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Stray Bullets: Kobe Involved in Labor Talks

At the end of close games involving the Los Angeles Lakers, we're used to seeing Kobe Bryant with the ball, trying to close out games to secure the win. Yesterday, he was in New York attempting to do the same for the Players' Union against the Owners to end the NBA's collective bargaining dispute.

Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk:

David Stern sounded like a man who wanted to talk again and he is waiting until Monday to cancel regular season games in hopes the players union will make one more push, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. However, union chief Billy Hunter sounded like he was in no rush to meet again saying talks may not resume until next month.

That was in part because of the constituency in the negotiating room. Agents and star players - guys like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant who were there Tuesday, and LeBron James who was there last week - do not want the union to accept anything less than 53 percent of BRI. The entire rank and file does not feel the same way, but the stars are the hardliners and they likely can pull a majority with them right now.

After seemingly being somewhat removed from the majority of negotiations and players meetings, Kobe was there to hear what seems like some major concessions from the owners are key issues once thought to be hardline stances. Was it coincidence? Were these concessions by the owners going to happen anyway? Or does Kobe's actual face-to-face presence with the owners' leadership solidify the much-needed support the union needs to stand strong?

Much like the reports of conflicting groups of owners, there seems to be a dichotomy among the players. As Helin writes, the "entire rank and file" of the players don't agree with staying firm on nothing less than 53% of the BRI. There's only one problem; most of the rank and file don't matter. It's the stars like Kobe, KG, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Dwight Howard that have the muscle (and money) to stand up to the owners, or else the players would cave easily.

Overall, middle-tier talent will lose most from a prolonged lockout or missed season. Of course, superstars will lose out too, but the effects of 300+ players losing one or two years on a deal and a few million far outweighs LeBron James' future earnings if he were capped out at $20 million at a max of four years. Yet, it's the superstar like Kobe or LeBron who drives the NBA. It's the way the NBA is run. The league markets the superstar more than any other American major sport. Kobe, LeBron, and Shaq are brand names that fill arenas just like Jordan, Magic and Larry before them. Obviously, there are far more middle-tier players than superstars, but it's the superstars putting butts in the seats. The superstars are the reason owners will overspend on role players to keep the team good and the superstar happy. Don't believe me? Google Kobe, Derek Fisher, Luke Walton, and Lakers or LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers, and payroll.

When the lockout began, he owners were betting that the Players couldn't afford this and were gladly willing to wait them out. They were probably right. We saw Deron Williams take a deal less than one-third of his NBA salary, and just about the whole Denver Nuggets team sign in China for less than they would make in the NBA. Unlike Deron's deal, the Chinese deals that Kenyon Martin, JR Smith, and Wilson Chandler signed do not come with an opt-out clause. They're stuck in China for a season, most likely because they did not want to, or could not, miss the paychecks.

None of those players matter.  All of the players were told far in advance to prepare for a possible lockout. If some players didn't get ready for something that was sure to happen, consider them collateral damage. Casualties of war. The Union shouldn't fold to the whims of players who are overpaid and unprepared. They can sign wherever they want and the NBA wouldn't skip a beat. Allen Iverson was washed out of the NBA and playing in Turkey last season and who cared? No one. He was no longer a star. None of the above players were ever what Allen Iverson meant, even washed up. Players accepting less money in the midst of a labor fight over money only supports the alleged NBA owners' assumption that the players are willing to fold before they are. Which is exactly why the stars who drive the NBA have to stand up to the owners and let them know that they are firm in only giving back so much.

If we're to believe anything we heard from David Stern yesterday, it seems that the owners have backed off of many issues they seemed to be dead set on previously.

Ken Berger , CBS Sports:

Stern specifically referenced that the league was going to lose upwards of $200 million on the lost pre-season, then stated that the first two weeks of the season would be canceled if no deal was struck by Monday, October 10. Just five days ago, Stern was vaguely suggesting that the whole season could be lost.

