There's been no shortage of sharp rhetoric and square-off positioning between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association in recent months. Seemingly every league issue that comes up for discussion — the existence of a salary cap, the further limits that maximum contracts and the rookie wage scale put on players' earning potential, the nature of contract guarantees, the minimum age at which a prospect should be eligible to enter the NBA draft, the means by which revenue from the NBA's new $24 billion broadcast rights deal will be phased into the league's economic structure, etc. — results in the league, led by Commissioner Adam Silver, and the union, helmed by executive director Michele Roberts, staking out opposing views (with the latter tending to do so in a more bombastic fashion) and entrenching themselves in a fashion that seems to portend a bruising negotiating battle on the horizon.
The collective bargaining agreement struck by the league and the union in November 2011 extends through the 2020-21 season, but either side can opt out of the pact following the 2016-17 campaign; the deadline for informing the other party if you plan to do so is Dec. 15, 2016. After taking the reins of a union that lost major ground in the 2011 deal — most notably a reduction in the players' share of basketball-related income from 57 percent of the total take under the 2005 CBA to a 49-to-51-percent "band" that shifted hundreds of millions of dollars per year from labor to ownership — Roberts has long since made it clear that the NBPA would likely terminate the agreement in an attempt to regain what's been lost.
"We started yesterday preparing for CBA negotiations," Roberts said back in July.
“I will tell you I assume there will be an opt out,” she said three months later. “It would be foolish to not assume there will be an opt out.”
During a visit to Indianapolis to take in Monday's matchup between the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors, the commissioner said those of us who fear that another work stoppage will again curtail the start of the regular season in two winters' time ought to take a chill pill, according to Candace D. Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:
Silver praised [Indiana's] front-office personnel (Larry Bird, Kevin Pritchard and Donnie Walsh) for the Pacers' success since February, calling the team's 13-3 record, before Monday's loss, "just fantastic." However, not once during Silver's whirlwind tour — that also included a luncheon at the local rotary club — did the topic of a potential NBA work stoppage in 2017 arise in conversation.
"Believe it or not — I can't speak for the union or anything — but it's not something I'm talking to teams about yet," Silver said. "I think it's premature."[...]
[...] the refusal to [the "cap smoothing"] proposition — as well as union leader Michele Roberts already stating on record that the NBPA plans to opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement in December 2016 — has caused concern that another labor fight between players and owners could be in the future.
Just not enough concern, at least in Silver's interactions, among management and owners across the league to discuss the possibility. The current CBA expires after the 2016-17 season.
"We're operating under the current CBA and building stage," Silver said. "There will be a time for that but [now] it's premature."
It's reasonable for Silver to maintain optimism and a don't-lose-your-temper-until-it's-time-to-lose-your-temper approach at a time when franchise values are soaring and the league's biggest problem seems to be less about how to prevent owners from losing money than how to peaceably divide a growing pie.
And yet, we can't forget that the NBA's commissioner, at base, works for the owners of the NBA's 30 franchises; if the owners decide that they'd like to have both an even larger share of BRI and their druthers on system issues like draft age minimums, contract structuring, HGH testing and anything else you can dream up, well, that's when the knives come out and the utilities get turned off, according to Mark Heisler of Forbes:
As for the owners, a year after they wiped the floor with the players, I asked one of the hawkish ones about the possibility of a 2017 lockout.
“I hope so,” he said. [...]
The bare-knuckle barristers who run the NBA start negotiations by locking the players out, whether it’s a “soft” one with no major differences and talks over the summer, or a real one, like 2011. If Adam Silver isn’t as confrontational as Stern, the little colossus mentored him to do thing The NBA Way. [...]
It’s true that owners can’t play a lick but they can do one hell of a job of shutting down the game – which I expect them to do, right on schedule, on July 1, 2017.
That, obviously, is an awful dire reading of the situation. For a somewhat more measured view, we turn to NBA.com's David Aldridge, whose temperature-check on NBA ownership offers a slightly warmer perspective:
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There are still some hard-liners out there. The question is whether they're running things.
In 1998, owners said they had to stop contracts like Kevin Garnett's $126 million deal with Minnesota from becoming commonplace. In 2011, owners said the current financial model was unsustainable, and the league decried the lack of competitive balance (though some of us have repeatedly written and said that the NBA has never had competitive balance).
But today, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks are now making money because of revenue sharing. The Los Angeles Clippers' $2 billion sale may have been an outlier, but franchise values have never been higher, and show no signs of dropping. And the huge repeater tax on teams that have paid luxury tax the last three seasons (next year, it will be three out of the last four seasons) has chilled salaries at the top end. By all available metrics, this system is working.
So wouldn't it make sense to let things continue as they are?
Say, yeah — that does make sense. Thanks for the boost, David!
Hmm? What's that? Aww, crud, you weren't finished:
Have you ever met a rich guy who said 'you know, I've made enough money. I'm good'?
... Well, now that you mention it ... no.
All that said, the general spirit behind Silver's comments — there's plenty of money for everyone and plenty of time to try to iron some of these things out before we get to the stage where we're losing games, so enjoy what's been and continues to be a pretty great season, already in progress — seems like a reasonable way of approaching things. But enjoying the here-and-now doesn't make future labor strife any less likely. It might be premature to concern ourselves with a work stoppage right now, Mr. Commissioner, but the calendar has a way of moving pretty darn quickly when literally billions of dollars are at stake.
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