The next NBA lockout is two years away. As a result some very smart people are going to do some very dumb things for the reason many smart people usually do dumb things – preserving their financial interests. This is where the rhetoric and posturing comes in.
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On Tuesday evening, NBA commissioner Adam Silver (a very smart man) did well by his constituency (30 NBA owners) to say some dumb things that only dumb people would believe. “A significant amount of NBA teams” are losing money, he swears, and something needs to be done about it when the NBA Players Association opts out of the current collective bargaining agreement in December 2016.
NBPA chief Michele Roberts, a very smart person, decided to say some very smart things in response on Thursday afternoon.
From a statement:
“All of the data we have access to indicates that our business is thriving and will continue to do so in the near future. We agreed not to debate some of the finer points of negotiation in public, and aren’t going to change that approach now in response to some remarks from the Commissioner on Tuesday. We are, however, going to take him up on his offer to share the audited financials with the union. We also want to ensure that everyone understands the facts of this business:
"Under the CBA, we do not have a gross compensation system. The players' 50% share is calculated net of a substantial amount of expenses and deductions.
"New and renovated arenas around the league have proven to be revenue drivers, profit centers, and franchise valuation boosters. That has been the case over the past few years in Orlando, Brooklyn, and New York, to name a few. In some instances, owners receive arena revenues that are not included in BRI. Many teams also receive generous arena subsidies, loans and other incentives from state and local governments as part of their arena deals.
"Virtually every business metric demonstrates that our business is healthy. Gate receipts, merchandise sales and TV ratings are all at an all-time high. Franchise values have risen exponentially in recent years, and the NBA has enjoyed high single digit revenue growth since 2010-11."
Our Dan Devine already did brilliant work in breaking this down on Wednesday. The owners are pushing their commissioner, hot off the heels of dismissing Donald Sterling and bringing the joy that is Riley Curry to your attention, into this. He’s spouting nonsense, as his job entails. And, as a lawyer, he is doing so without reflex. You get a gig like this, you want a job like this, and you have to check your soul at the door.
What you need to do is remember this stuff two years from now, when your uncle or favorite radio station host or dumb boyfriend is talking up the NBA “strike.”
(Which, if this were feasible in any way, is what the players actually should do.)
The NBA owners destroyed the players in the last round of negotiations. They moved the needle closer to the middle of the distribution ranks, mindful of the anticipation that the league was growing in influence, that live TV ratings were only going to improve and that owners could flip over franchises for great profit with absolutely none of the turnover cash heading into the players’ pockets.
The (allegedly) corrupt then-NBPA leadership took it on the chin, safe in the knowledge that their checks would eventually clear, hoping for the escrow payments to help right things in the long run, happy to get some games on the docket in order to allow NBA owners to start paying players the cash that the legally-binding contracts they signed years earlier forced them to pay.
NBA owners have spent billions of dollars on free-agent contracts in just the last week alone, and to many this reminds of the sort of buyer’s remorse you saw in the 2009 and 2010 offseasons. Those offseasons were marked by terrible moves by bad owners and bad general managers, though, handing out massive deals to uninsurable types like Amar’e Stoudemire and needless overpayments for people like Josh Childress and Joe Johnson.
You haven’t gotten much of that so far this summer, save for new’ish owners and new’ish personnel chiefs getting needlessly giddy about paying Reggie Jackson way too much. This time around, most teams and GMs have spent in figures commensurate with the possible $19 million jump in the soft salary cap ceiling for the offseason of 2016.
Which makes it all the more infuriating that Silver’s constituency is pretending like Khris Middleton and a team’s new practice facility will become some sort of millstone in the coming years.
There are still, even in 2015 with all the mod cons available, poorly run NBA teams. Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets years ago, and after asking a bunch of Twitter snark-hounds who would be the best GM to spend his money Brewster-style, he settled on Billy King after Isiah Thomas was denied admission. The Lakers were the ones who decided they were to only be a family business and that Kobe Bryant had to be the NBA’s highest-paid player in 2015-16, and Detroit’s new owner is still working with a new toy. Oklahoma City’s owners are still working through some guilt about being caught on record as being duplicitous about the SuperSonics, so they’re paying for it this summer. Finally.
Meanwhile, two dozen other NBA teams are working sensibly. They’re staffing their front offices with more than a handful of people who might, shockingly, have disparate backgrounds. They’re anticipating their opponents’ anticipation of the trend that leads to the trend that becomes the trend that leads to the win. They understand that, at the end of the fiscal year, you can’t binge-watch a Friday night Mavericks-Rockets game from ESPN two weeks later, and that this league will always be of the moment, and that this is where the currency comes from. J.J. Barea’s new contract will expire just four days after he turns 35 and it will pay him around $4 million that season – and that’s OK, because he’ll be a blip on the salary spectrum.
The league is getting smarter, but the league’s owners will always play dumb on purpose in order to make more and more money. This is why we’ve had this back and forth this week. You didn’t see as much between David Stern and Billy Hunter in 2009, or David Stern and Billy Hunter in 1996 (during the NBA’s most tumultuous and fascinating offseason in history), and this is why Roberts and Silver’s back and forth is foreboding and worrying.
There is always money to shift around in order to make things look bad. There are always sleeves to put on jerseys in order to afford Shaun Livingston. There are always phony-baloney jobs to protect. There are always going to be 30 NBA owners whining, in a lifetime of things going their way, about things not going their way.
Michele Roberts is out to make sure things go her way. Even as she works on behalf of millionaires, hers is a cause worth supporting.
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