This Week In The Lockout

Welcome to our new weekly feature! I'd like to say we're delighted to bring it to you, but honestly there's nothing we'd less rather be writing about. This Week In The Lockout will be our regular round-up of developments and casualties in the NBA's labor war. It's a topic we hope disappears from our lives very soon, although we don't harbor much optimism that it will. All indications are that the two sides have only just begun digging their trenches. So long as the lockout persists, we'll use this space to pick at some of the issues, recommend essential reading and rant about how profoundly irritating we find the whole situation.

Today is Day 9 of the shutdown. It began on July 1, the first day after the old collective-bargaining agreement expired. This would usually be the heart of the free-agency period - "The Decision," as you may have heard, was a year ago yesterday - but all player movement has come to a halt until a new CBA is in place. Also erased from the calendar is the NBA's summer league, which would otherwise be in full swing right about now. Basically, nobody's doing anything.

And that includes the people charged with reaching the deal to get the league started again. According to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, there's been no meaningful contact between the owners and the players' union since the lockout began. No bargaining sessions are even on the calendar. A silent stare-down is underway, and it'll be a while before either side even thinks about blinking.

In the absence of discussions between the parties, two ancillary developments captured most of the coverage this week. First, we've started to see a few NBA players strike deals to play overseas. Sonny Weems is off to Lithuania. Deron Williams and Darius Songaila are bound for Turkey. So far as we know, no Lakers have had serious discussions with non-U.S. clubs, although Pau Gasol has said he'd consider playing in Spain or China, and Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Kobe Bryant would think about it too.

Second, a debate has erupted over the league's claim to have lost $340 million last year. This number sits at the core of the owners' main argument, which asks you to believe that the economics of the NBA are broken and need to be dramatically rewired. Last Thursday, Larry Coon of ESPN published a detailed analysis that cast doubt on the numbers the owners are trumpeting. Nate Silver of the New York Times followed that up with a piece prepared in conjunction with Forbes and Financial World magazines in which he purported to show that the league has actually been making money. That, in turn, prompted the league to attempt a public refutation of Silver's piece.

I'm not going to tell you that reading through this stuff is super interesting. In the hierarchy of things you could be doing with your time, it ranks just below going to see Paul Blart: Zookeeper and just above anything involving Casey Anthony. But if you're dying to understand the nuts and bolts of the dispute and have a high tolerance for accounting jargon, by all means: print that shit out and take it to the beach with you.

What's most frustrating about the debate is how difficult it is to fact-check the league's claims. The NBA has delivered audited financial statements to the union, but it hasn't released them to the public. So guys like Coon and Silver and the Forbes crew have to do their best with estimates, interpolation and what little real data has leaked out. It's within the NBA's rights not to share its financial statements with us, but it makes it awfully hard not to be suspicious about their numbers. The smart people who have no incentive to deceive are telling us that things don't add up.

Why wouldn't the league release the auditeds? There are a few possible reasons, some more nefarious than others.

1.  It sets a bad precedent. They've never allowed access to their financial statements in the past, and they don't want it to become a regular step in disputes with the players' union.

2.  The financials contain information that, even if not directly germane to the lockout, is a bit embarrassing - having to do, for instance, with family members on the payroll.

3.  The real numbers wouldn't support the owners' argument about the league's supposedly distressed financial condition.

Reason number one is a legit business consideration. It's hard to be sympathetic with reason number two. Reason number three would amount to a kind of fraud. They all seem equally plausible to me, and of course they're not mutually exclusive.

Coming next week: moar lockout news! And maybe some cats or something.

Stuff To Read

Is the NBA Really Losing Money? (Coon, ESPN, 6/30/11)
Calling Foul on N.B.A.'s Claims of Financial Distress (Silver, NYT, 7/5/11)
N.B.A. Disputes Forbes Analysis Suggesting League Is Profitable (Silver, NYT, 7/5/11)
NBA Lockout: Frequently Asked Questions (Coon, ESPN, 7/7/11)
If I Ruled the NBA World (Bill Simmons, ESPN, 7/8/11)

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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