NBPA's Michele Roberts sees no reason for 2017 work stoppage, warns NBA against 'cry of poverty'

NBPA executive director Michele Roberts (left) and the Detroit Pistons' Anthony Tolliver attend the H.I.S. Official Launch Party at the Park Hyatt New York on Feb. 12, 2015. (D Dipasupil/BET/Getty Images)
NBPA executive director Michele Roberts (left) and the Detroit Pistons' Anthony Tolliver attend the H.I.S. Official Launch Party at the Park Hyatt New York on Feb. 12, 2015. (D Dipasupil/BET/Getty Images)

It's been a pretty exciting regular season, and it looks like it ought to be a similarly thrilling postseason push to June's NBA Finals. But amid all the bright, shining Stephen Curry bombs, James Harden stepbacks and Anthony Davis detonations, it's become difficult to ignore the stormclouds gathering on the labor relations front.

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The collective bargaining agreement struck by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association in November 2011 stretches through the 2020-21 campaign, but both the league and the union can elect to opt out of the CBA after the 2016-17 season in favor of renegotiating its terms. There are arguments for doing so on both sides — for the NBPA, to attempt to recoup some of the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues that were shifted from players to owners in the 2011 resolution, and for the owners, to have their way on issues like the imposition of a hard cap on team salaries, an increase in the minimum age at which a prospect can be eligible to enter the NBA draft, human growth hormone testing and perhaps contract structures.

Under the leadership of new executive director Michele Roberts, it's considered all but a foregone conclusion that the players' union will opt out of the CBA by the Dec. 15, 2016, deadline. But despite the seemingly contentious atmosphere between the league and union — most recently highlighted by the NBPA's rejection of Silver's "cap smoothing" proposal for gradually phasing in the monster influx of cash from the NBA's new $24 billion broadcast rights deal — the commissioner doesn't think we should start worrying about the possibility of a work stoppage preventing the start of the 2017-18 season. In somewhat heartening news, neither does union leader Roberts, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

[...] Roberts said she views the $24.9 billion war chest from the nine-year television deal as a positive, suggesting the league is fully healthy.

“We want a deal. We want a deal that is as fair as we can get. We understand you’ve got to give a little to get a little,” she said. “There’s going to be a deal and my view is let’s get it done. Silver has said the same to me, so I think the good news is we don’t have the backdrop of poverty. There’s all this money. The game is growing in popularity. Everyone should be singing, ‘Hallelujah.’ They’ve got a new commissioner. I’m new. I have no bad blood with Adam because I don’t know him. Nor he with me. Everything in the world suggests we should be able to get through this without a problem. And if that doesn’t happen I would be, and I think Mr. Silver would be, disappointed.”

When asked whether a deal could get done before 2017, Roberts said, “Sure. Wouldn’t it be great for everybody, the players, for the owners, and God knows the fans, if we could say these were the major issues that we knew we had to deal with and we saw no reason to wait until 2017, so we got them done? Not only is there not going to be any opting out, but we’ve agreed to these new terms and an extension of the CBA. Wouldn’t everybody just be delighted? It would be great for the game.”

So the commissioner doesn't see any reason not to get a deal done, and the players association's executive director doesn't seen any reason not to get a deal done. OK! Great!

And yet ... the problem here is that, even if there's not a problem now, there was a problem then.

The players are still smarting from the beating they took in the last round of negotiations, a whitewashing precipitated by claims that NBA owners were losing money — claims that few players likely ever believed then, and that hardly any players are likely to believe now, in the aftermath of the multibillion-dollar rights bonzanza and record-setting franchise valuations. While David Stern was still the commissioner during the last round of bargaining, then-deputy Silver was right there alongside him, holding the owners' hard line in negotiations, and while Roberts wasn't there, she's still got to show her membership that she's capable of charting a better path forward than ousted predecessor Billy Hunter.

So, with a nod to Faulkner, part of Roberts' preparation for 2017's negotiations seems to have to consist of continuing to make noise about the raw deal of 2011 at a volume that might make friendly conversation difficult. More from Washburn:

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“$24.9 billion ain’t a problem,” Roberts said from her New York office. “There’s only a problem because the owners have suggested that there is, that there’s a problem with the injection of that money into the system. Frankly, we don’t quite understand why that’s a problem. If it’s not a problem that the teams can make more money, why is it a problem if the players are going to make more money?

“It’s too bad that this successful [television contract] negotiation has suddenly become a problem that I can’t get my arms around.” [...]

“That’s why it may have been unfortunate if there was some misrepresentations made about the health of some of these teams because you only create mistrust going into the next round of negotiations,” Roberts said. “That’s unfortunate. I would submit that it’s in the league’s best interest not to try to do that again. Don’t try that again. There’s no human being out there that’s reasonable that, having heard about the TV deal, and if you’re aware that gross receipts are going up, ticket sales are going up, I’d be very disappointed if we heard that cry of poverty again.

“So if we could avoid a repetition of that cry of poverty and all the mistrust referenced by the players can be resolved, we can go on and not say, ‘You lied to me,’ but just go back to business.’’

Both Silver and Roberts say there are no contentious feelings on either side of the table, and that there's no ill will that will make arriving at an agreement impossible. The question, though, is whether there's enough lingering mistrust on the players' side and enough willingness from ownership to stand firm and stop writing checks to make arriving at an agreement in time for the start of the 2017-18 season impossible. These seem to represent Roberts' most collegial comments on the matter, which offers some hope for the future, but when you re-read that "Don't try that again" section, it gets that much harder to ignore the encroaching cloud cover.

Hat-tip to Brett Pollakoff at ProBasketballTalk.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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