Marc Stein, ESPN:

Referring to meetings scheduled Friday that are expected to attract as many as 15 owners and star players such as LeBron James, Stern said: "I'm focused on let's get the two committees in and see whether they can either have a season or not have a season, and that's what's at risk this weekend."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the owners' movement off of issues they were once hard on, then reluctantly cancelling games in small chunks as opposed to firm deadlines with drastic measures isn't exactly the runaway victory the owners were once thought sure to have.

This current scenario might only be possible because the stars have drawn the line in the sand. They know the NBA is coming off a great run in the past few years, and poised to do better. The league boasts two of biggest stars in the world in Kobe and LeBron; the Lakers and Celtics rivalry has been renewed; the Bulls are relevant again; the New York Knicks have star power; the Nets are looking to make a splash; the Oklahoma City Thunder have Kevin Durant and gives the NBA a significant presence in a Midwestern red state; finally, the NBA has a real worldwide presence and can boast the absolute best players from each country playing in their league. Why should the players give up so much when nothing but the owners' own ineptitude might be the cause of their own financial losses?

The players, especially the few stars who really drive the profits of the NBA realize this. I don't have to be Bill Simmons to tell you how many positives the NBA has going on these days.  Unlike Bill, I don't think the owners are as strong as they think. For the sake of the middle-tier players, it's the stars who have to be willing to draw the line in the sand. It's time for LeBron, Dwyane Wade, KG, Dwight Howard, and especially Kobe, to close.


  • The most important aspect of Kobe's flirtation talks with Vitrus Bologna is how much he'd play for.

    He's agreeing to sign at his going rate. He made $24 million last season wearing the purple and gold, and the Vitrus Bologna deal is reported to be for $3.2 million for 10 games. That's about what Kobe makes in 10 games for the Lakers. Add in the fact that Kobe is allegedly insisting on a revenue sharing for all of the 17 Italian League teams to benefit from his stint, and not only does he create a situation that he's playing for no less than his per game average in the NBA, but he's creating a league-wide economic impact for the whole Italian League, which is what the NBA Players' Union wants the NBA owners to consider to fix the system, rather than force salary roll-backs. 
  • If no deal is done, the lockout continues to last, and Kobe does play in Italy, does that open the door for a team or league to make a similar offer to a LeBron James or Dwight Howard?
  • LeBron and Dwight stand to lose the most individually if the owners have their way. Besides Kobe, I'd consider them the only other two true superstars in the NBA. Fans tune in to watch them play, and pay to watch them play when they play at home or on the road, no matter how lousy their own home team might be. If max contracts were capped at $20 million per year for four years, and Jerry Buss estimates that Kobe is worth up to $80 million a year to him (and paid him $24 million last year), how much do you think LeBron or Dwight are worth to popular-but-lesser teams than the Lakers? The Lakers are the Lakers. Kobe helps, but it's easier to replace a Kobe in Lakerland than it is LeBron In Cleveland.  Both Bron Bron and Dwight Howard have their pick and both should have about two more max contracts in their future providing they stay relatively healthy. 
  • Just ask Dan Gilbert. If the NBA worked like MLB, LeBron would be getting paid $50 million in Cleveland. You think his name is thrown in with the likes of Robert Sarver if LeBron still rocked the wine and gold?
  • Robert Sarver had his wildly popular Seven Second or Less Suns broken up by letting Mike D'Antoni go to New York, then signing the antithesis of run-and-gun in $20 million-per-year-Shaq. Ummm, okay......? 
  • Derek Fisher and Union VP Theo Ratliff spent a whole season together as teammates. I'm sure they spent a lot of time discussing and working on labor issues together. That more than makes up for their production on the floor. Forgiven...(Wait a minute...No they aren't.  We still don't have basketball.)
  • If it's down to just agreeing on how to split the BRI, I'm hopeful that we will have a season soon. I know it's the major issue, and hundreds of millions of dollars, but it's much easier to compromise on one issue.
  • Oh....and did Kobe really show up to one of the most important negotiation meetings the union and owners have had yet in a jump suit?

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