Lockout news is the same as it ever was. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Ball Don't Lie

Last March we brought you some quotes culled from the handbook that the NBA Players Association gave their constituents, preparing them for an extended labor impasse. Titled "Hope For the Best, Prepare For the Worst," the book went into great detail about how to avoid the usual pratfalls of stardom and largesse, sound words for any climate, much less one that will take away your paychecks (as negotiated and agreed-upon by your employers in good faith, fully guaranteed) for an extended period of time.

Moke Hamilton, writing at Charged.FM, has gotten his hands on the handbook, and in light of the recent good cheer emanating from negotiations between the Players Association and the NBA, one passage is worth reconsidering:

But reading between the lines and connecting dots is where the real fun begins. Billy Hunter confirms that he's been privately warning players to prepare for a lockout for more than two years. Want more? How about the fact that—on the NBPA's advice—many players that signed new contracts within the past two years have negotiated for deferred payments so that they could actually receive checks during the lockout? Throughout the handbook, references are made to the fact that some players will continue receiving checks until November 1st, 2011.

(Under normal circumstances, NBA players are paid bi-monthly on the 1st and 15th of each month. Payments normally begin on November 1st and end on May 1st. Thanks to the union's advice, a healthy portion of the union's members deferred half of their compensation so that they would continue to receive checks up until THIS November 1st).

Now, this is a bit of a jump. Just because Hunter encouraged players to defer payments from their 2010-11 and potentially 2009-10 salaries until this summer and early fall, it hardly means the players followed through. And with the sheer amount of players already under contract that are seeking out relatively tiny international contracts, you get the feeling that players took the money as it usually came and just hoped that the finances would be on the up and up later. I know the feeling.


Regardless of the guesswork behind the deferred payments, Hamilton is correct in pointing out that November 15th is the "doomsday scenario" (the NBAPA's cliché, not mine) when it comes to missing checks. If you're a player that deferred your payments, this will be the first payment cycle that you go without getting a check. If you took the orthodox route, and haven't been paid since the 2010-11 season ended? This will be your first payment cycle without a 2011-12 check. Either way, nobody is getting paid. Save for the owners, who will still take in that sweet and equally-shared national TV money, even with no games.

The lockout is in its third month, but it's also coming off its first extended meetings since before the lockout was put in place. Has anything changed? Is there room for hope, as we attempt to accurately gauge where we are in the proceedings? The answers are multifaceted, they involve much guesswork, and they're not too far removed from where we started three months ago.

The hope for fans moving forward ignores the fact that the owners are well-heeled and ready to endure the money lost from missed games this fall. The hope for fans is that the national TV revenue and eye toward a more economically stable NBA future will not be enough for the owners as a collective to pass on those gate receipts, the local TV revenue, and (shock horror) working as a job creator within a large community.

According to sources that are talking to the New York Times' Howard Beck, the players are attempting to do their part. As we've stated before, our belief is that this lockout (as it stands) is overwhelmingly the owners' fault, but if any games are lost? Then it would be the fault of an intractable Players Association. Which is why it's encouraging to read this, even if our cynicism leads us to believe that no actual movement was made over the last week:

When N.B.A. labor talks resumed Wednesday, for an extended session in Midtown Manhattan, officials from the players union opened with a broad premise: Tell us what it will take to end the lockout and save the 2011-12 season.

The union's request sparked a discussion that lasted five and a half hours, which in turn led to another five-and-a-half-hour session Thursday. Both sides declined to offer details, judgments or predictions, and they cautioned the public not to draw any conclusions. But for the first time in two years, there seems to be movement, or at least a constructive dialogue.

Of course, telling the other side that you'll do anything is one thing. Following through on their reply is another. Sorry for going all Meatloaf on you, but who among us hasn't promised someone that they'll do anything to stay in their good graces, just not that.

Cynicism and lowered expectations, while not virtue in most of the real world, is a healthy thing in this area. It's just the lay of this particular land, unfortunately.

The two sides are going to meet again on Tuesday with a broader constituency (more players, more owners) present, and then retire to their respective hidey-holes (the owners are meeting in Dallas, the players in Los Angeles) to go over two weeks' worth of negotiations. More voices in the room will always lead to tougher and more fractured negotiations; and the internal discussions that follow Tuesday's negotiations will only serve to steel up the respective causes of either side, rather than help the two ends move closer toward the middle. Wherever that is.

It's not wrong to be pessimistic, because this is just the order of the day. Even if significant ground has been covered over the last few meetings, significant voices that go beyond sensible types like Players Association representative Derek Fisher or owners' representative (and San Antonio Spurs boss) Peter Holt still have to be talked down, and talked into new concessions. Assuming any have been made over the last week. We don't know, because neither side is talking much.

As Steve Aschburner of NBA.com, a sensible voice if there ever was one, succinctly pointed out -- "tone isn't content." For all we're aware, both sides could have made significant inroads over the last few meetings, but to guess that an agreement is close merely because David Stern isn't getting all defensive on podcasts, or players aren't sniping to any website that will quote them? That's optimism gone mad.

Once you factor in the two biggest reasons for this extended impasse (two reasons that are no less prominent, despite the tactful tones) -- the players don't want to give back money, and the owners' incentive to give in is dwarfed by their collective ability to hold out -- and we're just about right where we started.

At least on record. If there's hope to be found in ignorance, well, then we must be swimming in the stuff at this point.

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