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When It Comes To The NBA Lockout, Outs Are In Short Supply

I've often seen these people, these squares at the table, short stack and long odds against them. All their outs gone. One last card in the deck that can help them. I used to wonder how they could let themselves get into such bad shape, and how the hell they thought they could turn it around.

The preceding quote is about poker.  It's quite obviously about poker, from a rather famous movie about poker.  The terms used are poker terms, and the concepts are poker concepts. The NBA lockout is not a poker term or a poker concept, but its not a stretch to label any sort of high stakes negotiation as a kind of heads up poker match.  There's no gambling involved, but then, knowledgeable folks will tell you there ain't much gambling in poker either if you know what you're doing.

Which brings us to the bottom line:  I can't think of a more apt metaphor to describe where we now stand.  And I don't need to tell you who the squares at the table are.

The players are done.  We've known this for quite some time.  The owners are too unified, too motivated, and have too much control of the product of basketball for the players to have any chance of preventing them from grinding the players down into nothing.  When you are ahead in a game of heads-up poker by a significant amount, the proper strategy is to bully your opponent.  That means you bet high early in just about every hand.  It doesn't matter whether you have faith in your own cards.  You simply want to make the other guy hurt if he wants to play at all.  It forces your opponent to retreat, and retreat, and retreat, until they have nothing left to cede, at which point, they are forced to make a risky move.  

In this particular "game", the owners accomplished this through a variety of bait and switch negotiations.  Their playbook has been surprisingly consistent.  Make "concesssions" to the players regarding the BRI split in return for player "concessions" on system issues like a stiff luxury tax and player contract lengths.  Give the players hope for an agreement.  Then, bring somebody else in who returns to former BRI demands, and oh, by the way, all the system issue "concessions" should remain.  This was basically a weekly process, with the only difference being whether the owner's "executioner" was a crazy person, a jilted lover, or an icon.

And now, backed into a corner, the players have made that risky move.  Short stacked and long odds against them, they have one card in the deck that can help them.  They've turned to the legal process to try and force the situation back in their favor.  We know its probably not going to work.  They know its probably not going to work.  And in the end, filing this lawsuit may end up causing them to have to cede even more at the negotiating table than they would have if they just sucked it up and signed a crappy deal.  But there is an odd compulsion in these situations to play it to the end instead of walking away with the shirt on your back.

We fans?  We're a different kind of square, with no choice but to sit and wait patiently for the game to end so the games can begin.  In that sense, the inevitable breakdown of negotiations is a mildly positive step, because this game can only end when both sides are satisfied, or when one side has been crushed.  Considering where the two parties started, the latter option was really the only viable solution.  The only problem is that we're now waiting on a legal system that is patently slow, and deadlines for resolution are fast approaching.  So, while it's nice to know that the question itself is progressing towards an answer, that like answer remains the doomsday scenario we've spent equal time dismissing and preparing for ... a lost year of basketball.

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