Today the owners and the reps for the players are meeting in what will likely be some intense discussions about the Collective Bargaining Agreement that must be completed this summer to avoid a league-wide shutdown. We couldn't think of a more appropriate time to post part 2 in our debate in which we try to cover all aspects of the perspectives of both sides of the argument. Once again, because of the importance of these articles, they are presented without frills and pictures. This time, Bryan Beck presents the opinions of the player's union. Behind the scenes, Bruce (representing the owners) and Bryan have made a gentlemen's agreement to not take advance looks at each other's articles to prevent one side from having an unfair advantage. That ends with the publication of this article. From part III forward, Bruce and Bryan will be having an active debate and interfacing with one another. You've read what the owners are asking for. Now it's time to hear from the players. To gauge just how far apart the two sides are, and perhaps even begin to take a position of your own, please read Bryan's excellent article. As always, your own opinions and comments are the "sand beneath our claws," so let us know what you think!
I’d like to kick this off by stating the obvious: We are in the business of entertainment. I know basketball is a sport but it’s also a multi-billion dollar global business enterprise that continues to grow in popularity worldwide. The NBA has never had greater marketing across the globe and is also reaching unprecedented heights domestically. Season ticket sales are at all-time highs, attendance is up, television ratings are booming, and we just witnessed a summer where the NBA dominated the sports news during its offseason. The two most popular teams, Lakers and Celtics, have met in the NBA Finals 2 out of the last 3 seasons, the 4-time champion Spurs are running away from everyone, the Miami Heat are a can’t miss attraction when they come to town or are on TV, and the league is full of young exciting teams like Oklahoma City and Chicago. We have Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, and the Celtics big 3 to name a few. The league is loaded with talent that people will gladly pay to come see or watch on television. In other words, the players are the owners’ greatest asset. Their cash cow, if you will. People don’t come to see Mark Cuban or Michael Jordan sit courtside. They come to see the greatest athletes in the world play the most entertaining sport on the planet. The current system is working and only needs some minor tweaking, not a complete overhaul like the owners are discussing.
The owners will lead you to believe they are losing tens of millions of dollars. Commissioner David Stern has stated the owners need to trim 750 – 800 million dollars to stay financially stable but they refuse to open up their books to the players union. Are we supposed to take their word for it? How do we know the owners aren’t losing money because of poor management? I think it is only fair to back up these statements if they want to cry poverty. I think everyone, fans included, are very skeptical of these claims. Owners complain of losing millions but then go sign Joe Johnson to a 6 year, $119 million contract or give Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva $90 million. The problem doesn’t reside with the current agreement but with the fiscally irresponsible owners. No one forces any owner to sign mediocre players to a max deal. They must take responsibility for their financial decisions and quit searching for the CBA to bail them out of their own mistakes. Anyone who owns a business realizes that profitability is never a guarantee but a reflection on how well you run the business. The league has plenty of owners who know how to oversee an NBA team and therefore turn a profit.
During these negotiations, the owners will attempt to restrict our free agency rights. You’re going to hear sob stories about how damaging it is to teams when a high profile athlete like Lebron James decides to exercise his rights and choose the team with whom he wishes to continue his career. Player movement is healthy among the league and should drive owners to surround star players with the talent required to win championships. Most American workers aren’t forced to stay in a job where they are unhappy and neither should NBA players. We sign contracts and when they expire, we have the right to make the decision that is in our own best interest. What scares the owners is that players are now choosing to take less money and play on more talented teams rather than taking the maximum contracts. This should be praised but the owners cry foul because they cannot control their little pawns with restrictive clauses like the Larry Bird Exception anymore, which allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign players and allows for longer contracts and more money if they stay with their current team.
