This Week In The Lockout: Stern Cocks The Gun

Over the course of the NBA lockout, which will soon enter its fourth month, fans irked by the slow pace of negotiations have demanded to know why the owners and players can't just be shoved in a conference room and not allowed out until a deal is reached. Beyond criminal liability for kidnapping and false imprisonment, I can't think of any downside to that plan, but for now we'll have to live with the part about planting everyone in a conference room. Starting today in New York, a series of meetings will determine whether the NBA season starts on time. In attendance will be the full negotiating committees for both sides, about 15 team owners and at least a few superstars, including LeBron James. The parties have agreed to keep talking throughout the weekend so long as progress is being made.

The three-month stalemate has slowly built up to this point. David Stern is about to attempt his finishing move. He sees that Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher are under duress from all sides. Players are worried about missing paychecks. Only a few have found gigs in Europe or China. The long-awaited fissure between ownership hawks and doves hasn't emerged. The dithering NLRB isn't riding to the rescue. In the shadows, agents are mobilizing to keelhaul Hunter and decertify the union. Stern sniffs the weakness and has decided it's time to test the union's backbone.

This week the owners offered to drop their insistence on a hard salary cap in return for a major overhaul of cap exceptions. The deal that's reportedly on the table would still represent a blowout win for the owners, but surrendering on the hard cap will allow Hunter and Fish to declare victory, or at least look themselves in the mirror without vomiting. And if the players hold fast and refuse Stern's offer? The Commish warns of "enormous consequences" if major progress isn't made by the end of the weekend. Many outlets are reporting that he's prepared to threaten cancellation of the entire season.

All along, Hunter and Fish have talked up player unity and how guys would rather sit out a year than swallow a coercive deal. Now Stern's calling bullshit. As Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski puts it:

The union keeps insisting its players will go the distance, sit out the season, and that's not happening. It sounds noble and strong, and there are players with the stomach to do it. Yet, there aren't enough of them. . . .

"We've already given back too much," one NBA team player representative texted on Wednesday. Only, the players will have to give back more, and more, and more. What's the alternative now? As long as the agents don't get between the commissioner and union executive director, the owners and players are coming to try and cut a deal this weekend, coming to try and salvage the basketball season.

The owners have already won this fight, and it's just a matter of how greedy they want to get. It's Stern's job, his moral duty, to sit the hard-line owners and empty the bench so late in a blowout. This lockout was always ending when the owners were done running up the score, and now it's on David Stern to be the closer.

The details of what Stern's offering aren't totally clear, but stories over the last couple days from Ken Berger of CBS SportsSam Amick of SI and Ric Bucher of ESPN allow us to piece together the basics. Let's go through it together.

  • Berger says the owners might be willing to propose a 50-50 split of basketball-related income. Under the old CBA, the split was 43-57 in the players' favor. Last week, the owners were offering 54-46 while the players were offering the exact opposite. (In other words, each side was demanding 54 percent of the pizza.) According to Amick, the players are unwilling to reduce their share below 52 percent.
  • The luxury tax would be given more bite. Last season the tax was $1 for every dollar of player salary over $70 million. Under the proposed system, it would be $2 for every dollar over $70 million, $3 for every dollar over $75 million and $4 for every dollar over $80 million. Had this system been in place last year, by my calculations the Lakers' $21 million luxury-tax bill would've more than tripled.
  • There would be an amnesty clause allowing each team to waive one player whose salary would then be disregarded for cap and luxury-tax purposes. Luke, it's been fun.
  • The Bird exception might be limited to one player per team per season. That's the provision teams use to re-sign their primo stars, so this would cause headaches for teams with key deals expiring simultaneously. For instance, both Kobe Bryant's and Pau Gasol's contracts expire in 2014. This change to the CBA would pretty much force the Lakers to choose between the two.
  • There would be a new "Carmelo Rule," prohibiting teams from re-signing a player via his Bird rights unless the player were acquired before July 1 in the final season of his contract. Does that makes sense? Here's what's important: this would kill the Lakers' chances of trading for Dwight Howard. The Lakers wouldn't trade for Howard unless he agreed to sign a long-term extension. That would require much more cap room than the Lakers have, and they couldn't rely on the Bird exception because Howard would've been acquired after July 1.
  • The mid-level exception (recent Laker example: Ron Artest) would be downsized to $3 million a year over two or three years. The bi-annual exception (recent Laker example: Shannon Brown) would go away, as would sign-and-trades.

ESPN's Marc Stein reports on a few other items that are less well-settled but still possibly on the table, like an NFL-style franchise tag, rollbacks of existing contracts and a rule allowing teams to exceed the luxury-tax threshold only twice every five years.

Whew, OK... that's a lot of technical crap to digest. My overall view is that however much I want a deal to get done and a season to start, if the players accept a deal like this their asses have been kicked. It's a major ratcheting-down of players' compensation and freedom of movement. That doesn't mean a deal won't get done this weekend, only that I doubt the players are ready to cave without significant movement on certain points.

If any big decisions are reached over the next few, we'll be hear talking about it. In the meantime, CATS.

 


Stuff to Read

Kim Delaney Is A Drunk (WWTDD)
General Mills Releases New Lucky Charms With 15 Percent Less Leprechaun Meat (The Onion)
Indianapolis Announces Really Embarrassing Bid For 2020 Summer Olympics (The Onion)
There's A Metal Gear Solid Risk Game? Seriously? (Topless Robot)
The 10 Greatest Action-Figure Carrying Cases (Topless Robot)

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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