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Shaun Powell

If labor peace is truly on horizon, what questions remain?

Posted Oct 28 2011 8:52AM

It's always risky to say the end is near, especially when it comes to these wacky NBA labor negotiations, but at least we can sense and see progress. That's because the two sides are acting strangely civil toward each other and even being complimentary.

That said ... we'll take the optimists' view and declare the end is indeed near, after reading the tea leaves and going with our gut feel. Of course, that only raises a few questions about what comes next.

You ask, and we try to tell:

Q: Can the NBA really salvage the 82-game schedule?

A: That's the plan, anyway, but if so, it won't come without some complications and pain. Teams might be forced to play three straight nights, or four games in five days, etc. That would tax the players, especially the older vets, as teams likely face a shortened training camp. Or the regular season could stretch into late April/early May (instead of ending in mid-April). If the NBA can somehow end a seven-game playoff series without those annoying three-day breaks between games, then the champion can definitely be crowned by the third week of June, like always. But in that situation, the league will need the cooperation and blessing of its TV partners, which is always an iffy proposition.

Q: Will the public forgive and forget?

A: Of course, especially if the impasse is solved by next week. It's fashionable for fans to say they "don't care" because, right now, they may not care. But they will once the World Series ends and their favorite NFL team is out of the running for the playoffs or the Super Bowl. And the hard-core fans will always forgive and forget, because they crave ball. Assuming this labor fight is indeed nearing the end and most of the schedule can be salvaged, nobody will be talking about or complaining about the 2011 labor fight by December.

Q: Who was responsible for the progress in labor talks?

A: The stock answer is "everyone involved." These things aren't settled by someone who comes up with a singular bright idea. In the end, the person with the most sway is usually the commissioner, who has the ear of the owners. And in this case, David Stern also has the respect of union chief Billy Hunter. These two go way back, and their relationship, both personal and professional, is far smoother than these harsh negotiations would have you believe.

Q: How much time will the NBA need to sign free agents?

A: Probably a week to 10 days, tops. Even in a free-agent market loaded with talent -- which this one isn't -- the big names are usually secured within a week. Besides, the free agents already have an idea where they want to go and a new CBA will spell out how much they're likely to make. It's really not all that complicated.

Q: Will the NBA achieve its goal of competitive balance?

A: That is most likely a wish, not necessarily a realistic vision. Bottom line is there are certain teams/cities that are more attractive to free agents, and certain ones that are less attractive. George Steinbrenner once said he bought the Yankees because he knew the built-in advantages (tradition, big city, local TV and radio contracts) would always give him an edge. He said when you buy the Kansas City Royals, you have to know what you're getting. The same applies to the NBA.

Q: In hindsight, were there any "bad guys" and "good guys" in this labor fight?

A: Not like the media would have you to believe these last few months. It's always interesting when a supposed impartial press decides to choose sides and tell us who's being reasonable and who isn't. That's silly. You've heard the tired and overused labels: "Owners and David Stern are diabolical and dictatorial" and players "are overpaid and pampered." Here's the plain truth: It doesn't matter who's being fair and who isn't when it comes to negotiations. It comes down to leverage and who has it. Fairness has nothing to do with it. Each side is trying to get what it can, while it can.

When have contract negotiations ever been about being fair? For instance, suppose a team desperately needs a big man, and the only one on the market is good for roughly 10 points and eight rebounds a game. He demands $10 million a year, not because he's "worth it," but because he has leverage. So they pay the so-called going rate. Same goes for labor negotiations. Who has leverage? In this one, the owners own the hammer. They always do. It's just a matter of how hard they want to swing it, at the risk of harming the season.

Q: Will the landscape suddenly change in the NBA, in terms of championship contenders?

A: Not right away. Even with the amnesty clause that's being proposed, you're unlikely to see a team "beef up" overnight. Any clause or exemption that gives a team a chance to spend more money can also backfire; general managers can simply spend that money, or most of it, on the wrong player.

But in the coming years, provided they draft smartly, trade smartly and play the free-agent game smartly, more teams theoretically can become contenders ... even those from the so-called small markets. In the end, the best-run teams (and not necessarily the biggest-market teams) win. If market size really matered, shouldn't the Knicks have won at least one title since 1973?

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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