there's nothing a single player can do about it.

The Pacers were last in the NBA in attendance last year, but Pacer star Danny Granger had nothing to do with Larry Bird's trade for T.J. Ford, his signing of Dahntay Jones, or Ron Artest and/or Stephen Jackson acting like knuckleheads half a decade ago. It's not Granger's fault his stock (if I'm reading and re-reading this correctly, and I wholeheartedly submit that I may not be) and stake would leave him eating the relative-to-other-NBA-players can of beans, while DeShawn Stevenson dines on steak every night.

Of course, if Sheridan is to be believed, the NBA need not consider such options. Granger can rest easy in that regard, even as he hoards those cans of beans in preparation for an extended lockout.

The NBA and its players meet again this week. And for the first time since this whole mess started, you can safely say that it is getting interesting.

About time.

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