NBA, players have much to work out as CBA negotiation looms

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver answers questions during the NBA basketball All-Star weekend Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rob Gray)
NBA commissioner Adam Silver answers questions during NBA All-Star weekend Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rob Gray)

SALT LAKE CITY — Everybody’s motivated to prevent an NBA work stoppage, with multiple extensions of the opt-out date being granted so the players’ union and team owners can work to extend the collective bargaining agreement.

NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio spoke to an assembled group of reporters Saturday afternoon before the All-Star festivities, her first news conference since taking over for Michele Roberts a year ago.

It’s not as critical of a time as it was in 2011, when the players were locked out by the owners under then-commissioner David Stern. There were public and private issues surrounding max contracts and free agency then, and it was heated and ugly.

That doesn’t appear to be the case this time around, with Tremaglio taking an optimistic tone toward the discussions.

“First of all, I don't think a lockout benefits anyone,” Tremaglio said. “I also think it's important that we all recognize to some extent our players stated from the very beginning that they were fine with having the contract continued through the 2023-24 season. Really, we are in a position now to consider whether or not we will opt out.”

The sides have until March 31 to come to an agreement, and commissioner Adam Silver echoed the same sentiments a little while later.

“I would just say it’s an absolute priority for us, as well, to get a deal done as soon as possible,” Silver said. “I think at least what we have discussed across the table from the players' association is that we wouldn’t publicly list the issues that are potentially keeping us apart.”

There are a couple things that remain issues:

The money, and how it’s spent: Basketball-related income, or BRI, as it’s commonly known. It’s the pie that determines the player salaries, and the overall income the league generates. Before 2011, the players took home 57% of the revenue, but it’s been cut to 50.5% since. The bigger pie accounts for the escalating salaries across the board and the pie stands to get larger with the upcoming television media rights deal — which could include streaming companies getting involved.

Now, sources tell Yahoo Sports there could be some discrepancy between the sides on what actually counts for BRI in relation to the media deal. As one side put it, “[BRI] always feels like it’ll be around 50-50, but as the media world broadens, that’s the more complex area of discussion.”

There was a similar battle over 10 years ago, but it’s hard to estimate if it’s a mountain to climb or a mere hurdle to get over.

The luxury tax has allowed teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors to spend and spend to keep talent, even going deep into the tax because of deep pockets. The prospect of an “upper spending limit” has been floated publicly, which sounds a lot like a hard salary cap.

Tremaglio, after stating numerous times that she didn’t want to negotiate positions through the media, issued a pretty clear shot across the bow.

“Absolutely not,” she said in reference to a hard cap.

Of course, a hard cap suppresses salaries and competition, while the current system allows some teams to use more available resources than other franchises. Currently, the system has exceptions and penalizes teams with “repeater” taxes should they choose to continuously be over the salary tax apron.

One-and-done: The system that doesn’t allow prep-to-pro players to enter the NBA has been in place for nearly 20 years, but the momentum has been turning for years to reverse that rule. The NBPA is in a difficult spot, given that eliminating the rule means advocating for players who aren’t yet in the union and, theoretically, moving older players out of the league quicker.

Tremaglio alluded to that when asked Saturday.

“We recognize that we really do need to make sure that we have the structure in place, if we're going to have people join the league in the age of 18,” Tremaglio said. “We also appreciate that there is a lot of benefit to really having veterans who can bring those 18-year-olds along. And so you know, certainly anything that we would even consider, to be quite honest, would have to include a component that would allow veterans to be a part of it as well.”

Does this mean extra roster spots and space for teams who’ll draft high schoolers? It certainly means something if there’s a concession of sorts — even though it doesn’t feel like one side is conceding over the other.

Midseason tournament: The momentum is carrying in that direction, but what does it look like? Shortening the season by 10 games? Is the financial incentive for players that much greater and will it gain traction with the fans?

“As a player who’s played in play-in games, more than I’ve liked to at this point in my career, I think there was more pessimism than optimism mixed in from us about what that’s going to look like,” NBPA president CJ McCollum said. “And I think, based on recent years, it's been a success. I think people have enjoyed it, the competitive nature behind it. The fact that teams who would normally not have a chance to make the playoffs have a chance to play competitive, meaningful games.”

The play-in has been wildly successful, but it’s directly tied to the playoffs and doesn’t upset the natural order of things. A midseason tournament would drastically alter how the game is played and consumed, one would think.

“As a player who has a brother in Europe whose playing in Europe, you know, 13 years to this point, I've seen the success [of midseason tournaments],” McCollum said. “That one is done correctly now. That’s another story to make sure we do it correctly and get the right things in place. I think we’re working toward that. I’m personally not against it.”

Equity in teams/league: There’s also something that could potentially be groundbreaking in professional sports, if it should come to fruition.

Players could have access to an investment fund that would enable them to buy equity stakes in either teams or league-owned enterprises. Over the last several years, players have gone into the entrepreneurial space — with a few jumping into the dangerous world of cryptocurrency, to mixed results. This potential level of partnership seems unheard of in professional sports, but one source did caution, “It’s super general thinking at this point.”