At one point over the summer, I mentioned on the site that I thought there was a 90 percent chance the lockout would cause the cancellation of at least some regular-season games. So I wasn't really surprised this week when David Stern swung the axe. Not many people were. But still... a week ago, a small part of me hoped that by now I'd be done writing TWITL. I let myself believe the reports (since debunked) that said the owners and players were just a couple percentage points apart on BRI. I let myself hope they'd meet in the middle and that once they did, the "system issues" would snap readily into place. Against my better instincts, I started to buy into the Chris Sheridan Hypothesis, which held that this was all so much bluster and posturing and that in the end, the two sides would come together like grown-ups to preserve the season.
The lesson here is, you can't go wrong being cynical about these "negotiations." The owners aren't trying to strike a deal, not now and probably not anytime soon. They'll send Stern, Adam Silver and Peter Holt to put on a show, but they're not done canceling games. Nothing will come of the meetings early next week, which for the first time will involve a third-party mediator. If there a compromise were imminent, it would've happened already and we'd be looking ahead to Lakers vs. Thunder on November 1. As you might've noticed, we're doing no such thing.
Tuesday, when the two sides will meet in New York, is being talked up as a "huge day." If no deal is reached, according to Stern, the season's likely gone at least through Christmas. Of course, this will be sixth or seventh "huge day" we've had to sit through. And it'll unfold exactly like the rest: the principals will assemble in a Manhattan hotel, while the poor bastards assigned to cover this nonsense kill time in the lobby or out on the sidewalk. Late afternoon California time, the meeting will break and we'll all take to Twitter, hoping for some good news. Which won't come. We'll get more quotes from each camp about how far apart they are, and then Stern will whack some more games off the calendar. Maybe he'll wait a day to do it, but whatever.
What's separating the two sides? Only everything. The two-point BRI spread was a mirage all along. Each side is back to demanding 53 percent. There's no agreement on salary-cap structure. There's no agreement on the length of player contracts or the collective bargaining agreement. We're four months into the lockout and every issue of importance remains open. And with a straight face people are floating the idea of a Tuesday breakthrough? Sure. Cool story, bro.
This isn't a give-and-take negotiation. It's not "you get something you want, we get something we want" until minds have met. It's just the owners moving the goal posts over and over again while they wait for the players to kneel at their feet. Now and again Stern might mention how bad feels for the fans, how it's lovers of basketball who are the real losers in all of this. He shouldn't even bother. If he or the owners had a shred of empathy for the fans, they'd show us their financial statements. They'd give us a look at the audited numbers and let us see for ourselves how big their losses are and what they consist of. They won't, of course. They don't care if we think they're lying. To the people who run the game, you and I are nothing but walking cash machines.
The owners know that however long the lockout runs and however much they behave like venal dickbags, we'll be here when it's over. A few casual fans will be turned off, but others will come along to replace them. As for the hardcore, well... we have no choice. We love the sport of basketball so much we'll put up with anything. And they're going to prove it by pushing this thing to as far as they can.
When I was assigning probabilities over the summer, I said there was a 30 percent chance an entire season would be lost. That still seems right to me. If anything, the number might be a little low. There's no doubt in my mind that Stern and a sizable contingent of owners are ready to trash the season. If that doesn't happen, it'll be because the players simply decide to surrender or they get rescued by the NLRB. I'm not holding my breath on the latter.
Someday we'll get to see the Lakers play again. I have no idea when that'll be, but someday there will be games. There'll be one of those nights when everything's rocking - Kobe will be tearing apart some overmatched defender, Pau will be hitting 12-footers, Drew will be gobbling up offensive boards and throwing in dunks, the Lakers will be annihilating whoever's unlucky enough to be scheduled against them that night - and for a stretch we'll forget what happened this week and what's about to happen next week. That's something to look forward to, but it's also why the owners can get away with this. Because they have the best sport in the world under their thumbs.