You will also hear a pitch for introducing a franchise tag in the NBA. This will be an absolute showstopper from our perspective. A franchise tag, similar to what is in place for the NFL, allows each team to “tag” one player who has earned his free agent rights and prevent him from hitting the market. In essence, it forces a player to remain with his team against his own wishes and pays him the average of the top 5 salaries at his position. This is damaging to NFL players but is far more unfair to NBA players because there are only 12 players on each team and most of these that will receive the franchise tag will be maximum contract players, effectively reducing their salary. Had this been in place last year, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Amare Stoudemire would have been “tagged” and forced to stay with their old teams. Preventing free agent movement will be bad for the league and more importantly, the fans. The fans certainly don’t mind watching Lebron and Wade play together or seeing Amare revive basketball in the Big Apple. Restricting player movement is bad for the league, the fans, and the teams and GMs that are the best in the business.
In fairness, the players understand some concessions need to be made. The percentage of basketball related income allocated for player salaries will need to come down a little, resulting in a lower salary cap. The maximum contract percentages will need to drop slightly as well and potentially abandon the yearly pay raises for maximum contracts too. Today’s current economic climate doesn’t allow for large raises on an annual basis. These moves alone will save the owners a few million dollars a year. And the players realize the biggest financial hindrance for owners are the few dead weight albatross contracts that are fully guaranteed. Some mechanism for getting out of these contracts has to be provided for owners to rid themselves of big financial commitments that are not producing up to the value of their contracts. The players understand that fully guaranteed contracts are not healthy for the well-being of the league so some proposal of guaranteeing only the first 2-3 years of a contract is something we would entertain.
I don’t understand the arguments by the owners for a hard cap though. Ask the NHL how that is working out. On paper it sounds like a good idea but it would have negative impacts on the league for a long time. Teams currently over the cap (Heat, Lakers, Celtics to name a few) would be forced to break their teams up immediately because they are dramatically over the cap already. Plus, it would actually lessen the likelihood of re-signing your own players because good teams won’t have the cap space to keep more than one maximum player without the cap exceptions allowed for under the current agreement. Granted, there are too many exceptions now and we would be willing to negotiate the modification of a few of these items. Some tweaks are probably due in regards to the Mid-Level exception (MLE) and can be handled easily by reducing the percentages of the exception. Removing the sign and trade, along with the corresponding Traded Player Exception (TPE) makes sense and allows the owners to protect them from themselves, which is the overall message of this CBA anyway. But a hard salary cap is not needed. Removing some of these exceptions would allow some flexibility for filling roster spots without overhauling the system and making it too restrictive.
In response to these concessions, there are a few other things that need to be brought back on the table however. We would like for the NBA to invest more in player development and fully fund the NBA Development League (NBADL). This would allow each team to expand their rosters to roughly 20 players and stockpile a few players in the NBADL to develop their skills and get them ready for the level of basketball they’ll see in the NBA. The players would also like to see the 19 year old age requirement nullified in this CBA. If a player is old enough to fight and die for his country, why should he not be able to play basketball for a living in the NBA? Sure, not all players are mature enough to make the jump from high school directly to the pros but that shouldn’t restrict those players who are capable of playing at that level from having that choice. NBA teams aren’t forced to draft high school players so the age restriction is just another tool to protect the poor helpless owner from himself. Sound familiar?
Honestly, the biggest issue to solve is not between the players union and the owners anyway. The biggest problem is with the lack of revenue sharing and that needs to be ironed out amongst the owners. The players understand that the small market teams need to be profitable but using the CBA to solve the revenue sharing problem isn’t the correct way to go. We are not going to make concessions to allow the owners to avoid the tough conversations they need to have amongst themselves. This is just another example of David Stern trying to flex his muscles and squash the big mean players union in an attempt to save the poor helpless little owners from themselves.
The players realize the owners are digging in to play hardball but we’re not giving up easily. We understand some concessions must be made but there is a general consensus that the owners will get whatever they want out of this negotiation. That is not going to happen. We hope to avoid a lockout and continue providing the ultimate entertainment experience to the fans but the owners must accept some responsibility for their actions and not expect the players to take it on the chin. We understand the economic conditions facing our country now but let’s not rush to provide NBA owners a “bailout” either. There are better solutions to this problem and we, the players, are looking to provide an agreement that is more profitable for the owners but also maintains the basic player rights for the best athletes in the world. After all, that’s who you pay to see hit the last second shot, make the big block, and do the windmill jam on a fast break. Amazing happens because of our players.