This Week In The Lockout: The Less Things Change...

via myscience2.wikispaces.com

At midnight on Thursday, the NBA lockout wrapped up its eighth dismal week, and if you weren't paying attention, you honestly didn't miss much. I don't mean you didn't miss much this past week. I mean if you'd stopped following NBA news the moment the lockout went into effect and just tuned back in now, it would take about 25 seconds to catch you up.

Deron Williams signed with Besiktas. Some scrubs signed with some other foreign clubs. Players are killing time in pro-am leagues. There's been a single, unproductive meeting between the owners and union as the two sides engage in slow-motion legal skirmishing. Neither side has moved an inch toward a compromise deal. The end. See? Eight weeks of "news" in five sentences.

Like most people, I understood from the jump that the staredown was likely to drag for months. Even so, I'm surprised at how static the situation has been. Again, there's been one three-hour meeting in eight weeks, suggesting a gulf so wide and deep that it's not even worth the parties' time to go through the motions of negotiating.

Even the PR fight has been low-intensity. In the early days of the lockout there was some blog-based give and take about the true extent of owners' losses, but that's mostly died out. Only recently have the two sides recently sought to reengage the media in furtherance of their cause. David Stern made an appearance on Bill Simmons's podcast a couple weeks back in which he tried to cast the union as grievously in denial about the severity of the league's financial difficulties. On Thursday, union VP Maurice Evans returned fire, telling Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated that Stern's podcast appearance was brimming with inaccuracies.

The long-awaited Meeting Number Two will supposedly take place this coming week. Stern, Adam Silver, Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter are to sit down together in New York and take stock of things, though the exact date hasn't been pinned down yet because of Hurricane Irene. In all likelihood, the content of the meeting will be a straightforward reiteration of dug-in positions. The players are waiting for a new proposal from the owners. The owners have no incentive to give one. Both sides claim to be 100 percent unified. Everyone back to their trenches.

As all tacitly realize, what's needed is something to upset this depressing equilibrium. That something will take one of three forms: a ruling from the NLRB on the dueling bad-faith claims, a crack in the union over missed paychecks or a crack in the owners' camp over missed revenues. The latter two can't happen until games start disappearing from the calendar, and the first is in the hands of a backlogged, understaffed governmental agency. And so we wait.

Amick, who's been one of the best sources of lockout coverage, wrote on Monday that the players should start thinking about throwing in the towel:

As the lockout approaches its two-month mark and with just one full-blown meeting having taken place since it began, the harsh reality is that the leverage players wanted so badly doesn't seem to exist. . . .

There's nary a sign of the owners backing down. Not now. Not ever. Their lack of urgency is rooted in the unofficial and universal agreement that it's worth losing an entire season if there isn't serious progress forged by the players. And while the players' desire to fight back is certainly understandable, the truth is that this slope will only get more slippery if there isn't resolution in the next month.

The owners' offers will get worse because they will begin to account for the losses that come with losing games, all while players - whose average career length was reported at 4.82 seasons during the last lockout, in 1999 - will see an entire season's pay go to waste. As one agent said for the umpteenth time last week, "Billionaires beat millionaires every time."

That last point, about the league's offer getting progressively worse as the lockout endures, is one of Stern's favorite talking points - he went out of his way to mention it in the Simmons podcast - but I'm not sure it makes sense as a matter of economic reasoning. Money that's lost is lost forever. It's what economists call a sunk cost. Of course owners would like to recoup missed profits, but they won't turn down an appealing bargain just because it doesn't claw back every dollar they could've earned had there never been a lockout.

Like, say you run a pizza shop in NYC. You sell slices for $3 each, which nets you $100 a day in profit. Now say Irene forces you to close for a week. You're out $700, and to recoup that money you'd need to start charging $4 a slice. Except that no one will pay that much because everyone else in the city charges a buck less. So what do you do? Go out of business forever? No, you go back to your $3 pricing and move on with your life. It's not everything you'd like, but making some profit is better than making none.

That's not meant to be a precise analogy to what Stern is proposing, but the sunk-cost issue is the same. Assume, for instance, that a 50-50 revenue split is what the owners need to operate the league at their desired level of profitability. If the players offer the 50-50 split in December, the owners won't turn it down simply because it doesn't top up their bank accounts for everything they'd lost. On this point, in other words, it seems like Stern's bluffing and trying to railroad the union into a near-term surrender.

Now, who wants to see a kitten play-fighting with its pitbull BFF? YOU ALL DO.


Stuff to Read

Time for Players to Face Harsh Reality in Labor Negotiations (Amick, SI, 8/22)
Five Ways to Make a Potential Vegas League Worth a Fan's While (Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don't Lie, 8/24)
Players far From Optimistic Heading Into Next Meeting With Owners (Amick, SI, 8/25)
Why Do Players Care About a Hard Cap? (Zach Lowe, SI, 8/25)
The 11 Worst Songs to Have Sex To (Dave Stopera, Buzzfeed, 8/25)
Brawl Highlights Decades of Tension Between China, Georgetown (The Onion, 8/26)
Middletonly Played, Pippa Middleton (Go Fug Yourself, 8/26)

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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